2020 was the year of transformational change, almost everything was reset to default settings. It was a year that redefined how people worked, lived, collaborated, interacted and learned.
In a remote environment, work is no longer just about productivity and output; it is also deeply about flexibility, wellbeing and effective collaboration between remote and physical workers.
More time was spent communicating with one another digitally, and often outside of traditional work hours.
While there are many things we will continue to learn as we move forward in this journey to define the new normal, organizations have recognized that there is nothing more important than the health and wellbeing of employees and their families.
Personally, for proper, effective and professional remote working, I had to ensure I was equipped with the appropriate tools and skills to succeed. I had to ensure I was connected to the home fibre. I had to invest in the right workspace. I had to plan myself on how I would allocate time for work, rest and family beyond work.
Egline Samoei, a KeSIG 2020 fellow and founder of Samodigital Agency writes ‘COVID-19 Has Affirmed that the Internet Is Indeed A Human Right’. He says working from home and being able to deliver meant that you needed to be connected to the Internet and use video conferencing and collaboration tools.
However, this was not the case for essential workers during the pandemic. They had their own fair share of challenges.
The International Labour Organization reported that 2·7 billion people—81% of the world’s workforce—had been affected by lockdown measures. 61% of workers are from the informal sector, 90% of whom are in low-income and middle-income countries, and social protection measures are often inadequate, with a lack of access to health-care support and economic protections.
Informal and migrant workers were likely to fall through the cracks and ensuring their safety must be a priority.
ILO was also cognizant that working remotely was ‘a vital part of the response’ that governments and firms are taking in the face of the conundrum of keeping the economy from crashing while at the same time containing a public health crisis.
Mental health and Wellbeing
On the other hand, with remote working, it emerged that there is nothing important as the health and wellbeing of employees and their families.
According to a study on COVID-19 and mental health by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the largest public mental health impact has been in the form of stress and anxiety and predicts a rise in depression, suicide and substance use.
“Good mental health is absolutely fundamental to overall health and well-being,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director-General of the World Health Organization in October. “COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most.
A review on Mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems by Florence Jaguga and Edith Kwobah found out that despite the country having a Mental Health Policy 2015–2030 that requires mental health care is provided during and after disasters, there was no guidance on a mental health response’.
The review noted that Kenya had made attempts at instituting a mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic despite underlying systemic challenges.
“The country has no formal mental health response plan, there is an unmet need for psychological first aid, access to mental health care and psychosocial support during the pandemic remains a challenge and there is no systematic collection of data on the mental health impact of COVID-19.”
Shi Kang’ethe, Managing Director, Toxic WorkSpaces, a wellness program that focuses on work, technology and family in a Tweet says, “I had always wanted to Work From Home. And then I had to.” We understood the concept of ‘remote work’ at a theoretical level. Now, the big question for most companies is how ‘will we incorporate remote work going forward?’
A new study from Twingate examined what employees miss about the office and why it’s still the most sustainable way forward. Twingate surveyed over 700 full-time employees who have been working remotely, as well as nearly 300 employees who continued on-site work despite the pandemic.
In their findings, 94% of respondents reported missing at least one aspect of working in an office before the pandemic.
“Elements of their former work-life employees missed the most? Social connections (45%), human contact (44%), a clear separation of their work and homes (42%), and face-to-face meetings (41%) topped the list,” part of the findings read.
Currently, many organisations are adopting a hybrid work model, a mix of physical and remote working, adjusting to a new way of working.
In Kenya, the return of Pre- Covid tax levels, it means people will be trooping back to work to make ends meet. In March 2020, the government temporarily reduced taxes as a reprieve for businesses and consumers who had been adversely affected by the pandemic. In this case, income tax was reduced by 5.00% to 25.00% while VAT was cut by 2.00% to 14.00%.
“Regardless of where work is conducted, it is important to ensure that all workers are privy to certain rights and protections,” according to ILO’s Convention and its accompanying Home Work Recommendation, 1996 (No. 184) that calls for the promotion of equality of treatment.