Telecommuting Under Lockdown

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Telecommuting Under Lockdown

Remote work also referred to as telecommuting (work from anywhere or teleworking) has been with us since the 1970s. Over the past, two to three decades’ efforts have been made to institutionalize and further formalize the future of work. In 1995 a phrase was coined to put in perspective what it means to telecommute, “work is something you do, not something you travel to”. Telecommuting is defined explicitly as the working arrangements made for employees, where they do not have to necessarily commute by any means to a central point in delivering assigned duties or roles. The central point could be a warehouse, office building, and to some categories of employees, the field. In this article, we shall consider “Remote Work” from the locus of IT and further narrow it down to Application Developers and in parallel to Tech firms.

With the inception of telecommuting in western countries, some organizations including governments adopted teleworking to benefit themselves and their employees. Telecommuting was first recognized in satellite technologies where satellite offices were linked to remote mainframes through dumb terminals. Dumb terminal is described by TECHOPEDIA.COM as a very simple monitor with very little processing power and features. The network bridge between mainframes and dumb terminals was established using telephone lines. After a decade, given the significant breakthroughs in personal computers with respect to their processing power and increasing stability in performance, usage of personal computers was indeed harnessing a parallel and exponential household usage.  Moving computers to the home became the order and this forged whole new possibilities, where offices can be migrated to homes or anywhere. Personal computers could connect to organizational mainframes from anywhere, this further broadened and pinpointed areas where office work or activities may be conducted.

Over the years past, organizations specifically tech firms, have struggled to completely give in to telecommuting until 2019 during the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic really forced significant Tech firms to allow most of their employees to telecommute. Going remote, even Tech firms required a great deal of investment into organizational IT infrastructure and out-sourcing other services such as tools needed for communication. The basic tools for effective and efficient remote engagements maybe but not limited to virtual calling, emailing, and conferencing tools. These tools are very essential and without them, no meaningful remote engagement can be achieved.

The internet has had its fair share undergoing rapid stages of metamorphosis. At the very core in driving communication is the internet. It is fascinating how western countries have embraced the internet and made it accessible to their citizens as to rights and not a privilege for few, thereby paving way for seamless telecommuting. In March 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed in Ghana, the Telecommunication companies (Telcos) rose to the occasion by reinforcing their systems and providing the necessary tools for their employees to telecommute. During this period, the leading Telcos reported significant improvements in voice, data, and mobile money transactions. Indeed, customers also confirmed the seamless 4G mobile data services. Most employees have been very efficient and delivering effectively to meet customer demands. Telecommuting under lockdown has raised questions regarding the future of work after and beyond the pandemic.

On January 24, 2012, Reuters Poll reported that “one in five workers around the globe, particularly employees in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent work from home every day”. It is very important to reiterate the classic case of overwhelming work output by most telecommuting employees. Organizations that have allowed most of their employees to telecommute can and will attest to the benefits it brings to their firms. Some of the numerous benefits include a reduction in office space, utility bills (water, electricity, sanitary, etc.), and for tech start-ups engaging developers, there is no need for quantum investment for office space set-up. Rather, resources could be channelled into remunerations and ventures that will aid in smooth project delivery. Employees telecommuting have also reported a remarkable balance in work and personal life. Teleworkers do not have to necessarily commute to and fro, thereby reducing the commuting time for traversing through traffic jams.

In conclusion, some organizations will choose telecommuting to benefit employees whilst others will consider it solely for the benefit of the organization. Indeed, for effective telecommuting, the business must consider two key factors. The first being structures for communication and marrying the impact on the personal life of employees and the potential benefits to the business. Communication tools are common and once set-up is done; employees may use any of the channels to drive organizational goals. Secondly, although some employees require constant monitoring, it is not appropriate for organizations to lump together all employees into this category. In considering the benefits, organizations with complex structures should explore the potentials of telecommuting.

 Author: Patrick Wunake (Member, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)

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