CULTURE CHANGE

Opportunity to test flexible workspace models

In all likelihood, employees are going to have to work from home.

In Summary
  • Most companies are still hesitant about adopting flexible working models and are tied to the 9am to 5pm schedule.
  • When you consult widely, you will conclude that the issue of trust is the main barrier to adoption of a new culture.

Countries are increasingly being put on lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), following China’s example. Meanwhile, the number of infections and deaths continue to increase as well as countries reporting cases. Stock markets continue to plunge and the world seems headed into a recession.

In controlled movement, businesses are the hardest hit because most still believe in the office-operation model. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the level of their preparedness, especially on risk mitigation and dynamism in workplace culture. All eyes are now on corporate and organisation leaders to show the way in wading through the pandemic while maintaining optimal output in workplaces.

The biggest question is whether local businesses are flexible enough to maintain productivity. Most companies are still hesitant about adopting flexible working models and are tied to the 9am to 5pm schedule that requires employees to travel long hours to the office and stay there for eight hours daily.

While most employees would prefer a shift to flexible systems, many business owners are not yet comfortable with this noble idea that can transform firms from a command and control culture to an empower and enhance value system.

When you consult widely, you will conclude that the issue of trust is the main barrier to adoption of a new culture. You will hear employers saying productivity will be affected negatively when you put employees under a flexible schedule or better still, allow them to work from home.

Lack of job-tracking technologies will also emerge in the conversation; employers will say it is difficult to manage employees’ output remotely. This shows how most businesses are yet to adopt technologies to cope with changing dynamics in the job market.

A 2019 International Workspace Group (IWG) survey of more than 15,000 business people across 80 nations on flexible working showed that 85 per cent of businesses that shifted to flexible models recorded higher productivity. Some 67 per cent said they thought flexibility could improve productivity by at least a fifth.

But all hell has broken loose. The virus has landed on Kenyan soil and we must deal with it the best way possible to minimise the impact being felt in Asia, Europe and the United States.

With government effecting movement restrictions as mitigation measures, working from home will be inevitable and leaders will be forced to try out this often overlooked transformative flexi-culture.

Companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have moved to enforce remote working policies for employees around the globe, probably to prevent a total shutdown of operations. Working from home has suddenly become a new normal.

Will this pandemic offer a different perspective on flexible work models and take local business owners back to the drawing board for a work culture review? Are business owners ready to invest in relevant tools that promote seamless connectivity outside the office space? I think it’s time to give it a shot and evaluate its effectiveness.

Already there is evidence that creating flexible workspaces and adopting appropriate technologies will help many businesses embrace the ‘new normal’ and reap benefits risk free.

A 2019 International Workspace Group (IWG) survey of more than 15,000 business people across 80 nations on flexible working showed that 85 per cent of businesses that shifted to flexible models recorded higher productivity. Some 67 per cent said they thought flexibility could improve productivity by at least a fifth.

Interestingly, four out of every five employees interviewed said they would turn down offers that do not provide flexibility. Some 65 per cent of businesses said flexible workspaces helped them to reduce capital and operating expenditures, manage risks and consolidate their portfolio.

Business leaders must now re-think their perception on flexible working culture to strategically contribute in effective mitigation against Covid-19 and other emerging risks to work output.

They should start to find ways of leveraging on the country’s high internet penetration, more than 100 per cent mobile subscription rate and tap into Kenya’s large pool of tech developers to model solutions that will support this progressive work culture.

Nairobi-based data journalist