Coronavirus: Is home working here to stay in UAE?

Companies will permit greater flexibility in the post-Covid-19 world – not least to save costs, industry experts said

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More companies are expected to allow staff to work from home once the UAE emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, industry experts said.

Saving costs on large offices and cutting transport needs would be among the business benefits when the stay-home order eases.

Before the pandemic, an International Workspace Group survey found only 10 per cent of employers in the Emirates allowed staff to work from home for one or two days a week. That was far short of the global average of 62 per cent, the 2019 survey found.

Industry experts said the stubborn belief by many managers in the Middle East that work must be done in the workplace was changing.

There will be some who just want to watch Netflix all day. But they will be found out pretty quickly

“Companies have now seen that having staff work from home can produce results,” said Claire Donnelly from MHC Consulting in Dubai, which trains executives and advises on workplace productivity.

“There will definitely be more appetite for flexibility at the end of all this.”

Earlier this month, Dubai Future Foundation predicted working from home would become the "new norm" for companies.

Ms Donnelly said it would be tempting for office-based industries to fall back into old habits once restrictions were lifted.

“It’s human nature to revert to business as usual and there’s going to be extreme pressure for companies to bring money in as soon as this is over,” she said.

“The first thing that needs to happen is to hold meetings and look at what we learned during the lockdown and use it.

“Some staff will be more productive working at home and benefit from being able to go for a quick run or walk at lunchtime.”

Recruitment consultant David Mackenzie said employees found to be slacking at home would be quickly found out. Courtesy: Mackenzie Jones

The reluctance of many companies in the UAE to embrace remote working practices can be partly attributed to visa problems.

“The number of visas a company can apply for depends on the size of its office,” she said.

“That doesn’t mean you necessarily need a huge office with everyone there.”

One company that plans to continue remote working conditions once the nationwide stay-home order lifts is Alliance Francaise Dubai.

The school, which offers French language courses for people of all ages, has 20 full-time and 45 part-time staff.

“The past few weeks have shown that working from home can work,” said director Melanie Martini-Mareel.

“Some of our teachers have liked the experience and we’re going to take it further by continuing to have remote working facilities once the Covid-19 crisis is over.

“We want to show we are committed to the social and mental well-being of our staff.”

Clients were already using video conferencing to connect with tutors regularly, and results can still be measured.

Applications to the school have soared during the crisis as residents stuck at home look to pass time and improve language skills.

“Allowing more flexibility to work from home makes sense as it shows we have trust in them,” she said.

“I know they are not going to cheat and take advantage because the work still needs to be done.”

David Mackenzie, group managing director for recruitment firm Mackenzie Jones, said many bosses have begun to trust employees more.

“Without a doubt, it’s going to change things,” he said.

“Many people, myself included, were a bit cynical but it’s proven to be successful.

“Now there wouldn’t be as many issues with hiring someone who needed to work from home once or twice a week.”

He said some local companies have begun approaching him to recruit staff for remote positions.

Businesses would be wise to listen to what their employees want and respond accordingly

“People often work harder from home but there is the flip side – there will be others who just want to watch Netflix all day. But they will be found out pretty quickly.”

Tech companies in particular look to attract employees used to working on project work, often remotely.

“Employers who offer flexible working will attract the best talent and are more likely to retain these employees for longer,” said Mansoor Sarwar, regional director of software company Sage Middle East in Dubai Internet City.

“Employees want to be able to pick up their kids from school, start and finish early if they have international calls first thing in the morning or be able to head to a doctor’s appointment without fear of being perceived as slacking.

“Businesses would be wise to listen to what their employees want – and respond accordingly.”