Managing a (lean) remote team in Nigeria.

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I often joke with my friends in Diaspora when we compare notes working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic saying “don’t compare your remote work with that of an average Nigerian because it is not sexy”. Yet, at the back of my mind, I wonder if they truly grasp the challenges of working remotely in Nigeria.

While the current pandemic has forced quite a handful of companies in Nigeria to embrace remote work during the pandemic lockdown across major states, I cannot wander about the effect of this sudden transition on both the companies and their employees alike.

Managing a remote team in Nigeria has its unique challenges. Charsiol started in Nigeria with a small remote team of about 5 team members with the co-founders inclusive back in 2017. Fast-forward to 2020, we are still a small team with less than 10 team members working from different cities within Nigeria.

Although we have a lean team, it has been impossible to escape from the harsh realities of remote work in Nigeria. This is not to say that countries with good infrastructure do not have their remote work challenges. However, I’d argue that managing a team of remote workers in Nigeria means dealing with typical challenges that come with working virtually as well as the challenges from poor infrastructure… double wahala.

Benefits of having a remote team in Nigeria

This is not in any way to say that managing a remote team in Nigeria does not come with benefits. Thanks to the internet and business apps, having employees work from different locations using the web and video conferencing, via an internet connection has become more feasible than ever.

We don’t need to look far to see that the current lockdown in countries trying to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic has made companies turn to technology to keep up operations.

Source: https://www.statista.com/chart/21268/global-downloads-of-video-chat-apps-amid-covid-19-pandemic/

Another obvious benefit is being able to save on the overhead cost of having a physical location in Lagos which includes high rent cost, utility bills like generator maintenance, fuel/diesel procurement, security, and light bills to a few. For us, keep workers connected and productive while ensuring they deliver on tasks has been attained using the right technologies. No longer is the ability to source and deploy talent dependent on where they live or a requirement for good such talents to relocate to be a part of Charisol.

On the Employees’ side, working remotely is attractive because it means they no longer have to deal with waking up at ungodly hours to be the traffic jam to work and back again followed by eight hours of sitting at a desk.

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Source: https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work

This gives our team members can be productive right from a good work-life balance while giving extra hours if needed without complaints.

Remote Work Challenges Exist

Having spelt out the benefits of having a remote team, I wish I could tell you that we live happily ever after in ‘remote land’ but remote work is wonderful and is not without its challenges.

Source: https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2019

A recent study showed that people were much more likely to agree to complete a survey when they were asked in-person as opposed to over email — 34 times more effective (Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S002210311630292X).

Not having a physical office can make communication and keeping track of individual tasks very difficult. Lack of face to face communication can oftentimes lead to the fear of team members slacking off on the job. It also means that team members have to be extra conscious at time management since they don’t have managers looking over their shoulders to avoid being tagged as unprofessional. There are times when communication is very sparse; making team members feel isolated.

Challenges peculiar to Nigeria, dealing with issues like poor power supply can be completely frustrating. Issues range from low current to generator maintenance and stocking up on fuel, constant change over when power fluctuance, noise and air pollution from nearby generators.

Managing our team at Charisol

With much trial and error, we have learned from first-hand experience how to manage a remote team amid the storm.

  • Stay organized like an office: We have a general Trello Board for all team members roles, photos and daily activities. We encourage everyone to create a daily todo list that helps them and other team members track what they are doing, what they have done, and what they have completed. This helps to encourage transparency and accountability.
  • Daily team check-ins: We do routine catch-ups every workday where team members all contribute to the meeting by providing updates. It allows for transparency, especially when discussing the status of projects, progress on other tasks and personal life.
  • Collaborate and over-communicate: We use different collaboration tools like Google Apps, Zoom, Slack, Trello Jamboard. There are a lot of collaboration apps online with fancy bells and whistles but we keep it as simple as possible based on what works for our team. For example, since we are a small-sized team, we decided to create groups on both Slack and Whatsapp to ensure no communication got lost in transmission We discovered that Whatsapp was a better way to go while Slack became secondary.
  • Set reminders: Still on communication, Google calendar has been a lifesaver for all sorts of reminders from notifying team members to fill their Trello boards to setting up internal and client meetings.
  • Set clear expectations: We instil a sense of responsibility in each team member so they can have a sense of responsibility and ownership of their work. Instead of checking up on them regularly, we give clear expectations and deadlines with the flexibility to achieve them.
  • Give feedback and support: We do our best to help our team members succeed so that we can succeed by listening to their anxieties and concerns and empathizing with their struggles. We also understand the importance of asking for their feedback via surveys from time to time to gather important feedback on how connected and satisfied they are with their work.
  • Motivation: We encourage positive behaviour constantly. Rather than reprimanded which can lead to loss of motivation, we praise in public and reprimand in private.
  • No boss hierarchy: Lastly, while we have clear roles for everyone, we see everyone as contributors. We avoid practising hierarchy treatment so we can focus on openness and drive motivation.

Conclusion

Few months before the lockdown, team members in Lagos struggled with meeting deadlines due to poor power supply. We decided to find a workspace central to our location where we could work without hassle. This helped with bonding and meeting physically for the first time. So we learned that if all else fails (infrastructure wise), rent a workspace!

If you are still uncomfortable about letting your employees work from home permanently, you can start by testing the water. Give them a day or a couple of days a month to work from home. This way, it strategically prepares you and your team for business continuity during future crises.

Without the right solutions, properly managing a remote team in Nigeria can be hard to achieve.

We are Charisol, a Software Development Agency with a community of talented software developers that leverage on the “work without walls” culture to provide solutions for clients around the world. Our services span from Software Designing, App development, Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Content Writing & Marketing, to Search Engine Optimisation.

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