Working from anywhere is here to stay, says boss of Majid Al Futtaim

Alain Bejjani also predicted business travel will never go back to how it once was

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Working remotely is a long-term policy for staff at Majid Al Futtaim, one of the Middle East's biggest employers.

The Emirati company owns dozens of malls, retail and leisure establishments including Vox cinemas, Mall of the Emirates and the Sheraton hotels, in the UAE, and in 12 other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

During the pandemic thousands of the company's staff worked from home to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. This accelerated a growing trend for flexibility, said group chief executive Alain Bejjani, in an interview with Dubai Eye radio.

Being in the office itself is not a requirement for good work
Alain Bejjani, Majid Al Futtaim

"In the early days of the pandemic the whole world shifted to working from home, and post pandemic we started to work from anywhere," said Mr Bejjani, who has run the company since 2015.

"It's very important for us – whether with our customers or with our people – to offer them this flexibility that they need in their life.

"Being in the office itself is not a requirement for good work.

"In the future the office is going to be the place where people will meet, where people will be able to have meaningful conversations, where people will develop their bonds, and basically make sure that our corporate culture is shaped in the right way, but we will all be able to work from anywhere."

The debate around whether working from home should continue post pandemic is a hot topic for many businesses.

Some employees credit flexible working with improving their work-life balance, while others find the blurring of work and home exhausting and miss their colleagues and the office.

Multinationals are split on the subject, with banks such as Goldman Sachs and Barclays determined to bring their staff back into the offices by September, while tech companies such as Microsoft and Amazon are proponents of a more hybrid model.

Mr Bejjani said it was important for Majid Al Futtaim to take a lead in the region on working from anywhere.

"We all have responsibilities, people have to deal with family situations, kids. They also need to be outside the office and feel safe at times, to meet others and so on.

"So there isn't any more of this antinomy between the requirements of work, and the requirements of our life. These come matching and coming together in a very interesting way.

"Companies like Majid Al Futtaim should think ahead and give our members the best working environment, and the best working environment is not just in the office any more."

The changed face of business travel

As everyone worked at home during the pandemic, business travel all but ceased as meetings took place on video calls.

Mr Bejjani identified this as another workplace trend irrevocably altered by Covid-19 and the advent of Zoom.

"Business travel will not come back the way it was – that is a fact. I predict that it will come back to about 30 per cent or 40 per cent of what it used to be," said Mr Bejjani, who used to travel for meetings at his companies across the Middle East, which includes dozens of hotels.

"Instead we will be able to be more purposeful about our business travel.

"We will spend more time when we're travelling to develop meaningful connections, but we will be travelling less frequently for business, and more frequently with family for leisure."

Updated: July 01, 2021, 6:33 PM