Since the pandemic struck, organisations and businesses of all sorts and sizes have had to ask their staff to work from home. It turns out that, in many cases, it’s not such a bad thing for either side.
Many roles can be perfectly well fulfilled without leaving home, with benefits in efficiency and cost. A study by the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago found that 37% of US jobs could be done from home, with variations across cities and industries. A similar study in Norway found this figure to be about 39%.
As organisations realise the advantages, they are likely to permit – even require – more of their employees to work from home. And here’s the thing: if ‘home’ is anywhere you can get a desk, chair, computer and internet connection, that place could be anywhere in the world, including Africa.
This could be good news for the thousands of Africans seeking a better life beyond the continent – whether by legal or illegal means.
If it is possible to find and undertake Western jobs from the familiarity of home, there is surely less of an incentive to risk crossing the Mediterranean in a small boat or, less traumatically, navigate extremely tough immigration barriers to get to the West.
And, ultimately, having large numbers of Africans undertaking these jobs would lead to transfer of know-how to the continent.
Having a supply of willing workers is not enough, though. Those who want to work for world-class companies must have or be prepared to obtain the right level of education and skills. Studies have found that a greater proportion of jobs that can be done from home are the more skilled, higher-paying ones.
If it is possible to find and undertake Western jobs from the familiarity of home, there is surely less of an incentive to risk crossing the Mediterranean in a small boat
A question of tax
The new nature of work will also inevitably lead to cross-border conversations around labour and tax. If I take a full-time job in California while residing in Abuja, where does my income tax go – to the US or Nigeria? Where do other elements of pay such as health insurance and pension go?
While there may be existing agreements around these issues, if volumes were to increase, it would be necessary to renegotiate terms. African governments must get ready for these conversations and would do well to engage in them as a bloc.
We must be ready to take our place in this new world – there is much to be gained.