On March 15th this year the government announced a raft of measures to curb the pandemic brought about by COVID-19. Among the measures were that government employees and businesses were to be shut, a minimum number of people maintained and the rest to start working from home except for those providing essential services.
It is now five months down the line and the initial excitement that a new formula had been found of remote working from home has become a damper and many CEOs have realised it is not workable. During this time into a pandemic that rapidly reshaped how companies operate and which is nowhere in sight in ending, an increasing number of executives now say that remote work, while necessary for safety much of this year, is not their preferred long-term solution once the coronavirus crisis passes.
Some companies had even vowed to give up their physical office spaces entirely, forgetting that office space sometimes came with five year leases or more.
Now as the work-from-home experiment stretches on, some cracks are starting to emerge. Company executives have come to realise that projects are taking longer to complete. Problems that took less than an hour to solve in the office stretched out for a day when workers were remote. Workers in most insurance companies have never worked remotely and most have been completing assignments at their own time with no hurry at all or deadline to meet. This is because the senior manager cannot know the challenges a particular employee is having in completing a task and they are therefore being given the benefit of doubt. There is also the issue of internet connectivity, and while most employees are being given internet bundles, poor connectivity in some areas will mean a task will not be submitted on time.
While some positions are being made obsolete and workers are being laid off, some positions are hiring and I learnt that a certain insurance company was doing interviews to hire. The biggest issue I envision is how the new employees will be integrated noting that their soon-to-be mentees are working from home and maintaining social distance. This is going to be more complicated than previously thought. Some employers say their workers appear less connected and bosses fear that younger professionals are not developing at the same rate as they would in offices sitting next to colleagues and absorbing how they do their jobs. Training of new employees is tougher as few employees are allowed to be in offices. Company executives also say the toll of extended work-from-home arrangements is likely to affect career development, particularly for younger workers as junior employees usually learn how to underwrite deals or develop pitch books by sitting beside more experienced colleagues and watching them work.
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The preferred method of holding meetings in this curfew times is through virtual apps by Google meet or Zoom and these are producing their own challenges. People feel like they have to make more emotional effort to appear interested, and in the absence of many non-verbal cues, the intense focus on words and sustained eye contact is exhausting. There is also the fear and anxiety about one’s remote workspace and controlling events that someone cannot control like children running in in the middle of a meeting or your partner appearing on your screen improperly dressed.
Insurance sales are also becoming difficult to accomplish due to the nature of our prospects who are mostly not technologically savvy. There is a fallacy that because mobile penetration is high in Kenya it means that the level of technological savviness is the same but nothing can be further from the truth. Few of our clients can even open a computer let alone engage in a virtual meeting. Insurance sales force are more comfortable having people in a room and seeing body language and reading signals that do not come through on a screen. There are important meetings in the process of a sales journey that necessitate having a face-to-face consultation.
Also Read: Post Covid-19 era in the insurance industry
More companies now envision a hybrid future whereby some time will be spent working remotely and yet have opportunities for teams to regularly convene. The idea under consideration is that teams would agree to come together for a limited time on certain days of the week to bounce ideas off each other and to collaborate and strategize. What is emerging is that personal interaction with colleagues is important for career growth and also because company culture—very important for some companies—cannot be taught remotely but has to be gleaned off colleagues in an office setting.