Remote work: There is a brewing war between tech executives and talents in Africa

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The argument from some of these executives is that, from their experience, working onsite is more productive and can be a good way to boost morale for staff…
The future of work in tech is creating a clash between old school executives and young talents

The future of work in the tech space in Africa, even as the industry takes shape with the growing adoption of remote work, has remained a contentious discussion over the years.

When Damilola (name changed) joined his current company in June 2021 as a full stack web developer, he worked remotely like the rest of the team. After all, it was in the heat of the conversations around the future of work. They had an office in Victoria Island, Lagos, but the co-founders, he said, didn’t live in the country.

Then, in early December, a new admin staff joined, and the story changed. Now, they resume three days at the office and work remotely for two days. They have to log into a Google Sheet what they achieved daily, and recently, he said, they have been instructed to wear business casual to the office, at least on Mondays.

In another tech company, an employee (name withheld) said the new HR admin, who used to work in a traditional 9-5 company, suggested that they use titles to address their line managers.

Ideas that have for years become very much uncommon in the tech space are creeping in.

He added that the Product Manager, who is his line manager refused to respond to his message because he had omitted ‘sir’ in the message.

The future of work in the tech space in Africa, even as the industry takes shape, has remained a contentious discussion over the years.

A brewing culture clash

As the Nigerian tech industry has become more profitable, founders have been able to poach talents from more traditional 9-5 companies. But, as they enter the tech space, there is a growing trend of executives pushing for a more traditional work culture setting, the type they had in their previous jobs, raising questions about the future of work in tech.

What many young professionals in the tech ecosystem have found attractive is the corporate culture, which is laxer, with little or no restrictions on dress code and mutual respect for all staff.

But these executives and administrators are introducing the old methods, causing talents who have only worked in tech all their professional lives to clutch their pearls.

Cause of the culture clash?

Some executives coming into the tech space are not aware of what is obtainable and are usually not in tune with the space.

Chibuzor Ihentuge-Eric, HR professional, who works with a series of Lagos based tech companies as a consultant

Chibuzor’s advice is that these executives making the shift to tech must be aware that its corporate culture is different from what they are used to and as such “research has to be done,” before they take on these new roles.

Temiloluwa, who has worked all through her career in tech and currently leads her division at a Lagos based fintech, said that this new trend of slipping more traditional corporate practices into the tech space will not work because the talent in the industry is high in demand, and can always leave the company. And, this will cost tech startups more money, in the long run.

“I don’t think the trend would last long. It’s easier to take a job now in Mexico or Egypt and work remotely than to work for a traditional tech company,” she said. “You would see that a lot of people are resigning now because tech is no longer bound by borders.”

Idris Adesina, a people and culture researcher and consultant for many tech companies, said that these new executives are coming into tech because of the same lax company culture and benefits, and that “the traditional pattern lacks the most important aspect of [modern] professional life, which is work-life balance.”

Future of work
The future of work in tech is creating a clash between old school executives and young talents

He argues that the growing trend is taking that away from staff who have enjoyed work-life balance all their professional lives.

Remote work is at the centre of the debate

The argument from some of these executives is that, from their experience, working onsite is more productive and can be a good way to boost morale for staff.

“Start from the environment. You are more likely to be serious in an office environment than in your house in a remote work arrangement. When you see what your co-workers are doing, you too want to do more,” Tenn, who has held several C-suite roles in tech companies in Lagos said.

It’s about what’s best for the office. Staff will always not want to come in.

Adesina argues that more traditional executives should be employed as they tend to stay longer at their jobs than those who have worked all their lives in tech.

“With training and development, this individual could transform into a valuable employee who can bring great new ideas to the table. They’re more likely to stay loyal to your company and want to grow with your business,” Adesina said.

Despite the fact that fully remote work has become significant with tech companies, especially after the pandemic, Adesina said that many HR professionals still struggle with a method of measuring productivity as regards remote working which he said: “still remains a concern.”

Companies like Google and Apple have had to face off with staff who do not want to return to the office without special incentives to make them do. Recently Apple raised the salaries of its staff as a form of incentive. Amazon and Microsoft have had to do similar earlier.

Remote work: There is a brewing war between tech executives and talents in Africa

Some staff, especially those that have only worked in tech, see the questions of productivity as the fault of the company generally, insisting that remote work is the future.

“They should evolve with the world and hire staff that can work from home independently,” Temiloluwa said. “I like the fact that I can wear whatever I want (within moderation of course) to the office. I can also work from anywhere. I’m more productive on the days I work from home because I don’t commute.”

For Chibuzor, it’s about intentionality and communication. “Discuss with the team and let them see the benefits of the culture drive. People are more inclined to systems they are aware of their benefits,” she said.

Who is really fueling this change?

But sometimes, the change is not coming entirely from the new administrators, especially when they are coming from an HR professional like in Damilare’s case.

Sometimes founders looking to take their companies in a different direction hire talent through which they instil their decision. “The HR cannot make changes if it’s not accepted by management. So sometimes they are expressions of management mindset,” Chibuzor said.

This immediately brings into question the age-long conversation about what constitutes a healthy work environment.  Claire Cain Miller in an article in the New York Times notes that its meaning has evolved over the years into something else.

“In reality, it means something different: a place where people actually want to work, because they have a sense of purpose, diverse perspectives are welcomed and people have the flexibility to live their lives outside work,” she writes.

How to identify a toxic work environment
The future of work debate has reached a fever pitch. Image Source: iStock

What does the future hold?

In the long run, founders will need to make decisions that work for their companies, even though it will cost them talent who prefer the old way or the new way.

“There are some aspect that helps in the development of employees when working onsite such as working collaboratively, Group working dynamics and multi-cultural intelligence,” Adesina said.

“Be open to adopting and enforcing strategies that are aligned with the organizational goal,” Chibuzor added. “Don’t inculcate practices you don’t understand just because a lot of people are doing so.”


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