Flexibility will define the future of working, experts say

Exponential technologies reshape operations, forcing employees to learn, adapt and fundamentally rethink old paradigms

The Herman Miller Research panel discussion at the US pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. Photo: Herman Miller

Flexibility is set to define the future of the working culture, being the "number one priority" of many as the world continues to adapt to a post-Covid-19 environment alongside technologies that are reshaping operations, according to industry leaders.

Eighty-three per cent of employers and 71 per cent of employees agree that working from home was effective, data from PricewaterhouseCoopers's Return to work survey revealed. People would also want to work one or two days from home in the future, taking into consideration the evolution of workspaces in 2022 and beyond.

“Exponential technologies are disrupting at record speeds how we as humans need to interface with ever more intelligent machines – learning, adapting and fundamentally rethinking old paradigms become crucial to surviving and thriving in this brave new world," David Suarez, health industries partner and people and organisation leader at PwC Middle East, said at a panel discussion at the US pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

He was one of the panelists at a discussion forum on new insights on the future of work hosted by US furniture maker Herman Miller at the Dubai Expo 2020 last week. The event was held in collaboration with American University of Sharjah, the IIT Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the US pavilion.

Companies around the world are competing for talent by dangling flexible perks and incentives, which are now commonplace as they adapt to changing dynamics in the workplace after almost two years of living with the pandemic.

More employees insist on higher pay, flexible hours, enhanced benefits and better treatment. If employers do not meet these demands, people would leave their jobs or search for more rewarding work elsewhere – a phenomenon deemed as “The Great Resignation” by a number of experts, where employees are leaving their jobs at much higher rates than normal.

Several surveys show that most people want a mix of in-person and remote work, with some saying they would rather leave their jobs if not given that option, according to the Harvard Business Review. A study from financial services company Prudential showed about 42 per cent of remote workers will look for a company that offers a work-from-home option for the long term if their present employer does not.

A large number of respondents in a PwC survey said that working from home is effective. Reuters

Women – mothers, in particular – are among the hardest hit by the shift stemming from the pandemic, being displaced more than men. Women in the UAE believe requiring flexible working hours is viewed by employers as a sign of being less committed than other employees, according to a LinkedIn survey released this year.

Employees also look forward to a less rigid approach to traditional office hours. This, combined with better focus on staff well-being and corporate values, can help recruitment and talent retention, experts said.

The upskilling gap is also a challenge, if people are not able to learn new skills to immerse themselves in new technologies. This could become a larger issue if not tackled quickly, a Microsoft official said last month.

“Flexibility in workplace types, hours, locations, and compensation packages will be major decision factors for employees as the world adapts to a post-Covid work environment," Ammar Kalo, an associate professor and director of labs at American University of Sharjah.

The UAE is also taking the lead in promoting the flexible working environment, recruitment executives said. This was reinforced further when the federal government announced a four-and-a-half day work week from the New Year, moving weekends to Saturdays and Sundays.

Quote
Exponential technologies are disrupting at record speeds how we as humans need to interface with ever more intelligent machines – learning, adapting and fundamentally re-thinking old paradigms become crucial to surviving and thriving in this brave new world
David Suarez, health industries partner and people and organisation leader at PwC Middle East

The move is expected to better position the Emirates as an attractive place for work-life balance among the global talent pool. Since the announcement, schools and several private-sector companies have announced their shift towards the new working week.

"The future of work is no longer in the future. It is with us and will continue to evolve as we continue to embed life and experiences as part of the work cycle and work as part of the life cycle," said Gloria Mamwa, managing director and regional head of property for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank.

Updated: December 21st 2021, 3:30 AM