What you need to know:
- The home-working culture in Kenya is undeveloped and we all believe that you can’t be productive and disciplined if you are working from home. But that isn’t true at all.
- Part of the culture change will involve people learning how to ignore urgent business and ration their energy, including mental energy, appropriately.
One of my former bosses built a swanky home in a good, leafy neighbourhood and we were very proud and happy for him because we knew him to be a straight, hardworking and honest — if not particularly financially literate — man.
So I sought his advice and encouragement. “Take your mortgage early,” he told me. The company mortgage scheme, which offers lower and stable interest, has been a big thing and a first step for many into the property ownership ladder.
But then my boss, a man with an overdeveloped sense of irony and humour, made the wry observation that the one thing he was very particular about was his garden.
It was planted just the way he wanted; sitting areas where he would read and work were built. “I have never been to the garden,” he concluded his story. He was always busy and on the move.
And it is the story of every person who builds their own home. There is always a dream, be it additional rooms for children who are out of the house a few months after the house is done, or a forest of balconies and recreational areas that people never go to.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic — or Covic-19 as one minister calls it — has dramatically changed all that. Just like it has changed the entire ball game of our lives.
I keep telling people that things will never be the same again. I mean, there are stray cats criss-crossing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for Pete’s sake.
What do you go to the office to do? Would you put in an honest day’s work even if your boss can’t see you?
Last year I became negatively disposed towards a European consultant when I called him and his call was taken in the kitchen. Which was silly; the man’s office is at home.
The home-working culture in Kenya is undeveloped and we all believe that you can’t be productive and disciplined if you are working from home. But that isn’t true at all.
An architect this week observed that the only thing you achieve by going to work is changing your location. And breathing germs into each other’s face.
You can hold your meetings, work, consult and supervise your team without leaving your home.
And this has implications for the way we design the homes of the future. Offices will be functional, not just dens and man caves where the man of the house disappears to have a few moments on his own.
They will have good screens for Zoom, stable Wi-Fi, proper office desks and comfortable chairs, good lighting and air and all those things you look for in an office.
They will be capable of receiving and hosting visitors and will not be in intimate parts of the house.
And people will evolve the discipline to put in eight hours and more, reduce disruptive family interaction and so on.
I find working from home more tiresome than the office because one never really logs off. At 1am, office emails, WhatsApp groups and other tools follow you into the bed. There is stuff to review and problems to worry about.
Part of the culture change will involve people learning how to ignore urgent business and ration their energy, including mental energy, appropriately.
Workers will become more autonomous, capable of taking care of their own small IT issues, doing their own photocopying or printing and making their own tea.
They will also learn to value their own time and make better use of it. The cost of doing work, I think, will go down.
If a third of Nairobi’s workers operated from home, there would be a dramatic change in the economy and sociology of the city.
First, traffic would dramatically decline. Secondly, we would have to take many services now concentrated in the city centre to the estates.
This would have an effect on the way we design and lay out cities. Fewer commuters means less pollution, less fuel burnt in traffic jams and less time wasted in torturous commutes.
Working from home also means that more people would spend time with their families and actually raise their children — rather than leaving it to TV, the internet and the grooming perverts who lurk in there.
Couples would spend more time together, living and working together rather than meeting occasionally around the house.
Being able to spend time together is not an unblemished blessing, though. Some couples, after spending a lot of time together, act out their aggression, sometimes leading to violence. I doubt that these are in the majority.
Finally, people, and especially the middle classes, fear the idea, rather than the reality, of being broke.
Those who suffered income loss are perhaps starting to realise that having less money is a good trade-off for all the hustle they have to endure in order to make more money, that there is a lot of pleasure to be had from having more free time and less stress even if it means less money.
Imagine all those people who would finally be able to sit in their disused gardens and read their forgotten books. This calamity has its silver lining, however tiny.