UAE minister calls for flexible work practices to boost productivity

The Emirates aims to use technology such as AI and automation to support capacity building, Omar Al Olama says at Remote Forum

Omar Al Olama at the Remote initiative in Dubai on Wednesday. Photo: Alvin R Cabral
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The UAE has called for the adoption of flexible work options to boost productivity across economic sectors.

The country's technological advantages have provided robust infrastructure to enable and support workers in the digital era, Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for Digital Economy, AI and Remote Working System, said at the Remote Forum event in Dubai on Wednesday.

In particular, the UAE aims to harness the capabilities of artificial intelligence and automation, which would enhance the Emirates' capacity-building process in the economy and workforce, he said.

"We must build opportunities out of challenges [and] use technologies to address these ... using the strength of technology to create a more sustainable, more varied world," said Mr Al Olama.

"Remote work is now a main way of work and not an option ... and we in the UAE must move from using the methods of remote work as a trend to using them as a quality and competitive advantage that improves the quality of life of residents and visitors to the UAE."

Almost half, or about 46 per cent, of workers in the UAE work remotely, Mr Al Olama said, citing figures from UK research company YouGov.

Remote work rose to prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic and was part of the frantic change companies had to adapt to in order to keep their operations afloat and, in the case of essential sectors, provide services to consumers.

Technology played a key role in advancing the use of remote work, with companies — especially cloud service providers, telecom operators and other tech-focused organisations — boosting their offerings to support the ever-growing demand for digital services.

The UAE has introduced several initiatives to support the sector. The country unveiled a one-year digital nomad visa in March 2021 that allows people to live in the Emirates while continuing to work for employers in their home countries.

The rise of remote work is an opportunity for countries to develop policies and programmes to attract these workers, who can further support local economic growth and innovation, Airbnb said in a September report.

"Remote work goes hand in hand with many other sectors but it also prospers in the digital sector," Mr Al Olama said.

"In the UAE, we can find the digital infrastructure to enhance a new culture that provides all the options to those who want to use them."

The focus on the digital economy has been seen in several programmes the nation has unveiled to boost the economy.

These include the updated Entrepreneurial Nation programme that seeks to develop more than 8,000 small and medium enterprises and start-ups by 2030, and Future 100, aimed at supporting and honouring the top 100 start-ups that will have a significant impact on the economy of the Emirates.

"We've seen a lot of positive impact in the overall employee experience and the overall financial results by introducing multiple aspects of a flexible work environment," Homaid Al Shimmari, deputy group chief executive and chief corporate human capital officer at Mubadala, said at the event.

We in the UAE must move from using the methods of remote work as a trend to using them as a quality and competitive advantage
Omar Al Olama, Minister of State for AI, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications

The Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund has had flexible working options in place since 2019, a year before the pandemic, which meant they were prepared when the health crisis took hold.

"The infrastructure and connectivity in the UAE really played a big role in the way we did business," Mr Al Shimmari said.

Remote working has also played a role in helping organisations manage and reduce their costs, as proven by research, data and analytics, said Dena Almansoori, group chief human resource officer of e&, the UAE's biggest telecoms operator.

"Though there's no one-size-fits-all [solution], productivity and engagement increased, and at the same time we were also really able to conserve our costs," she said.

Updated: March 15, 2023, 8:16 AM