Blackouts make working from home difficult

Access to the internet is one of the many limitations when one is working from home. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • Working from home was supposed to be smooth sailing, at least that’s what it looked like on social media.
  • I wondered though, whether the government would ever address the power outages.

A popular response to the outbreak of the new coronavirus has been social distancing. After the announcement of the first case in Kenya, the government encouraged organisations to allow their employees to work from home.

The decision has been criticised by many Kenyans, who are of the opinion that it can work only for the middle class, who have access to technology, internet connectivity, affordable housing, and an assured monthly income.

I am one of the many employees who have been working remotely for a week now. We were informed that meetings would be conducted via Skype for Business, and that travel — whether local or international — was discouraged. In theory, it made perfect sense. We all understood that minimising movement would reduce exposure to the virus.

MAKE MONEY

My last matatu trip was on March 16. Save for a few other public service vehicles, the roads were pretty empty that Monday morning. And so was the CBD. However, in the evening, hawkers were busy at work. I asked one woman what she thought of the directive to work from home.

“This is how I make money to feed my family. If we all closed our businesses, won’t we become thieves?” she posed. I chuckled, but that confirmed that there are many issues that need to be addressed for social distancing to work.

Working from home was supposed to be smooth sailing, at least that’s what it looked like on social media.

Countries in the West had implemented it successfully — rent had been temporarily suspended in some, healthcare was guaranteed and other basic amenities that they previously had to buy were now free. I have internet connectivity, electricity, a laptop and food; what could go wrong?

When I woke up on Wednesday, I was prepared to follow my usual routine: Shower, take breakfast then get to work by 9am. But then there was a blackout. I learnt that there was a scheduled power outage, and that it would last until about 5pm.

Determined to follow the government directive, I bought bundles. But my laptop was running out of charge, as was my phone. I needed to finish working by 3pm, yet it was already 12pm. Desperate, I headed for a nearby cafe and got down to work.

TOTAL SHUTDOWN
The blackouts have been frequent, as has been the poor connectivity. As the case count went higher, the government became stricter about keeping people at home because, true to fact, social distancing is the best chance at containing the spread of the virus.

I am rarely at home, so this is a good time to get acclimatised to the place. I have a really nice bedroom and my dogs are remarkable listeners.

Whispers on social media spoke of a looming total shutdown as the week wore on. I worried about the cab drivers I had met in the days before I started working from home, who worried for their own safety and livelihood.

They were worried that as more people started working from home, they would make fewer trips, although their employers would compensate them for the time they might have to spend isolated.
Access to the internet is one of the many limitations regarding this isolation. To mitigate this, the government announced an initiative that would guarantee 4G internet to people living in remote areas to enable them to work from home and their children to learn remotely. But this would take some time.

POWER OUTAGES
I wondered though, whether the government would ever address the power outages.

Delivery services seem to be working just fine. Until clubs were also shut down, it seemed like people were still facilitating the spread of the virus. The government had to track more than 600 people who might been affected.

It has been a week since this isolation began. Adjusting my schedule has been an arduous process, but I think I’m settling in just fine. It might take a bit longer to adjust to this new reality, talking to people about when it will end, if it will. Musicians have concerts on Instagram Live, Facebook and Twitch. Socialising is a virtual activity now.

More than ever, the news of the virus has become a staple. Good or bad, the public is eager to know whether this cloud will pass. History says it will, even if it seems like it might take a while. The best we can do is find ways to make this digital life a success.

I hope the right interventions are put in place for those less privileged and well, stay at home. The distance will make all the difference.

Ms Murage is a correspondent with the Nation Media Group. amurage@ke.nationmedia.com