How does remote work affect African tech workers?

In 2023, a staggering 98% of remote workers express a preference for lifelong remote work, citing flexibility as a primary advantage. However, this work arrangement presents challenges, notably isolation and work-life balance issues..

How does remote work affect African tech workers?
Remote work in Africa

In recent years, the global job market has experienced a significant transformation, driven by the rise of remote work and the rapid digitalisation of industries. For African techies seeking to tap into the vast pool of global opportunities, the shift towards remote work presents a gateway to connect with international employers and organizations.

In this article, I analyze the state of remote work in 2023 and how it impacts African techies working out of Africa.

According to a report by Buffer, there has been an uptick in the perception of remote work, as 98% of the respondents would prefer to work remotely for the rest of their lives and this is because they have had a very positive experience with it. However, 1% claim to have negative experience with remote work and are looking for an opportunity that will take them out of it.

Flexibility is however the topmost benefit according to respondents. 22% love remote work because it gives them flexibility on how they spend their time, 19% love remote work because of the flexibility it gives them in choosing where to live and for 13% , it's the flexibility to choose their work location.

However, one in three remote workers say their biggest challenge with remote work is that they stay at home too often and do not have any reason to leave, another category complained of  loneliness and this paints a picture of how remote work can be very challenging.

Work hours blurred

It is however very important to set work boundaries, if not, work will begin to eat into your personal life which is the case of 81% of the respondents who tend to check work emails outside work hours, while 63% do so during weekends and 34% do so while on vacation.

“I try to focus on my weekend, so I turn off my slack notifications but I somehow find myself checking my work email by default occasionally” says Ajibola* who lives at Ondo, Nigeria and works with a Fintech startup in Germany.

Aniekpeno Undomiel, a Senior Product Manager at Pricepally, a Lagos-based e-commerce startup for fresh groceries, who has worked remotely for 5 years doesn’t think the problem is remote work: “It’s about the stage of the business and it’s needs per time and most early stage startup will sometimes require you to put in extra hours in order to get things done,” he said. “Whether I work in the office or I work remotely, I might still have to take work home but remote work has made it possible for me to conserve my energy for the most productive times of the day. That way I can easily make trade offs.”

Meanwhile, Mercy Dafe, a Nigeria-based frontend developer, says that anything pertaining work after 5:00 PM will have to wait till the next day because she is a mother, a wife and has other aspects of herself she wants to give attention to.

Related Article: These Nigerian women talk about balancing their tech careers and motherhood

According to the Buffer “State of Remote Work” report, 48% of respondents feel more energized than last year, while 21% feel burnt out. The report further revealed that 58%  feel engaged and connected to the job, while 30% feel disengaged.

“Yeah, I feel connected to my work because my current job gives me the opportunity to work with people across fields and disciplines to solve problems on a global scale.” Chris Steve, the Head of Product at Treasura, a crypto and treasury startup told “The opportunity to learn new perspectives and experiences and put them into what we build is pretty much what excites me the most and keeps me engaged.”

64% of respondents who participated in the Buffer report are fully remote and this is up significantly from 2022 when the number was at 49 %. 18% are hybrid but remote first, while 9% are hybrid but occasionally have to go to the office. Then another 9% is hybrid but office first, while remote is allowed.

Joynels Ogbogu, who is a UX Writer at a company in Lagos loves the hybrid model as she has to go to the office once in a week and this gives her the opportunity to connect with her colleagues, as opposed to the 100% remote model.

There are conversations as to whether or not the shift to remote work that started in 2020 will be permanent. According to the report, 71% of companies are permanently allowing some type of remote work. Only 8 percent of respondents said their companies are not allowing any form of remote work.

A study by Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM) says nearly 70% of supervisors believe that remote workers are “more easily replaceable than onsite workers”. About 67% of supervisors said they spend more time supervising remote workers than onsite workers. Around 43% of supervisors say they “sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks and 72% say they would prefer all of their subordinates to be working in the office.”

Managing meetings and collaboration

Remote work has made it possible for collaborations across multiple time zones and according to the Buffer report, 62% stated that their immediate teams were distributed across multiple time zones, while 38% responded that their immediate teams aren’t distributed.

Another thing the report revealed is the increase in how much time is spent in meetings. 52% of respondents said they spent a total of 5 hours per week in meetings, while 23% said they spent six to 10 hours a week in meetings.

In response about length of meetings and frequency for remote workers, Chris Steven believes that it depends on the company’s culture, team dynamics, and the nature of their work.

“For us, our businesses are B2B focused and that means I have to communicate more often with not only the businesses we service but also our internal teams and other departments. So, my meetings have shot up significantly within the last 6 months,” he explained.  “However, I tend to manage the frequency we have them internally. Longer meetings at a decreased frequency so far has worked efficiently for us. We jump on a call and resolve certain blockers or brainstorm new ideas, calls could last for two to four hours. After that, the next call might be a week or two weeks later.”

With Google Meet, Zoom or Microsoft Teams calls being the most frequent ways remote teams conduct meetings, 62% love to keep their camera on, while 38% prefer their camera to be off. The category who prefer their camera to be on, do so for a number of reasons.

According to Jude Atang, an Android developer with a startup in the Netherlands, “it’s easier to communicate when you can see someone’s expression and it encourages me to be 'work ready'.” Meanwhile, Aniekpeno Undomiel is quite indifferent: “As long as I have taken my bathe, I am fine with the video on,” he said.

What's the impact of remote work on career growth and companies?

The report reveals that 75% believe career growth is easier due to being measured on output and impact, not time in the office. 48% feel remote work puts everyone on a level playing field.

However, 28% still find career growth more difficult remotely, down from 45% in 2022. While 51% believe being unseen affects opportunities, 39% have difficulty in promoting their successes, and 37% feel left out of conversations. About 36% see no impact on career growth, a decrease from 41% in 2022.

Overall, remote work offers career advantages for some but also presents hurdles for others.

A senior PM at a Lagos based startup who doesn't want to be named said his grouse is with developers who use remote work to navigate their way around three to six jobs, he told that this has greatly affected output negatively.

He said remote work especially at early stage startups has been greatly abused since the companies do not have the luxury of investing in tools that can be used to monitor and track work time and this affects execution and deliverables across board.

The thing with remote environments is that it may hinder real-time feedback and spontaneous brainstorming, thereby affecting the quality and speed of deliverables. However, remote work has encouraged startups to adopt efficient project management tools and communication platforms.

Additionally, it has expanded the talent pool, enabling startups to hire skilled professionals from diverse locations. With proper remote work policies and effective communication, early-stage startups can mitigate potential drawbacks and optimise deliverables in this evolving work landscape.

How African techies can be positioned for remote global opportunities

“It was a mix of putting my work out there and constantly checking what global companies were hiring for in a designer.” Israel Izzy, who is a product designer shared. “I did a 30 and 100 days design challenge”.

In Africa, the tech industry is witnessing an increase in remote work opportunities, with companies like Google and Meta hiring for senior-level roles. To stand out in this competitive market, African techies must position themselves correctly.

Being able to be concise and tailor your CV with relevant keywords is essential. Optimizing one's online presence, particularly on LinkedIn, boosts visibility. Sharing work experiences, projects, and tech insights through articles can attract potential employers.

During interviews, be authentic and share personal interests, this will help humanize your candidacy and foster a positive impression.

Remote work: What now?

Remote work has sparked a significant transformation in the global job market, offering African techies a gateway to connect with international opportunities. The shift towards remote work has been largely positive, with a vast majority of respondents preferring to work remotely for life. Flexibility emerged as a top benefit, granting techies more control over their time and location.

However, there are challenges, including potential work-life balance issues and feelings of isolation. Setting work boundaries and utilizing efficient communication tools are crucial to maintain productivity and avoid burnout. Additionally, companies are adapting to the remote work landscape, with some embracing it permanently. While remote work presents career advantages for many, it also poses hurdles for others.

Early-stage startups, in particular, need to address potential issues with monitoring and tracking work time to optimize deliverables and ensure successful remote collaboration.

As remote work continues to shape the job market, its effective implementation and management will be vital for both techies and companies seeking growth and success.

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