The Dubai government’s new human resource laws are the clearest indication yet that the region is moving towards a more flexible business model, in line with the world’s leading companies.
That was the verdict from a range of HR, recruitment and workplace experts who spoke of the need to foster creativity, results and performance over "presenteeism" in offices.
The new laws, which were announced on Sunday, offer government employees more leave days, better promotion opportunities and the option of working outside the office.
Louise Karim, managing director of Mums@Work in Dubai, said the “working from afar” option is similar to the policies implemented by the likes of Google and other leading companies across the globe.
It is the possibility of working from outside the office that will help align Dubai with the most progressive companies in the world, according to Ms Karim, who stressed that it will help to boost productivity across the region.
“You do not need to be sat behind a desk all day to be able to do your job any more,” she said.
“By not having these options in place, companies are closing themselves off to a whole chunk of the possible workforce.”
She said the technology is easily accessible to make staff accessible to employers wherever they are.
“If you look at the millennials, they do not want to be stuck behind a desk all day from nine to five,” she said.
“It is going to create more innovation and companies are going to benefit as a result.”
Communication between an employer and employee is key to making a flexible working environment a success, said Ms Karim.
“If there isn’t communication then the employer will not know what the employee is doing, so it has to work both ways,” she said.
“It will take a lot of work to change some mindsets as different cultures take different approaches to the working environment but it should always be about delivering results not simply making sure staff are present.”
She pointed to the fact there are a number of studies that prove that staff are less productive when they are stuck behind a desk for eight hours.
“Why shouldn’t you be able to go to the likes of the gym during the working day and come back refreshed and be more productive?” she said.
Amena Baig, managing director of Ultimate HR Solutions in Dubai, also welcomed the government’s announcement.
“I feel that any extra costs to employers will be compensated by the increased productivity of the employees. It is a great initiative to provide better benefits to employees,” she said, calling for the move to also be adopted by the private sector.
“This law covers only government employees but it would also be beneficial to the private sector. This is where we will see a significant impact.”
The opportunity to work outside the office was not the only part of the announcement that was welcomed.
Ahmad Fathy, an employee at Dubai Media Incorporation, said extending the flight ticket allowance will come as a huge relief to employees – where it was previously limited to include only three children aged below 18, it will now include an unlimited number of children and those aged up to 21.
"By the time your son or daughter is 18 and about to enter college, you are already up to your neck with expenses, so not having to worry about the airline ticket is a very nice gesture,” said the Egyptian expat.
He was curious as to why annual leave days were increased for some grades but not others. The revised law increases the amount of annual leave for grade 8 employees from 22 days to 25, with grade 7 workers getting a rise in leave to 18 days from the previous 15 days.
"I am a grade 10, does that mean I work less than those in grades 7 and 8 so they will be getting more annual leave?" he said.
Mr Fathy added that he was particularly impressed with the working remotely option that will be available in contracts.
"It is not about being too lazy to go to the office, it will actually allow you to get work done faster. In an emirate like Dubai, where congestion is always at its peak, being able to produce from wherever you are is a huge benefit."
A recent study from the International Working Group found that 60 per cent of employees in the UAE work away from the office at least one day a week and about 31 per cent spend half the week or more away from their headquarters.
More than eight in 10 (84 per cent) of UAE businesses who took part in the survey, which was released in June, said that flexible working hours helped them to retain talent, while 86 per cent said it had a positive effect on productivity.
The report did state, however, that many traditional businesses, including those that are smaller and family-owned, are resistant to the idea.
*Additional reporting by Haneen Dajani