Jul 29, 2019

Must We All 'Go To Work'? Rethinking Working Methods In Lagos | Fifehan Ogunde

51.3 million workers in Nigeria work full-time in Nigeria (at least 40 hours a week).. In Lagos state, at least 8 million people travel to work on just over 9,100 available roads and expressways. 

While there is limited evidence on the precise number, some studies have indicated that workers spend about 6-8 hours in traffic everyday. The commuting difficulties experienced by these workers as a result of traffic gridlock has a hugely negative impact on productivity for both small and large scale organizations. The most recent research studies on traffic congestion in Lagos state have estimated the costs of congestion in Lagos state to be $1 billion yearly. Dangote group reportedly loses over 2 billion Naira monthly as a result of traffic gridlock in the Apapa axis of Lagos state. Generally speaking traffic congestion also result in increased transport and labour costs and by implication decreased revenue for organizations. Bearing this in mind, perhaps it is time to consider alternative working methods can help channel these wasted hours into more productive enterprises and improve work-life balance particularly in sectors characterized by long working hours.

A vast majority of workers in Lagos state have to report to a physical location. In view of the negative impact of long commutes on general productivity and business revenue in general, can we consider more flexible arrangements? Going by current trends in more developed economies, we should. Increased work flexibility is becoming more attractive particularly among employees in the world’s largest economies. In a 2018 survey by Ernst and Young of 9,700 employees in eight of the world’s largest economies, work flexibility was listed as a top feature of an attractive job just behind competitive pay and benefits.

One method that is becoming increasingly relevant globally is a remote working or  ‘work from home’ strategy. Remote working is on the rise in many advanced economies and is expected to constitute about 50% of the UK workforce by 2020. Furthermore, studies have shown that in some parts of the world, people who work from home are 87% more likely to love their job than those who do not. In addition, remote working can reduce stress levels, decrease operating costs, increase productivity and drive efficiency. Remote working is not quite as popular in Nigeria with only 6.1% of respondents in a survey of millennials in Nigeria voting to work from home. The poor state of internet access and speed, which is a key element of successful remote working was cited as a contributory factor in the apparent apathy towards remote working in Nigeria. This should not however detract from the potential of remote working to boost productivity in Nigeria. As one researcher argued, many meetings in Nigeria can be e-mails and a significant amount of the work undertaken in many organizations can be done without being physically present in an office. Managers can also easily get in touch with their employees through phone calls and documents can easily be transferred by email. Employees may be required to come in once or twice a week depending on the nature of the work. The good news is that there are an increasing number of jobs that favour remote working in Nigeria and remote working is considered by some experts as being highly relevant to the future of work in Nigeria. On the flip side, jobs such as accountancy and chauffeur driving which are among the most common jobs in Lagos state are either not suited to remote working or cannot activate a remote working function due to poor networking infrastructure.  

Another possible option could be remodelling the work structure to reflect hourly work. 54% of respondents in a survey conducted among a section of Nigerian millennials particularly cite flexible working hours as a motivation for task accomplishment. Flexibility in work hours can work in two ways. First, full-time employment could be considered in the number of hours worked as opposed to the number of days worked. A forty-hour work week can be condensed into four, five or even six working days. This provides much needed flexibility in resumption and closing times particularly for those who have long commutes.

Alternatively, working hours could be determined in the context of productivity as opposed to number of hours spent in the office. In this case, employees have the option of either completing work timeously and leaving early or leaving early to complete unfinished work in their homes. Any fears that a reduction in working hours will reduce productivity is dispelled by existing data in this respect. According to OECD data, people in richer countries work less and where there is increased productivity, the number of working hours per week decreases.

In the event that individuals still have to report to a physical location, more must be done to improve the transport network particularly in connecting the industrial and residential areas. Lagos for one already suffers from a scarcity of road networks to deal with the working population. A significant number of the roads are poorly maintained despite funds of over $8.5 billion being allocated to road construction and maintenance since 1999. Proposed road network plans by the state government in recent years include construction of a fourth link bridge connecting the ‘mainland’ area of Lagos to the ‘island’, expansion of the Oshodi airport road to include ten lanes and construction of a flyover bridge in the Agege metropolis. Such construction plans must be undertaken alongside maintenance and repair of other feeder roads, particularly those serving the more population dense areas of Lagos state.

Railway travel is another potentially viable option. A successful rail network is able to potentially serve as means of transportation for close to 700,000 commuters. However, previous experience with rail projects does not inspire much confidence that such a network will be established. Ten years after commencement of the Lagos Urban Rail Network project in Lagos, none of the seven lines proposed to connect all areas of Lagos state under the project has been completed .This is symptomatic of railway projects in Nigeria, many of which are announced with great fanfare but eventually assume the status of mere white elephant projects.

Another option that has been discussed more often in recent times has been developing a suitable water transportation network. Government figures indicated that over 26 million people commuted via ferries and boats to and from different parts of  Lagos state in 2015. A well-regulated water transportation system that maximizes the 23% of Lagos’s 3577 sq km land mass that is currently covered by water will undoubtedly reduce the pressure on the roads. Realization of the full potential of water transportation in relation to traffic management however depends a great deal on how effectively government and private operator can address current safety concerns.

Traffic congestion in Lagos state negatively impacts business productivity and could potentially decrease revenue. Perhaps the time has come to review our working methods and pay more serious attention to alternative transport mechanisms.

Fifehan Ogunde Esq.