03 March 2023
People

Living to the fullest while working remotely from Kenya

At the heart of Exness culture is a balanced approach. We believe that individuals can shape their future while living in the present, achieving more at work, increasing their worth, and living life to the fullest. Our financial accountant, Irene Ngatia, based in Kenya, exemplifies this balance. We sat down with Irene to learn more about her work preferences, how she maintains productivity while being a mother of two, her favorite things to do in Kenya, and the most exciting dishes she has ever cooked.

Financial accountant Exness, Irene Ngatia

I have been working as a financial accountant in Exness' finance department for 5 months. My main responsibility is bookkeeping and reporting for the organization. Occasionally, I also handle tasks related to financial planning and analysis. I enjoy my job because finance is what demonstrates the company's efficiency and translates it into numbers. It also ensures that the company complies with regulations as we frequently report to external parties, regulators, auditors, and other stakeholders.

Initially, people often think I am too serious and intimidating when they first meet me. This is because most finance professionals are viewed as a disciplined team, working mainly with numbers rather than interacting with people. However, I am not as intimidating as I may seem. Once you get to know me, you will realize I am friendly and easy to get along with. I like interacting with people and having a good laugh. In my opinion, adding love and joy to our lives is important for a long and fulfilling life. My colleagues and even doctors share this belief with me.

The most inspiring part of my work

In the beginning, some tasks may seem daunting and uncertain. Despite thinking that I can tolerate uncertainty easily, it can sometimes make me feel stuck. However, once I begin working on it, I often realize that it is actually something I can solve. Seeing the value that it can bring to the company fills me with joy and energy. When I observe the impact of what I do on people and the company, it drives my motivation for further tasks. I love this feeling of accomplishment and recognition, knowing that I am capable of achieving great things.

Quite a difficult start for a remote job

I work in Kenya, where our office has recently opened. I come there once or twice a week, but most of the time, I work from home. I have 3 years of experience working remotely and learned to do it productively. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, remote work was not widely practiced in Kenya. However, I worked for a cloud solutions provider where we realized our laptops were all we needed to work, regardless of location. Video conferencing replaced in-person meetings, and we could always go to the office when necessary.

Starting out with remote work was challenging for me. Here are some of the difficulties I encountered:

  1. I didn't have the furniture or equipment I needed to work comfortably from home, a problem shared by many people worldwide.

  2. Initially, some of my colleagues were not doing their tasks carefully as they believed the situation was temporary and that they would be back in the office soon. However, as the pandemic persisted, we had to adapt to a new way of working.

  3. We had to establish systems, policies, and routines to maintain productivity and balance work-life boundaries.

  4. Family members were not used to seeing us working from home, so they would interrupt our work, and it was a challenge to balance work and family time.

Overcoming these challenges took effort, but I realized I needed to change my attitude and discipline myself to achieve my targets in a changing environment.

Perks and drawbacks of working remotely

There are several benefits to remote work that I appreciate. However, there is also another side of the coin that must be considered.

Benefits

Downsides

1. As a parent, I get to spend more time with my children.

2. I save time that I would have otherwise spent commuting.

3. For some reason, I find that I accomplish more work from home than I do in the office.

4. I don't have to wake up as early as I would if I had to go into the office, which is a plus since I'm not a morning person.

1. We often spend the entire day sitting in one spot, whether it's in bed, at a desk, on a couch, or at the dining table. The lack of physical activity can be detrimental to our health.

2. We may find ourselves becoming isolated from friends and colleagues, with most of our social interaction taking place within our own families. We can also become consumed by the news and social media, which can be distracting and stressful.

How to make it work

I follow 8 principles to get the most out of my working routine.

  1. Separate your time. I've learned to dedicate 100% of my focus to each activity and make sure they don't overlap, whether I'm working from home or in the office. As a personal motto, I say, "I don't bring the home into work, and I don't take work into the home." This approach has proven very beneficial to me.

  2. Maintain a balanced approach. I try to work in the office once or twice a week to prevent discrepancies between the different work environments and stay adaptable.

  3. Set specific office hours. Regardless of whether I'm working from home or in the office, I make sure to stick to the same hours every day, from 9 am to 6 pm. It's vital to not only be present but also to ensure that I'm productive during this time. Of course, there may be times when I have a deadline to meet or an important meeting that goes beyond my usual working hours. Anything can happen, and that is okay. However, what's important to me is having the intention to maintain my work-life balance.

  4. Designate a non-duty time. Similarly, I try to maintain the same level of mindfulness about my non-working hours. I avoid checking my emails or Slack outside of my office time unless it's absolutely necessary. More often than not, waiting until the next workday won't have a significant impact on the company's operations. However, if there's a critical situation, I don't hesitate to handle it.

  5. Create a suitable workspace. When working from home, I use my home office rather than the living room with the TV on or the dining room where family members could distract me. This strategy helps me stay focused during work hours and avoid interruptions.

  6. Make time for myself. I take breaks in between work tasks, try to eat healthily, stay hydrated, and move my body throughout the day.

  7. Stay physically active. I believe our bodies are the most valuable assets that allow us to achieve our goals, so it's important to keep them healthy. I work out or take walks daily. When I go to the office, I have a chance to walk around during breaks, and if I stay  home, I exercise in the morning or evening.

  8. Socialize. I find that my social life improves when I go to the office. Interacting with colleagues, going out for lunch breaks, or spending time after work helps me maintain a healthy work-life balance and stay connected to the outside world. That's why I try to work in the office at least once or twice a week.

If you have never been to Kenya

I have a deep appreciation for my home country and I'm sure there is plenty to love about it. Kenya is a beautiful and peaceful place, where people are hospitable, making it easy to make friends. In our culture, we look out for each other, and this is evident not only in Kenya but throughout Africa. At the same time, Kenya is a country of many diverse cultures, with 42 registered tribes, each presenting its own unique community. This means that even within Kenya, there is ample opportunity to interact with different people and learn about their cultures.

If you are visiting Kenya for the first time, I recommend you do the following minimum:

  1. Take a tour around the city. The Nairobi Expressway was recently launched, and it is an impressive feat of engineering and architecture that passes over different corners of the city. You can take it to get to know our capital city and even visit the National Park. Kenya is the only country where the "big five" animals live, so you can even spot wild animals in a park within the city!

  2. Travel outside the city. There are many beautiful places to visit outside of Nairobi. You haven’t truly experienced Kenya if you haven’t visited the coastal area and enjoyed our sandy beaches. This region also has a rich culture that is definitely worth experiencing.

  3. Explore the legendary national reserve. A trip through the Maasai Mara is a must. It is a preserved savannah wilderness in southwestern Kenya, along the Tanzanian border, and one of the most famous national reserves not only in Kenya but also in Africa as a whole.

  4. Indulge in our food. Kenyan cuisine is amazing, but don't take my word for it, give it a try. You can start by trying the most popular and authentic dishes, such as:

    • Ugali, a type of maize bread made by mixing maize flour with hot water until it becomes a solid piece of food

    • Nyama choma, a specialty of grilled goat meat

First experience with an international team

I love exploring new things, and interacting with different cultures is an amazing experience. The people here are great, and the company invests in culture-related events, educating us about what to expect from each culture and how to thrive in a multicultural environment. It's my first time working in such an international team, and I've learned a lot from meeting people from other countries and introducing myself to them. The key insight I've gained from starting in an international team is to:

Keep an open mind, be ready to learn, and be ready to give." 

As a new team member, you have the opportunity to learn from others, and they are just as eager to learn from you. So, be open, and don't be afraid to share your experiences and thoughts. I believe we can overcome any challenge if we communicate openly and discover new approaches together.

Creative cooking

In my spare time, I enjoy a variety of activities, such as dancing, reading novels, and traveling to different places in Kenya, but my greatest passion is cooking. I love to cook with my husband and kids, as well as on my own. One of the most exciting parts of cooking for me is exploring new recipes, which I find on YouTube or other social media food pages, or discover accidentally from other sources. Experimenting with different ingredients and measurements is always fun as it allows me to create something new and interesting.

One of the most unusual dishes I have cooked is pilau, a traditional Swahili dish made by flavoring rice with spices and cooking it in stock, often with the addition of meat, poultry, or fish. I have experimented with different versions of it, and it has become a family favorite.

In addition to pilau, my family and I enjoy making pastries together, especially Mandazi. This is a slightly sweet, fried bread that is infused with different spices. Another dish that we love to make together is stuffed chicken, which involves filling a whole chicken with vegetables such as potatoes and then baking it. If you are a fan of chicken, I highly recommend trying this recipe.

Being a working mom

As a mother of a 6-year-old daughter who goes to school and a 2-year-old son who will soon start preschool, I cherish my role as a mom while balancing a full-time job. Working from home has its challenges, especially with a small child in tow. With my daughter, it's easier because I can say, “Mommy is busy, please play by yourself”. With my son, however, I'm grateful for our nanny who has been with us for three years now. She helps me take care of my son during the day, and I take over in the evenings after 7 pm. And it goes without saying that having a supportive husband really helps. Sometimes I am too tired to take care of someone, and he is happy to step in and take over.

Another important factor that makes my life as a working mom easier is having understanding managers at Exness who allow me to take time off when necessary to care for my children. I am grateful for their support, especially since many organizations have strict policies that require planning time off at least two weeks in advance. When it comes to children, however, you never know when they will fall ill or need your attention, making it challenging to schedule time off in advance.

Being a working mom may seem daunting, but taking it one day at a time helps make it more manageable. This approach also helps me appreciate the good things in life, such as my children's smiles and supportive colleagues. Taking the time to appreciate these moments brings more happiness into my everyday life.


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