By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
The novel Covid19 pandemic has continued to force a radical shift in working habits, with remote working becoming the mainstream for businesses operating in the country, Business Hallmark findings can reveal.
According to findings, audio, video conferencing and automation have exploded over the last ten months. Adoption has been rapid, with many bodies keen to embrace production automation as well as conferencing culture to keep remote teams connected.
From office work to school, business and social meetings, as well as religious programmes, the new world order has emerged in the face of remote working. And it is growing by the day.
BH checks revealed that for safety reasons, many establishments, including schools, churches, media houses, courts as well as several government agencies have either suspended or scaled down their usual physical meetings.
For instance, virtually all the Annual General Meetings (AGMs) conducted in the country in 2020 were all virtual. While companies’ boards converge at a single location to direct proceedings, proxies appointed by shareholders hooked in from different locations to participate in the meeting.
Some of the companies that have held virtual AGMs include May and Baker, Zenith Bank, GTBank, UBA, Lafarge Africa and Dangote Cement, among several others.
Also, many companies, including media houses now conduct scheduled meetings, such as editorial and general meetings virtually, while personality interviews are done online. Reporters and correspondents are encouraged to file in their stories from home or place of assignments.
Not left behind are government agencies and religious bodies, especially churches. Many churches with the technology have been transmitting live broadcasts of big events like their conventions to their viewing congregations through several cable and online platforms. Notable among them are the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), The Apostolic Church Nigeria (TACN), Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church, Daystar International Church, among others.
On December 31st 2020, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) International, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, held the crossover night live from 10.00 pm through the Dove Television and other social networks..
Likewise, the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings have been holding virtually since the outbreak of the disease in the country in February 2020. Several state governments, agencies and parastatals have also ordered more than 70% of their workers to be working remotely from home.
The development, however, is costing many Nigerians their jobs as businesses and individuals companies embrace remote working to help cut costs.
According to the maiden report of COVID-19 impact monitoring survey released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and obtained by BH, the impact of Covid19 pandemic on employment and income of Nigerians have been widespread.
For instance, the report stated that out of the 1,950 households surveyed on a nationally representative sample, 42% of the respondents who were working before the outbreak were no longer working the week preceding the interview for reasons related to COVID-19.
According to the report, the poorest households accounted for the highest share of Nigerians who lost their jobs, representing 45 percent, the wealthiest household accounted for 35 percent.
While the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who chairs the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC), said in May 2020 that the Federal Government was expecting 39.4 million job losses by December due to the pandemic, economic experts maintained that the number is far higher given the impact the pandemic has had on the nation’s economy.
Mostly affected, findings revealed, are those working in the transportation, real estate, hotel and tourism, food, cleaning and maintenance sectors.
For instance, domestic airlines, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, have sacked thousands of workers. In December 2020, Arik Air sacked 300 workers, blaming it on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on its operations.
“Arising from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the constrained ability of the airline to complete heavy maintenance activities and return its planes to operations, stunted revenues against increasing operational costs, the management of Arik Air (In Receivership) has declared 300 staff members redundant to its current level of operations,” the spokesperson of the airline, Adebanji Ola, had started.
The airline also said over 50 per cent of its workforce of over 1,600 staff has been on furlough in the past six months on a basic allowance.
“Decisions to let go of staff is naturally a difficult decision. Arik Air wishes the impacted staff well in their future endeavors,” the airline said.
Earlier in August, Air Peace laid off 69 pilots in a survive the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The airline’s spokesperson, Stanley Olisa, stated that Air Peace had to take “a very painful but rightful decision, in the circumstances the airline has found itself as a result of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations and financial health, to terminate the employment of some of its pilots.”
Other airlines like Aero Contractors, Dana and Overland Airways have all thrown many of their workers into the labour market.
Also affected are hotels and food service companies. Due to the reluctance of many to travel for fear of contracting Covid19, most hotels have been recording low patronage and empty rooms. Unable to cope with the rising personnel, operational and maintenance costs, several workers have been relieved of their work.
A front desk officer with Sheraton Hotels, Ikeja, told our correspondent that many of her colleagues were not so-lucky as they have been asked to go.
“I am one of the lucky ones retained by the hotel. Despite the fact that I’am on half salary since May last year, am still grateful to God to have something to take home at the end of the month”, declared the staff who did not want her identity disclosed.
Another sector badly hit is the real estate sector. Owing to the decision of many firms to reduce office place, many office accommodations are now vacant. Unable to find the fund to maintain many of the vacant properties, many workers, including doormen, cleaners and security men have been retrenched.
A worker with Eleganza Properties posted to the Oregun branch, who recently lost his job told BH that more than 70 percent of them (workers) was laid off.
“I don’t blame the management. Where will they get the money to pay us. You can see that virtually all our warehouses and offices are vacant, no one to take them up. The same thing is happening in our branches at Apapa, Ikoyi, Alaba and Lekki.
“A Chinese company just closed its branch inside this complex (Oregun) and relocated to its property around Sagamu. They manufacture doors and ceiling boards. How many people are building houses now? What most Nigerians are looking for is the money to eat. The situation is that bad.
Findings also revealed that many businesses, in order to cut cost, have introduced cost cutting measures. Some of the measures include the automation of their production processes as well shutting down several of their branches and making their staff to work from home.
Mostly affected are media houses, cable TV providers, GSM providers and fintechs. Our correspondent gathered that Multichoice, owners of DStv and GOtv, has shut down most of its customer care outlets and sacked most of the workers, while empowering those retained to work remotely from home.
“Don’t be surprised that a customer agent that picked your call is attending to you from home. But in order to ensure that the work go smoothly, we are paid electricity and internet allowance monthly.
“However, they stopped our transport allowance since we don’t need to commute to and from the office again”, disclosed a customer service representative with Multichoice Nigeria.
The Chairman, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM), Enugu State Branch, said the outbreak of Covid19 has changed the world of work forever, advising Nigerians to prepare for the new way of life.
According to him, the pandemic has brought a lot of changes to the workplace and disrupted established norms about how employees can deliver on their employment obligations.
“For example, the use of zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet has made the future of work more AI (artificial intelligence) powered. With the world at large, and Nigeria at the behest of second wave of the pandemic, virtual meetings through the aforementioned platforms remain the only options in a fast-changing world of work.
“We now have more remote working arrangement. There has been a shift from the traditional or classic practice of working in the office, to remote working.
“However, employers have to contend with new challenges, including the provision of new forms of employee benefits and allowances such as electricity and internet data allowance to enable employees to work optimally from home given the poor infrastructure”.
He also disclosed that the most sought for skills post pandemic will be data skills, business analyst, data scientist, marketer, artificial Intelligence, business intelligence analyst, User Interface (UI) designer, Blockchain, Sales and Marketing, social media manager, as well as affiliate marketing manager, among others.
Also, a human resource expert, Dr. Peju Badmus, warned that more Nigerians face the risk of losing their jobs as business owners drop the traditional means of working for the remote option.
“The decline in daily commuters as well as business travel will have a knock-on effect on those whose jobs support and serve these workers and offices.
“One-in-four workers are in the transportation, food service, cleaning and maintenance, retail and personal care industries. These jobs, often concentrated in cities and lower paid, are disappearing or are at risk of disappearing in the near term.
“Also, as revenue-strapped companies search for the tasks that can be done remotely, they embrace those that can be done without humans (automation).
“If you go to Victoria Island and Lekki, you will notice that the number of high-rise buildings that their exteriors are now cleaned by wiper-like machines is on the increase,” she note