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Basing on the enormous advantages of teleworking or telecommuting as known by many, one would wonder why its not embraced in the developing world. Available statics about teleworking only have figures for America, Europe, Asia and Pacific regions but not Africa. Since Africa usually represents the biggest majority of the developing world, this question of low uptake of teleworking will focus much on Africa.
Before we more on the reasons for the low uptake of teleworking, for starters, what is teleworking or telecommuting and what are these talked about advantages?
Teleworking in my own words is the ability for a business to run when the biggest majority of the employees work from home or other places of their convenience with out stepping foot on to the office premises. This allows for home working, working at the beach, in the bars, in Pyjamas and all sorts of comfort, with flexibility in working time. There are some job positions that don't need to report to work at 7:30am and leave at 5:30pm on a daily basis to show that they are working. Some positions like programmers can be allowed to work from home and results posted on either email or other online forums. They however might need some face-to-face meetings once in a while which might call for a day-in-a-week office presence but no specific office premises are set aside for such people, not even a table.
To an employer, this means that; There are reduced office costs. The employer will need smaller office premises, smaller water dispensers, small Air Conditioners, smaller number of tea cups and so on.
To an employee, this mean that; transport cast are reduced if you are going to work from home, costs on office wear (closet) are minimal, more time utilisation as less time is spent in traffic and waiting for public means and minimal over-the-shoulder supervision.
It however it doesn't go with out a black spot. The employer will run a risk of reduced productivity from employees as employees might get carried away into non productive activities due to absence of above-the-shoulder supervision. Some people still need it. Sometimes there is that need for face-to-face interactions for the improvement of productivity. Fast consultations are absent in a teleworking setting. The employee misses out on team work and society at work.
Nevertheless, the advantages of teleworking out weigh the disadvantages. The question however remains unanswered: why is the developing world not embracing teleworking?
A closer look at the requirements of an enabling environment for teleworking is a very secure and fast Internet connection at both the office premises and the homes or hotels or beaches, where the employees chose to locate themselves.
In Africa, despite the advertised Internet, the actual throughput is really pathetic. It can take you one hour to download a 20M file on an Internet connection advertised as 3G or 4G Internet. You actually cannot work away from office with such a link. In Africa, spending on encryption, tunneling, VPN or Intranet for Small and Medium sized business is still a mystery. It is a cost the management doesn't think will be beneficial. This leaves the security of any thing you want to be done online at the mercy of luck thus abandonment.
It would rather be important for decision makers to think about these factors for an environment that encourages teleworking. To the government the advantages of teleworking are enormous also. There is reduced emission (Global Warning), economic efficiency as more time is put to productive work, more employment as resources that would rather have been spent on office costs are channeled to increased man power.
The mentality of thinking might have also to change to encourage this new trend of working to be embraced in developing Africa. There are some people who you don't think should ever step on office premises. Their work is done if they attend a week's meeting and submit reports. You will however find these people with a 20metre square office with tea, lunch and air conditioning expenses and all they do in these offices is respond to emails and other online consultations and may be send out instructions to line managers and supervisors.
As we close off, I would want you to reflect whether if you ever started a business, you will ever consider teleworking. Is your current job comfortable with teleworking? Do you think you have a major reason for coming to office at 7:30am every day? What do you think can change the trend about teleworking in Africa?