Remote Work, Post COVID-19 Economy

Post COVID-19 Economy: Is the Nigerian Workforce Prepared for Remote Work?

With the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing prevalent restriction of movement in many parts of the world, it is obvious that remote work is here to stay and it will continue to grow globally.

There are speculations that even after the pandemic, many businesses will easily adapt to the “new normal” of remote work for the long term. While this assertion is true, the critical question is, how widespread will the “new normal” be and is the Nigerian workforce ready for it?

Remote Work
Remote Work is here to stay.

This article seeks to address this question based on the current realities of the Nigerian labour market.

What is Remote Work?

Remote work, also known as telecommuting or telework, is a work arrangement in which employees do not commute or travel to a central place of work, such as an office building, warehouse, or store {Wikipedia}. It refers to work that is done at a distance in environments other a traditional office building.

Remote work is not new. Right from the beginning of the information age in the 1970s, people have been working remotely. The Coronavirus pandemic and the resulting “low touch economy” has only made it more expedient.

In the United States, 3.4% percent of the workforce (4.7 million employees) are working remotely either on a part time or full time basis, according to Hubspot.

“With the current situation of the COVID-19, employers everywhere are considering switching to a distributed team culture and have been literally forced by the circumstances to try the remote work experiment”, writes Alexandra Cote, a SaaS Content Writer & Strategist.

What is remote work?
Remote work is also called “Working from home”.

Before we examine the four reasons why Nigeria as a population may not be fully prepared for immediate transition to remote work in the post Covid-19 Economy, I would like to put this article in perspective by sharing some statistics on the employment reality in the Nigerian workforce.

Some Numbers on the Nigerian Workforce

N/B: You may skip this section if you are not comfortable with numbers.

According to this report by Business Insider, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated in its Labour Force Statistics, released on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 that Nigeria’s unemployment rate in 2018 was 23.1%.

Here are highlights of the report:

★ The economically active or working-age population (15 – 64 years of age) increased from 111.1 million in Q3, 2017 to 115.5 million in Q3, 2018.

★ The number of persons in the labour force (i.e. people who are able and willing to work increased from 75.94 million in Q3 2015 to 80.66 million in Q3 2016 to 85.1 million in Q3, 2017 to 90.5 million in Q3, 2018.

★ The total number of people in employment (i.e with jobs) increased from 68.4 million in Q3 2015 to 68.72 million in Q3 2016, to 69.09 million in Q3 2017 and 69.54 million in Q3 2018.

★ The total number of people in full-time employment (at least 40 hours a week) increased from 51.1 million in Q3 2017 to 51.3 million in Q3, 2018.

★ The total number of people in part-time employment (or underemployment) decreased from 13.20 million in Q3 2015 to 11.19 million in Q3 2016 but increased to 18.02 million in Q3 2017 and to 18.21 million in Q3 2018.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate is projected to reach 33.5 per cent by 2020.

★ The total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked few hours (under 20 hours a week) to be classified as employed increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018.

★ Of the 20.9 million persons classified as unemployed as at Q3 2018, 11.1 million did some form of work but for too few hours a week (under 20 hours) to be officially classified as employed while 9.7 million did absolutely nothing.

★ Of the 9.7 million unemployed that did absolutely nothing as at Q3 2018, 90.1% of them or 8.77 million were reported to be unemployed and doing nothing because they were first-time job seekers and have never worked before. On the other hand, 9.9 million or 0.9% of the 9.7 million that were unemployed and doing nothing at all reported they were unemployed and did nothing at all because they were previously employed but lost their jobs at some point in the past which is why they were unemployed.

★ Of the 9.7 million that were unemployed and did nothing at all, 35.0% or 3.4 million have been unemployed and did nothing at all for less than a year, 17.2% or 1.6 million for a year, 15.7% or 1.5 million had been unemployed and did nothing for 2 years, and the remaining 32.1% or 3.1 million unemployed persons had been unemployed doing nothing for 3 and above years.

The Statistics office said the unemployment rate increased from 18.8% in Q3 2017 to 23.1% in Q3, 2018.

Furthermore, most recently, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Sen. Chris Ngige in this article by Premium Times, noted Nigeria’s unemployment rate is projected to reach 33.5 per cent by 2020.

Remote Work and and the Nigerian Reality

The numbers above prove that while remote work may sound popular in the aftermath of the Covid-19 Pandemic, it is not going to happen overnight because a quarter of the population is unemployed. The remaining three quarter that are employed will nonetheless take quite sometime to transit to remote work because of the following realities…

1. Inadequate Infrastructure

Let us identify the basic infrastructure that are needed to make long term remote work possible.

For an average an entity or SME to work remotely, your members of staff needs reliable power supply, a smartphone, laptop, fast internet connection, power bank, hard drive for storage, loud storage system, conducive home office, good furniture and good lighting equipment for video calls, among others things.

How many people can afford these infrastructure? A study by Statista, shows that in 2020, Nigeria has an internet penetration of 65.1%.

Infrastructure for Remote Work
Some tools needed for remote work

Do you know it is possible to have a good laptop and a lot of the other facilities mentioned earlier and then an unstable internet connection due to poor network coverage in your location frustrates your video conferencing?

Obviously, it would be quite inconvenient to run an effective business entirely remotely without your workers having access to adequate infrastructure.

2. Blue Collar Jobs Are Dominant

Blue-collar jobs refer to the working class; those engaged or trained in essentially manual labor. It constitutes the social class of those who perform physical work for a living, as opposed to the professional or middle class, the upper class, or others. It includes the market women, welders, electricians, farmers, carpenters, traders, drivers, janitors, masons, laborers to mention but a few.

These are jobs that cannot just be done remotely. For instance, you cannot cut your hair via Zoom though you can order for home service. You cannot get a professional mechanical engineer to virtually repair your power generator via Google Meet.

Whereas these sole proprietorship businesses make up the majority of the Nigerian workforce. They survive mainly by their daily earnings and cannot afford to be locked in for weeks in the name of remote work.

Fact is, crises happen; crises pass; and people, especially Nigerians, will forget and move on.

These blue collar jobs will still exist in the aftermath of the Pandemic. They won’t suddenly go away because remote work is the order of the day in the professional world. Once the lockdown is completely relaxed and everyone is allowed to go about their normal businesses, the dam will broken and the economic engine which is mostly run and supported by these blue-collar businesses will roar back to life.

Blue-collar worker
Welders at work

Unless your job is a white collar service company that can be done completely online, you’ll surely have to come out of your home.

Many blue collar jobs which make up a large percentage of our third world economy will come back. For instance, the Construction and Real Estate industry will have to resurrect. People will have the need to build houses. As people travel for social and business events, the hospitality and airline industry will rise again… and so on.

Fact is, crises happen; crises pass; and people, especially Nigerians, will forget and move on.

3. Slow Rate of Technology Adoption

Technology is so essential and has always defined remote work. From the early beginnings, it has been the development of communications technologies which has made it increasingly possible to reap the benefits of a global workforce. {Remoter}

If there is anything positive that Coronavirus has taught us, it is the fact that given the pros of remote work especially in areas of family bonding, time and cost savings, there are certain jobs that can and should be done from home. Imagine how much money a professional writer, an editor or a customer care representative for a service company would save per week through remote work.

These people are able to work remotely because the nature of their jobs which involves the use of technology tools permits them to do so. This means that you cannot talk about remote work without mentioning technology. Which takes us to the next set of questions.

What is the literacy level of Nigerians? Out of that number, how many are computer literate? Out of that number, how many are able to afford a personal computer? Generally, what is the rate of technology adoption Nigeria? Give your estimates.

Remote work requires that you make use of technology to carry out your business with other team mates or with your employer over a distance. Given your estimated answers to the above questions, do you feel we have the infrastructure or sufficient technology adoption to support this new lifestyle per population?

Remote Work
Remote work requires technology and digital literacy. Image Credit: Memoori

Mark you, if remote work is to be widely enforced, most of the technology needed for it will have to be imported from other countries – the phones, the laptops, the routers. So far, the rate of adoption of these technologies have been excruciatingly slow due to two factors, namely:

a.) Poor Literacy Level of the Populace

Not many people know how to use the technology needed for remote work. As at 2018, Nigeria’s literacy level stood at 62%. There is currently no statistics for what percentage of that number is made up of computer literates but we can assume it is not up to half.

b.) Low Purchasing Power of the Populace – 

For those that have the sufficient digital literacy level for remote work, majority are too struck by poverty – low purchasing power – to acquire these tools. I know many friends who know how to use a laptop, maybe by attending a computer training, but cannot afford one yet.

Many people are so concerned about their next meal, clothing, house rent and other basic necessities they need to survive that they can barely afford the tools needed for remote work. More than 82 million Nigerians live on less than $1 a day, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Furthermore, the NBS, in a report about poverty and inequality from September 2018 to October 2019, said that in Nigeria, 40.1 percent of total population were classified as poor. In other words, on average four out of 10 individuals in Nigeria has real per capita expenditures below 137,430 naira ($352) per year,” it said.

So there’s that…

4. The Nigerian Civil Service is Scarcely Remote.

To cap it all off, we know that a considerable percentage of the middle-class workforce is made up of teachers and civil servants; and most of the work they do require physically going to the office (Government Ministries, Agencies, State and Local Government Secretariats, Schools, etc.) Given the age range of these workers and the nature of civil service in this country, they cannot afford to work remotely.

These civil service jobs will eventually have to resurrect because government cannot sustain paying salaries for “work not done” for too long without getting value and revenue in return.

At some point, the lockdown will have to be relaxed completely so that these civil servants can return to work and keep the engine room of government running. Although, there may be certain safety measures in place like sanitation, social distancing, the use of face masks, etc.

These civil service jobs will eventually have to resurrect because government cannot sustain paying salaries for “work not done” for too long without getting value and revenue in return.

Until the bulk of governance and civil service administration is completely digitalized (which may happen in the nearest future), civil servants must and will return to work.

And you know what happens when Civil Servants return to work in their large numbers? ?

The Economy will be fully opened. Every morning by 8am, everyone will be rushing out of their house. The traffic on the road will be busy. You will be in your little remote “home office” hearing loud horns blazing up and down. And you’ll be reminiscing your “past glory” of office life. ?

At some point, you’ll get bored of remote work and demand to return to work. ?

Do you know why?

It is because whether you accept it or not, in as much as we hate the traffic and the daily rat race of going to and fro work, we secretly love it. ?

We secretly love the hustle and bustle it brings. The lively feeling. The fresh air. And as “social animals”, we love to meet people physically.

Office work
A typical office environment

We have been used to it so much that we can only be deprived of it for so long. We’ll definitely long for the “good old days” and want to get back together.

In conclusion, I agree that “remote work is the future”. Even before the pandemic, the trend in many professional, white-collar industries was pointing towards that direction. Covid-19 became the tipping point. However, in Nigeria, we should not expect remote work to suddenly become the norm per population in the Post COVID-19 Economy because the workforce is not fully prepared for it.

I predict things to return to normal once the lockdown is fully lifted, with adequate safety measures in place – at least until we have all the necessary infrastructure, digital literacy, technology adoption and purchasing power needed to fully support remote work across as many industries as possible.

What do you think about the realities and potential impact of the post Covid-19 Economy in Nigeria? Do you see remote work becoming the norm for a majority of the workforce soon? Do share your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s discuss.


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2 thoughts on “Post COVID-19 Economy: Is the Nigerian Workforce Prepared for Remote Work?”

  1. Olaolu Olowofila

    This is an insightful read.
    I would like to add that this is the best time for late millennials and Gen Zers to invest in skills that will position them for the future of works.
    Truth is, Nigeria as a whole is not prepared, but individuals can and should be responsible for their futures henceforth.

    Thanks again.

    1. Oh yes! Every individual is responsible for their own personal development. We don’t have to wait for the Government. For everyone that can afford some level of literacy, they can make themselves ready and equipped for remote work and other economic and technological shifts that we are going to experience.

      Great contribution there, Mr. Olaolu. Thank you for reading.

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