The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic challenged society in ways once considered unimaginable, forcing people to reconsider a wide variety of practices, from work to leisure, to basic travel and daily tasks.
At the peak of the pandemic, a large proportion of the global workforce was unable to commute to work because physical congregations were restricted as a measure to mitigate the spread of the virus. This resulted in both employers and employees seeking alternative work arrangements such as working from home and attending virtual meetings.
Most, if not all, employees have experienced working remotely and hence working from home has become a policy priority for most governments, businesses and institutions. Working from home has been one of the ways that organisations across the globe have continued to operate to cope with the pandemic.
Globally some organisations have embraced the transition and change in the post-Covid-19 era while some have not. Google was one of the first major companies in the United States of America to send workers home in March 2020 and more than 16 million American workers have transitioned to working from home.
The landscape of remote working has been aided immensely by technology, with video services such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet replacing the traditional meeting rooms. Many tech companies have struggled to balance the office return post-pandemic, with some telling their staff they are free to work from home.
In Uganda, non-essential workers were required to work from home, and workplaces were required to maintain only 30 per cent physical presence as a measure to curb the pandemic. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was rare to think of working remotely.
The recent spike in cases of Covid-19 in Uganda and the growing trend of companies allowing employees to continue to work from home indefinitely raises the question of whether remote working should perpetually become the new normal and whether countries such as Uganda are ready for the new normal.
The Covid-19 pandemic has given some employers, who may not have otherwise considered working from home, an option for staff, practical insight into how it affects their business, institutions and employees.
It has enabled employers to have first-hand experience of the advantages and disadvantages of working from home. This experience can be very beneficial in helping employers determine working practices that will benefit their businesses, institutions and employees.
However, developing nations like Uganda still experience problems of low access to cheap and reliable electricity, low bandwidth or unavailability of internet connectivity in some locations. To be able to work remotely, most people will need reliable high-speed internet, a computer, and a phone to work from home, among others.
The Statista Research Department in March 2020 reported that in 2019, only 38.5 per cent of households in developing countries were estimated to have a computer at home, which then means that the majority of employees depended on the office workstation for their work to be done. In Uganda, there are challenges such as internet penetration and access to cheaper electricity, among others, especially in rural areas that may affect remote working.
During the pandemic, these factors affected operations of local governments, e-learning for students, and businesses and institutions in rural areas. For instance, a report by the Uganda Communications Commission noted that Internet subscribers in Uganda are over 22 million out of the 44 million Ugandans.
Regarding access to electricity, the minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development noted that the national electricity access rate has increased to 57 per cent, comprising 19 per cent and 38 per cent on-grid and off-grid connections respectively, in his budget speech on June 14, 2022.
These, among others, are some of the factors that might affect and limit Uganda’s readiness for remote working. Therefore, there is a need for government, institutions and businesses to adequately prepare their employees to work from home in case the need to do so arises.
The author is the human resource officer at the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE).