adplus-dvertising
Technology

4 Nigerian startup bosses give their honest opinions about remote work 

Screenshot 2024 01 15 170240

In January 2024, a video released (now deleted) by Internet Brands/WebMD attracted heated controversy from different stakeholders in the corporate workplace scene. The video features Bob Brisco (WebMD CEO) and other top executives urging employees to return to the office.

Among other concerns, the language used in the video made it sound more like a threat than a request. This drew sharp criticism from people who went on to question the company”s culture.

Many felt the message implied that remote employees were less capable or productive, and it failed to acknowledge why people prefer remote work and its benefits.

This reignited the ongoing conversation about reconsidering remote work and flexible arrangements which formed most workplace conversations since 2023.

We cannot ignore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on how people understand and engage with work. Tech giants like Meta, Google, and Amazon, once champions of remote work, are now grappling with how complicated it is to bring employees back to the office.

The labour union protests and boycotting moves that accompany return-to-office (RTO) policies make one thing clear — employees don’t want to return to physical offices.

In addition to the challenges companies face implementing RTO policies, new startups are confronted with the decision to either embrace remote work fully, hailed as the future of work, or ignore what’s fast becoming the new normal and insist on employees coming into physical offices.

However, a CIC study published in January 2024 revealed that 90% of 560 respondents see value in having the option to work in a physical office for collaborative tasks. This trend projects the need for an approach that balances company objectives with employee preferences.

Against this backdrop, a post on X (formerly Twitter) by a Nigerian tech startup founder started a debate about the productivity of fully remote teams.

Suck at managing people?

Stay ahead of the curve with expert takes on transforming company culture, mastering leadership challenges, and embracing HR strategies. The Mordern Workplace Newsletter keeps you informed and motivated with our bi-weekly updates.

In ..., Arinze Chinazom, Founder, Autogirl, a mobility startup, disclosed why she is considering moving its team away from a remote work arrangement based on how remote teams are susceptible to being ineffective.

It got varied responses; from people questioning the company’s work processes to others cautioning her not to generalise and conclude that this is the attitude of every remote worker.

Four tech startup leaders weighed in on the debate, offering diverse perspectives which I’ve compiled into the following talking points.

Whatever rocks your boat

There are valid reasons for and against fully remote teams. Victor Onyekere, Co-founder/Managing Partner, Seedling, recognises the necessity for flexibility, but also calls for a need to understand that none of the arrangements — onsite, remote, or hybrid — is a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Work arrangement for me is not static. This is why I said that there’s no written rule. I can begin with the remote option and switch to hybrid along the line. Segmenting my workforce is also an important action point. I need to understand those who need to be remote, hybrid, or onsite.”

The nature of a business, its current stage, industry trends, and employee preferences should influence a founder’s decision.

While it’s important to tailor work arrangements to address the unique needs of a business, Tunde Ademuyiwa, Co-founder, Jump N Pass, discourages startups from considering having a fully remote team, especially in the early stage.

He asserts that face-to-face interactions are more valuable to the spontaneity associated with startups, as well as team dynamics, collaborations, and innovation needed for the business to succeed. For him, it’s impossible to define a company’s culture when everyone is working from home and rarely sees each other.

Milton Tutu, Selar CMO, while boasting of the startup successfully running a fully remote team for over three years, stresses the importance of aligning the employees with the company’s goals and culture if it’ll be successful. Without effective communication and support systems in place, the chosen work model wouldn’t matter.

“Most people don’t realise it but a fully remote company is one of the most difficult to run and manage because you have a workforce all around the world and sometimes in different time zones. There are so many things that you have to do when it comes to creating a supportive environment for your employees, like creating a healthy environment and culture where they can thrive and excel at their jobs, always communicating the company’s vision/mission to the team so focus can always be realigned, have a healthy two-way feedback loop where your team can give you feedback and you can always feedback.”

While these founders gave instances of how their preferred work model has fared over the years, it boils down to finding a balance between maximising productivity and employee satisfaction.

Remote work is not a right, it is earned

Narrating how the team at Jump N Pass operated in its first three months, Ademuyiwa says the first was fully on-site; the second, one day remote; and the third, two days remote.

He explains that the rationale behind this is to gauge how the employees demonstrated diligence and trustworthiness under the different arrangements. He asserts that startups can gradually transition from on-site to hybrid — at most, two days remote — after establishing that the business has a structure, and the workforce is accountable.

His viewpoint about remote work being earned suggests that fully remote work should only be reserved for established teams and projects with proven success.

“You earn the right to work remotely when you’ve proven yourself to be diligent and trustworthy. We give you that one-day remote to see how you perform. Young [new] staff do not have the right to work remotely until they understand the culture, after which it can be considered. But, still, it is not a given. It may work with established companies because processes are already defined, but remote work is a bad idea for startups.”

Jude Dike, GetEquity CEO offers a similar perspective, noting that an important currency needed for remote work to be effective is discipline.

With a more nuanced perspective, Onyekere advised that if the company hasn’t yet considered the possible implications of remote work on productivity and company, it shouldn’t go ahead to adopt it just because of the perceived benefits.

The cost implication of remote work

For Dike, in addition to discipline, another cost associated with remote work is the expenses needed to set up a functional home workspace — with good Internet and power — that supports effective work delivery. While executives might be able to afford this, the company might not be capable of providing adequate support to other team members to get a similar set-up.

However, Onyekere argues that remote work can help increase productivity by reducing commute time, so, it is worth every support that can be given for seamless work outside a physical office.

“I have experienced all three work arrangements as an employee and as an employer. I have led diverse teams across the three different work arrangements. The most visible advantage of onsite is that it offers an avenue to foster relationship-building and quicker conflict resolution. Remote option saves travel time which can be channelled into other areas of work to scale productivity.”

Ademuyiwa counters this and believes that it would be more effective for the support to be in form of ensuring employees live close to work to reduce commute time.

However, Tutu offers a pragmatic perspective that the sustainability of remote work depends on individual’s capabilities and the company’s readiness to bear the associated costs. The key is to strike a balance.

Bottom line

The crux of the remote work vs office conversation is flexibility. While some experts say remote work is generating unnecessary fuss, others say it is an anomaly the world is trying so hard to normalise.

Because of the magnitude of the sudden shift from the traditional work setting since 2020, it might take several years before there’s a significant change in perspectives and availability of the resources needed to make remote work largely embraced.

Engaging in open dialogues like this gives founders and employers access to several perspectives on why different companies adopt their respective work arrangements and how they foster productivity.

WATCH NOW

DOWNLOAD NOW