Careem moves to hybrid workplace with UAE staff set for one day a week in the office

The company launched a two-month pilot project this week to analyse what type of work is best done in-person

Careem has asked its UAE-based staff to come back to office once a week. Bloomberg    

Uber-owned Careem is shifting to a hybrid work environment and is asking its employees in the UAE to return to the office for one day a week, after telling staff in September they can work remotely.

The technology company picked the UAE, its home market, for the two-month “Officeday” pilot programme that was rolled out this week, Careem said in a statement on Wednesday.

Careem has chosen the UAE for the pilot on the back of its rapid mass Covid-19 inoculation programme and the high vaccination rate in the Arab world’s second-largest economy.

"We felt that the UAE is the right place to pilot this initiative," Ruth Fletcher, vice president for people and a member of Careem's board told The National on Wednesday. "Based on how well it works, we then take a look at how we roll it out to the rest of our [office] locations."

The pilot programme includes “hot-desking with different teams having designated zones” and it will help facilitate planning, problem-solving, brainstorming and team-building activities. Around 70 per cent of the company’s staff in internal surveys have underlined the need to come back to the office between one and two days a week, Ms Fletcher said.

In terms of teams, responses vary as staff handling operations has expressed a strong preference to return to office settings while enabling functions and engineering teams “have a slightly different perspective”.

“We've always believed that in-person interactions are an integral part of our culture and a powerful lever for collaboration,” Mudassir Sheikha, chief executive and co-founder of Careem, said. “This is reflected in our remote-first approach, which included plans for a ‘weekly officeday'’ from the start.”

The pilot project will enable Careem to gauge what work is best done in-person and help it further develop tools to get its staff based at different locations involved, he said.

“We'll gather learnings from this pilot … to drive productivity, effective collaboration.” Mr Sheikha said.

In September, Careem told its staff across 36 offices in 14 countries to work from home indefinitely as it looked to cut costs. Careem's shift to a "remote-first" programme came nearly five months after it laid off a third of its office staff amid the pandemic-driven slowdown that impacted the company's revenue base.

However, the majority of Careem employees self-reported higher productivity as they worked remotely in the wake of the pandemic, Mr Sheikha told The National at the time.

A remote working and hot-desking hybrid model of operations has also helped Careem reduce the amount it spends on office rent. It currently operates at 50 per cent capacity and occupies a smaller space despite hiring more staff for product development, engineering, AI, data and FinTech projects, Ms Fletcher said.

“We believe strongly that the future of work has changed for everyone and that there’s no such thing as return to pre-pandemic normal,” she said.

“Post pandemic [office] will look different for every organisation, depending on their system, beliefs and values, but for us, we are committed to remote-first and we don’t see a return to five days a week in office.”