The realities of working from my home in Kigali
Sunday July 25 2021
The Rwandan government recently put the country back on lockdown and ordered all employees both in the public and private sector to work from home, which is the first time this order has been made since the pandemic started last year.
For some, working from home meant undeclared time off, while for others it was a struggle to adjust. At the beginning it was a struggle to balance work and the distractions of home, until low productivity threatened livelihoods.
One employee of a major telecom company in Kigali had made a habit of working in pyjamas and attend virtual work meetings from his bed, but this almost cost him his job.
Richard Balenzi, a commercial lawyer and partner at Trust Law Chambers, has fully embraced working from home, saying it has given him the flexibility he needs to work, spend time with his family and even help take care of his three-year old son.
The best part of his workday now is playing with his son when he takes breaks from work.
“My wife is happy that I am physically present, she is more likely to respect my work boundaries than my son, but his presence has not taken away anything from my work, it all comes down to one's personal discipline," he said.
Although Balenzi doesn’t have a dedicated home office, he has created a structure that has helped him tune mentally for work and also minimise distractions.
He has a set time for waking up, then he prepares and even dresses up for work, just like when he would commute to work.
“My son has also learned not to ‘disturb’ me when I am dressed in an office shirt and trouser, with a laptop in front of me. He just says, ‘dad are you working,’ and then walks away,” he said.
Balenzi said his productivity and those of the people he supervises has not suffered, which has shown him that remote working is possible. However, he struggles with the blurring of lines between work time and home time.
“One moment I am taking a serious call from a client, the next moment I am taking my son to the bathroom,” said Balenzi, adding, “Working from the office helps one compartmentalise the two environments and allocate time for each, working from home takes that away and you end up working even late into the night and sending e-mails.
“Clients also tend not to respect the normal working hours, and you end up getting their calls or e-mails way past working hours,” he said.
However, Balenzi said productivity might vary from one profession to another. He is as a lawyer, and his role is largely advisory.
“A client might want me to look at their contract and advise, and in that case, there is no need for a physical meeting,” he said.
But, working from home has robbed lawyers of that natural, intangible connection with clients, which only comes with a physical meeting.
Clients are also acquired through networking, and the pandemic has taken that away, affecting new business as new clients are fewer.
Despite suffering from "Zoom fatigue," working from home has also exposed the number of unnecessary physical meetings they used to have.
Professionals advise setting up a house office of sorts to signal to the brain that it’s time to focus on work.
And when done with work, you are advised to leave the designated workspace and switch off work devices to fully switch off mentally too.
It is advisable to move around the house in between breaks as opposed to being in one posture, for physical health. A walk or run is also advised to keep "Covid weight" away.