He was the quintessential African man. Tall, dark and handsome. He lived in Kibra, the hot bed of Luo politics. Ordinarily, he would pass as part of the riotous Gor Mahia mob coming from the mock swearing-in of their beloved ‘Baba’ as Peoples President.
He never reported to work, or so it appeared, yet his lifestyle was that of unmatched comfort. His car, a German machine was always immaculately clean. Occasionally, he would leave the house with a laptop on his back and duck into Uber. He had a wife, a housewife for that matter and beautiful baby girl who attended one of the prestigious internationals schools around.
Sometimes, he would disappear for days. No one knew what he did for a living. To girls in the hood, he was this “Macho” Luo man who knew how to treat girls. Once in a while, over the weekends, he could spend generously on girls at his usual Ohangla joint. To the men, he was either a drug baron or a night robber. No one would sustain such high life without an 8-5 job they opined. George, for that was his name, was a living mystery.
Across town, Tom, an Australian living in Kenya had an equally strange lifestyle. He lived in Westlands, the upmarket living address. Once in a while a bevvy of young men and women would trickle to his compound. They would sit under a big tree for hours sipping coffee and punching away on their laptops. Once they left, you would not see them again for along time as Tom resumed his lonely life with a dog.
No one in the neighborhood understood what Tom did for a living except that he enjoyed a high life punctuated with endless Safari trips across the country.
Tom and George are living on the fast lane. You may not believe it but George is an employee with a South African company while Tom is an employer, running a successful business with a handful employees.
Those occasional visitors Tom usually hosts are actually his staff. George also reports to his South African office once in a while but on a daily basis, he logs into the company system and works thousands of kilometers away from his head office. That’s the new business model. You do not have to be physically present at a common location to be considered working!
I have always wondered why someone wakes up in Dandora, commute for two hours to come work in an office in westlands. Unless one works in a farm, factory, or is in a direct service like hospital, school or hotel where physical presence is mandatory, it is pointless to demand that workers report to a central location.
The origin of this central work location in my opinion was the need for direct supervision supported by the fixed telephone lines. With Landline, the only place a worker could be traced and be productive was a physical office. Later, it became more sentimental to own an office space. The bosses, in order to massage their egos wanted their subjects right under their noses-literally. That’s why they allowed staff to commute across town only to come and fart sheepishly in their presence.
The other day, I met an old friend who gave me a business card of a top A class office location. I know the guy very well so I found it hard to believe that he could afford such an expensive office location. Until I paid him a visit.
I was ushered in with a hot cup of coffee from a beautiful girl at the reception. I found him sandwiched between people of different skin colors with a desk and a laptop in tow. This looked like somewhere in Europe! Surely, my friend had arrived living me at the traffic as they say in kiwahili, “kuwachwa kwa mataa.”
We had a meeting in a well furnished boardroom whereupon I enquired about the secrete to his new found status. He laughed it off. “Man, this is cheaper than where I was. I pay only 25,000 per month for this top office address, a receptionist, limitless coffee and a 24-hour high speed internet.
“Every desk in here is a company, he continued. Those guys sitting next to me are not my workers or workmates. Those are individuals running their own companies.” he clarified. Their staff may be here or elsewhere. Whereupon the old school me went like…. Ngai, how is that possible? Where do you keep your files? My friend laughed, “Boss stop living in the past. I store my files on my desktop and back up in iCloud. You must be looking for a file cabinet here somewhere. Keep looking.”
Yes. A company on a desk, files on a desktop and workers spread across the globe working from their homes. One may have to develop better ways to monitor their input than the traditional direct supervision and clocking in. And for meetings, one may have to settle for teleconferencing with only limited physical encounters.
Going forward, you may not brag about the size of your office but that of your thinking. Godowns and Hotels may replace the traditional offices as business will be canvassed online or in hotels and deliveries done via courier from the nearest Godowns.
For travel, Uber and similar taxi services will come in handy. There will be no rush hour travel as people will be working from where they live. I will not be surprised to find a Bank worker walking in slippers in Nyandarua while on duty and in Johannesburg! Finally the freedom to work naked from home!
Evans Majeni is a businessman and a Director at Tahidi Homes Limited.