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International remote work: innovative working culture or a 2nd brain drain?

Tens of thousands of young professionals of Nigerian origin work in multinational companies outside the borders of Nigeria, a trend that has become even more popular in the last 5-10 years.

Macroeconomists posit that the rising trend is not unconnected with the sudden need (for most Nigerians) to find greener pastures and alternative job sources.

Unemployment and underemployment have had their greatest hit on Nigeria in recent times, leading to the oversaturation of the country’s labour market where a fraction of people constantly have to suffer job loss.

Consequently, more Nigerians have had to look elsewhere for job opportunities. With companies abroad offering some of these people job opportunities, the diaspora has become a major solace.

Remote work as the new trend:

Before now, it is only natural for employees to work in physical workplaces, informing the need for locally trained professionals to migrate from their local domiciles to a foreign land when in search of job opportunities. 

However, with the surge in virtual working arrangements, remote workers are persistently changing the world’s appeal to the nature of doing work.

Understanding remote working culture:

More importantly, as technology continues to advance; this new world order and culture, where a worker employed by a company works outside a traditional office environment, is fast becoming more common in a multitude of industries. 

From professionals of popular fields such as tech and freelancing to other uncommon career paths (education, healthcare, law); the new wave of remote jobs can now be prominently found in nearly any industry. 

Year on year, thanks to the upspring of tech hubs and centres, Nigeria produces tonnes of talents ranging from web developers, ICT/cybersecurity experts, graphics designers, data analysts, content developers, digital marketing strategists and business representatives.

The benefits:

More than 60% of employers who have experimented the remote working culture maintains that the flexibility inherent in the system brought about a significant increase in productivity. 

According to a recently published report by a group of career sociologists, 65% of full-time employees believe that working remotely would increase productivity – and their bosses agree. 

The report titled: State and Work Productivity Report revealed that two-thirds of managers who were surveyed reported an increase in overall productivity from their remote employees.

Besides productivity, it has also been voted for its effective cost saving mechanism which helps in improving a company’s bottom line. 

For instance, Flexjobs reported that international employers can save $22,000 per remote worker per year, even if their entire team is not remote.

‍Between innovation and brain drain:

As much as the remote working culture has been considered and celebrated as an innovation, it is one of the new windows of brain drain.

While these workers seem to reside within the country, their wealth of expertise are only useful to their companies and country of host.

Remote workers admit that they find joy in the better standard of living and quality of life, higher salaries, access to advanced technology that come with working remotely with international companies.

However, they acknowledge how frustrating it could also be seeing their efforts and skills being used to improve the business and economy outside of their home country. 

In the course of writing this paper, we spoke to a number of them. Below, you will read what one of them has to say.

Meet Kunle:

Kunle (not real name) resides in Surulere but works for XYZ, a web and app development company in the U.S. He has been with XYZ for nearly 5 years, and has led many project for the company.

According to Kunle, the only down time he experiences in course of work is him not being able to deploy most of his tested solutions at home.

“I enjoy my job as a developer. In fact, I derive pleasure coding solutions and the money is about 5 times of what I should ordinarily get around. 

“But whenever I see how Nigeria is not ready for some of these solutions, I really feel depressed and disappointed. How can one know so much but do little for one’s country,” Kunle asked.

There are thousands of Kunles across Nigeria today, contributing massively to foreign lands for a fee at the detriment of the country that has refused to develop.

Fall in international travels:

International research and analysis service provider, Statista, highlighted how travel rate has fallen in recent times, years before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Taking Nigeria, for instance, from 194,670 visitors to the United States in 2015, the figure fell slightly to 191,027 and subsequently nosedived to 187,057 in 2018 and 150,108 in 2019.

Evidently, the drastic fall, which is sharply in contrast to travel trends ab initio, must have been affected by the over-night growth of the remote working culture where people no longer have to step outside the shores of Nigeria to secure well paid jobs. 

Explore the data below:

Year under review          Number of visitors

2019                                    150,108

2018                                    187,157

2016                                    191,027

2015                                      194,670

2014                                      176,520

2013                                    146,914

2012                                      103,202

2011                                      85,243

The table clearly establishes a downward trend after reaching a peak in 2015, a time when remote jobs gained more prominence in the industry.

Remittance and economy implications:

PwC, multinational professional services firm, revealed that in 2018, migrant remittances to Nigeria equalled US$25 billion, representing 6.1% of GDP. This represents 14% year-on-year growth from the $22 billion receipt in 2017.

Nigeria’s remittance inflows was also 7.4 times larger than the net official development assistance (foreign aid) received in 2017 of US$3.4 billion. Experts estimate that migrant remittances to Nigeria could grow to US$25.5bn, US$29.8bn and US$34.8bn in 2019, 2021 and 2023 respectively.

Case in point:

While it is expected that a downward trend show inform a reduction in remittance from the diaspora, the resultant reality goes sharply in contrast. 

This is not a coincidence as the number of remote workers increased considerably over these period, and it is only expected to see an increasing remittances as foreign company will have to pay salary of their remote employees using any of the money transfer vendors.

Bottom line:

If working remotely for foreign companies should be examined with the prism of brain drain, countries like Nigeria will continue to lose its talent to countries willing to offer better working conditions and remunerations. Thoughts to consider will then be: Will Nigeria improve or advance at this rate? Should the government be worried? When will the Nigerian project ever get to work?

About the author

Ridwan Adelaja

Venture analyst focusing on African tech startups, founders and the Big Five ventures: Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft.

He also takes time out to showcase amazing African thought leaders. Before coming to maintain his spotlight column on Quillcastle Nigeria, he anchored Youngfrica TV Show on CBA TV during his stay in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

Tel: +2348025300029

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