Dubai's home workers recreate office atmosphere in hotels and restaurants to boost team spirit

Staff are increasingly looking at ways to stay connected while many work from home

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Some Dubai firms are setting up mini offices in hotels and restaurants to recreate the workplace atmosphere and bolster team spirit.

At a time when many employees are still working from home, it is a creative step that is paying off for companies willing to think outside of the box.

The rise of the pandemic in 2020 led to stay-home measures being implemented, with working from home becoming the norm.

While many have since returned to offices, remote working remains a way of life for others.

“Since the pandemic there has been a surge in the number of teams who have given up their office space but are still meeting at venues across the UAE,” said Thomas Mathew, marketing manager for Letswork, a company that offers a network of locations to work from across the country.

“Before the pandemic we had about 16,000 people who used our services but now that number has grown to around 24,000 members.”

Letswork offers daily, weekly and monthly subscriptions, which allows members access to a range of hotels, cafes and co-working spaces to choose from.

“Even though large numbers of people are still working from home due to the pandemic it does come with challenges,” said Mr Mathew.

“It can be quite distracting and tiring which means sometimes you need a break from it.

“Working from home obviously comes with perks but it has disadvantages too as you never know when to switch off. This makes it hard to get in a productive mood.”

Thomas Mathew, marketing manager with Letswork, said there has been a surge in teams of colleagues looking to meet in cafes and hotels to work together in person since the beginning of the pandemic. Courtesy: Letswork

Dubai Future Foundation predicted last year that working from home would become a common part of life long after the pandemic had ended.

The UAE had one of the lowest remote work participation rates in the world before Covid-19, with only 10 per cent of staff working from home at least one or two days a week.

That all changed in 2020 when the pandemic struck, prompting a shift to remote working.

While there has been a gradual relaxation of restrictions on working from the office, many firms are adopting a blended approach.

One Dubai-based company that had given up its office but continued to work remotely was wellbeing firm LVL.

“It’s not easy to work from home but because of the pandemic people had no choice,” said Orrin Benford, chief operating officer with LVL.

“Working in an office is not always great for productivity either. There can be an attitude of all you have to do is turn up when the focus should be on what you are able to produce.”

Mr Benford, who oversees a team of 10 people, decided to permanently close his firm’s office in the Marina during the pandemic.

Now staff from LVL meet in cafes and hotels two or three days a week while working from home for the rest of the time.

He said, while moving away from the typical office structure was an exciting move for the company, challenges soon emerged with staff being separated from each other for long periods.

“You can’t replicate the team getting together and bouncing ideas each other over a Zoom call,” said Mr Benford.

“Sometimes you need to get the white board out. When you are meeting in person people can talk over each other or even crack a joke, which helps build a happy atmosphere.

“You can’t do that on video conferences where if two people are speaking at the same time, Zoom decides which mic gets to work and it doesn’t create the same camaraderie between colleagues.”

He also said working from home could be a very different experience for people, depending on the facilities available to them.

“Before the pandemic we weren’t renting our homes based on working from there but that’s changed now,” he said.

“I turned one room into a small office to work from but it can be depressing to sit there for longer than half an hour because it’s so small and there’s no natural light.

“It’s not a long term solution and the sense of isolation can create mental health issues.”

Mr Benford said the choice of venue for meeting with colleagues now depends on the nature of the meeting.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Patrick Ryan. News. Teams of people are meeting to work remotely together in the same venues that are not offices. Jen Crowther, Catherine Broad (M) and Lauren Savill (R) work at a restaurant in Town Square. Wednesday, April 7th, 2021. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Another company that meets several times a week in different venues across Dubai is British Mums, which began life as a Facebook group for mothers from the UK, before expanding into a website offering network opportunities.

British Mums currently has a staff of nine who meet at least once a week in person at different locations.

“Sometimes we might go somewhere like Arabian Ranches, another time it might be Emirates Golf Club because it suits somebody else,” said Lauren Savill, one of the founders of the company.

“We all work remotely but meet up once a week to share ideas and have a catch-up.

“As much as we might like a permanent office, it just doesn’t work for us. Because we are mums we need to have that flexibility as the kids will always come first.”