Monday, July 15, 2024

Two Working Moms Create Remote Work Opportunities in Pakistan!

While a lot of people have already been working from home for years before the pandemic brought the concept to the spotlight, (after all, freelancing is nothing new), the practice is one that is now under scrutiny from many middle managers who are still orthodox and wish to see seats occupied, and real estate owners who continue milking their properties for rent.

However, at a time when something that is so easily doable, given the technological era we’re living in, is under fire from multiple factions, one company is continuing on its path of creating work-from-home career opportunities and a means of livelihood for Pakistani working mothers, like a horse with its blinkers on.

Monily, a subsidiary of Arthur Lawrence, was founded at the onset of the pandemic in December 2020, with a vision to simplify finance and accounting across businesses and industries. But the other part of this vision, which was at the core of its existence, was to provide work-from-home career opportunities to people in Pakistan, mostly women, who have family needs to cater to and would otherwise need to sacrifice their careers.

Meet Wajiha Danish, Director of Accounting, and Farwah Jafri, Product Owner, at Monily – two working moms of Pakistani origin, who started Monily to offer the best of both worlds – a fulfilling career, and family needs taken care of, that is.

Wajiha worked with PwC and Pakistan Petroleum before her move to Canada, where she then pursued her local credentials and worked with a German construction giant, HOCHTIEF. She worked with HOCHTIEF for 8 years, leveling up to become Controller for North American operations, before moving to Arthur Lawrence as Director Accounting.

Farwah Jafri, on the other hand, was the first employee of Arthur Lawrence outside of the US. She completed her undergraduate studies at FAST (now NUCES), and acquired an MBA from Manchester Business School, before starting a career in software development. Since she’s been associated with Arthur Lawrence, she’s worked in the accounting, marketing, and software development functions, until she joined hands with Wajiha to form Monily, guided by the Managing Partner of Arthur Lawrence, Wajid Mirza.

When asked why Monily didn’t commence sooner, given that Arthur Lawrence has recently completed 20 years of operations, Farwah explains, “Coincidentally, it was during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when almost everyone was working from home that we could translate the idea (which had been in the pipelines since a few years by then) into reality, thereby creating opportunity and employment for an immensely talented and qualified workforce in Pakistan.”

Wajiha also highlights that “…becoming a mom and appreciating the convenience of working from home ever so flexibly, are the key motivators to have this grow and extend to as many female workforce as possible.”

It was around the same time that Arthur Lawrence’s Digital Transformation efforts were picking up. Therefore, the idea of bringing about a technological transformation to business accounting was not a new one. And with the rise of fintech, the timing was just right for these working moms to pitch the idea to the leadership.

When asked how they went about finding people to work for them, Wajiha elaborated that they knew it would be slightly challenging because work-from-home was a new wave for a lot of people, and people were wary of scams, “especially if you are just starting out and are not even in Pakistan,” she said. “That’s why we first reached out to people we already knew we could take on board or those who might be interested.”

We spoke to a few employees of Monily about what it was like working for the company that is simplifying finances across businesses and industries and came to the conclusion that it is indeed quite an upbeat team they have there. Speaking with Nida Bhounr, Supervisory Associate, who has been with the company almost since its inception, and now has three personnel reporting to her, we were pleasantly surprised to find out and conclude that Monily is quite the role model for a remote-first organization.

“My husband was very cautious about me working because he wasn’t comfortable about me going out to work, and that is why, when I found Arthur Lawrence, I was thrilled to have found the best of both worlds,” Nida started off with her eyes twinkling at us virtually.

“It’s not like I wasn’t allowed to work; just that people around had a clever way of mentioning that working is fine as long as you don’t have to step out of the house because you’re provided for,” she chuckles. “So when I started working for Monily around two years ago, Farwah and Wajiha were a huge inspiration for me, because they had a couple of kids each, and were living abroad, and managing family, in-laws, and work. And they didn’t just have jobs, they were actually setting up a business to provide jobs for several others.”

In the two years that Nida has been working, she recalls zero times when she was required to sit in front of the screen from clock in to clock-out. “This is why Monily is the best because you’re literally and actually multitasking like a parent needs to – so you can clean up spills, make food, send kids off to school, receive kids back from school, and much more – while at the same time, working on office tasks. The priority is work and deliverables, not optics, and that gives us the peace of mind to manage more in a day than one can otherwise, when commuting cuts into your daily time and productivity.” She wraps up.

Nida found out about Monily through her friend, and Farwah and Wajiha were the ones who interviewed her before offering her a position that she could fulfill all from the comfort of her house. She made sure to highlight multiple times, genuinely excited, that she was one super satisfied employee, and she can say the same for the whole of Monily, because not only is the work meaningful and keeps moving forward, but also, one does not have to worry about timely salary deposit, or lower than market competitive salaries and remuneration packages; plus, they have great perks and benefits such as OPD and IPD for self, parents, and children, as well as regular performance bonuses.

“The biggest indicator for me being a satisfied employee is that sometimes even if you receive a message outside of working hours, you genuinely want to respond and are intrinsically motivated to get some more work done if you can, as compared to other places where I know people who do not respond once they’ve clocked out just because – even if it would have taken a minute or two and was not such a big deal. All because I am empowered to ensure that my time is so efficiently managed and not being wasted, that pitching in here and there after hours makes me feel productive and valued.” Nida chirps out an additional realization.

And it makes sense in a tit-for-tat manner – if the office is okay with you taking a half-hour break more than twice a day to cater to your family’s needs, or to check on something at home, or to run a quick errand, employees would want to return the courtesy outside of hours if they are available, especially when they’re not made to feel guilty or ashamed if they choose not to.

Nida also shared with us that there was a time in the past two years when 4 women, including her, throughout Monily, were all on maternity leave over one year one after the other, yet they managed to pitch in out of their own conviction if and when the need arose. They still manage, even with young kids always in tow.

The fact that Monily employees get more done, enjoy their work, and are super satisfied with their careers, is one shared by several. Dania Hassan, Assistant Manager, shared her own story with us a little more deeply. She had been on a 9-year corporate gap before someone from Monily reached out to her, encouraging her to give it a try.

“When I had kids, and after my mom passed away and my dad was alone and had to move in with us, my plate was more than full. No one stopped me from working, but the demand my responsibilities placed on me made me feel guilty every time I worked. I’ve worked with IBM and Ferguson, and they’re great companies to work for and have on your resume, but every time life happened, it got difficult to manage despite the support shown by these big names. It broke my heart having to quit my jobs there, but I had people depending on me, and family dynamics changing such that I had to make those tough choices,” Dania shares with us.

“For example, when I got married, my husband who is a doctor lived in Oman, so the family dynamics changed, even though there was no pressure on me to quit working after marriage like many women are made to. Similarly, when my father was left alone, I felt guilty for not really being there for him even though I managed to move him in with us. So it was initially hard for me to believe Monily would deliver on what they were promising me,” she continues.

However, Dania has only recently been made permanent after her 3-month probationary period and is over the moon since the first few weeks because now she can give time to her kids and father, as well as fill the void she used to feel having left her career for so long, feeling like her studies and caliber were going down the drain. Before Monily, she thought that the 9-year gap was something that would last forever.

“But the flexibility offered to me at Monily is nothing compared to even the big names I have first-hand experience with!” Dania elaborates that all that was required of her was not to falter on deliverables, regardless of when she worked and how much she worked.

“‘As long as you commit and can deal with international clients, we want you to give it a try’, is what I was told when being encouraged to join. And so I joined, and was pleasantly surprised, in fact delighted, to be assigned clients that were available during times that I was able to work, that is early mornings once kids had gone off to school, and later at night once they were back and house chores were tended to and everyone else had retired for the night,” we listen to Dania’s elated voice detailing how easy the transition back into the corporate world has been for her since she joined Monily.

“At other places, there are no ifs and buts if your kids are unwell, and kids get unwell more frequently than adults as I’m sure every parent can relate,” Dania details, “And that is why, I didn’t consider teaching to be much of an option in my case either, because to me family comes first. But at Monily, I am actually able to cater to my family’s needs quite easily, while also not having to give up on my career aspirations. I feel useful and valued all around. Even my dad likes it if I work comfortably at night or early morning, and if I try to hush things down, he in fact tells me to relax and work without any inhibitions because he feels included and less lonely while I take my virtual meetings.”

Dania and Nida both feel that these are exactly the kind of opportunities that are needed in Pakistan, where girls and women who would otherwise not have the means to earn a living, can now do so.

“There are so many resources in Pakistan that remain untapped because of lack of such opportunities,” Nida points out.

Monily currently has women on their teams working all the way from interior Sindh, Mir Pur Khaas, Hyderabad, and Sukkur etc., while they study or cater to family needs, without having to travel to “the city” to make a living. In fact, even men who would otherwise have found it difficult to work white-collar jobs due to family responsibilities, have found a messiah in Monily and Arthur Lawrence.

This is where Osama, a student of ACCA waiting to clear his last module, chips in with his story.

“One of the Karachi offices of Arthur Lawrence, called GDC (Global Delivery Center), has a library above their floor, and I used to frequent the library for my studies. That’s how I came to find out about Arthur Lawrence, and when I realized I could apply for a job while I wait to clear my final module, I applied immediately, because, unlike the job I had then, Monily was offering me work from home, which meant I could save my commute time, and multitask at night,” Osama shares with us.

Osama has been with Monily for a little over a year now, and technically his employment is on a work-from-home basis.

“However, I sometimes come into the office when I need to, or even if I just want to. It’s not like I won’t be allowed in the office just because I’m a work-from-home employee. There are times when power or internet are out in the city, but I have to study during the day and work during the night – at times such as these, I absolutely need to come into the office even though there’s no pressure on me to. The team members and management here understand completely. The only thing they’re concerned about is having a happy and satisfied workforce that delivers their tasks on time,” he tells us.

Osama didn’t think work-from-home was for men until the pandemic hit and until he came to find out about Arthur Lawrence. He was under the impression that he might be able to get a part-time gig or an internship but was quite motivated when he realized he was treated just like an adult professional that he was.

“Even if we want a break, we aren’t treated like school-going students needing a pass for everything, y’know?” Osama chuckles. “I am treated like an adult and a professional, and I am trusted to deliver on my tasks on time and with accuracy. It doesn’t matter if I take a break in the middle of my night shift to make a quick appearance at a friend’s wedding, or go out for sehri during my work shift – as long as my work is done on time and is of a professional standard, I am valued as an integral member of the Monily team,” he says with pride.

Monily, in fact, Arthur Lawrence and all its subsidiaries, believe in facilitating the workforce in delivering their work. Every individual is provided with the right hardware, software, tools, and procedures to enable and empower them to contribute to the organization’s success, regardless of what city they’re from, or what their current stage in life is.

Dania too is very happy that she has an office environment despite working from home because she’s been facilitated by the company to ensure it, with a laptop, headphones, an internet device, and a caring and understanding management and culture.

Whether it’s a student who needs to help out financially at home, a resource looking to switch fields, a mother of young kids, a single father, or someone who has finally been able to come off the corporate break they were forced into by life, or even a single dad, Monily welcomes all.

Dania also makes a point here to highlight that when she was confirmed, she was involved in the process by those evaluating her, so they can set future expectations from her and a career path for her, together with her, so nothing is imposed or a surprise. “This is what a company culture should be like,” she says. “At its core, it’s all about teamwork and productivity, not appearances and tallies.”

Osama speaks for many at Monily and Arthur Lawrence et al, when he says, “I am very comfortable here, in fact, I am actually excited and inspired to continue here for a long time, because be it work-life balance, remuneration packages, perks & benefits, company culture, or opportunity for career progression, we get it all here.”

Wajiha and Farwah, the two working mothers at the forefront of Monily, treat the company like just another child of theirs. They believe it is very important to uplift the community they work in, and those they belong to as well, which is why they have not just dreams for the next 20 years of Monily, just like the successful 20 years Arthur Lawrence has enjoyed, but also hard 2-, 5- and 10-year plans all laid out and ready to be implemented.

“We’d like to build Monily into a unicorn, a leading name in small business accounting with its own tech platform and outstanding customer service! In a little over two years, Monily has grown from a duo of working mothers to a strong team of fifty and growing. We have a wonderful team and culture, and I’d love to see this team grow exponentially while maintaining its culture of friendly, open, and fun work environment, and be a great place to work at!” says Farwah.

“In addition,” joins in the Director, Wajiha, “in 20 years I’d easily want to see Monily as the most popular bookkeeping service. Just like QuickBooks has made its mark in being the choice of accounting platform for most price-conscious small businesses, I’d want them to think of Monily as soon as they think they need bookkeeping or tax services.”

And we have no doubt that at the pace they’re going, with the vision they’ve set their eyes on, and the values they uphold, Monily and Arthur Lawrence is soon going to be an ‘employer of choice’ in Pakistan as well as globally.

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