Private sector looks set to follow new flexible Dubai government working hours, workplace experts say

Companies in the Middle East were not keen on introducing flexible working arrangements until recently. The pandemic changed that

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Patrick Ryan: News. Portrait of David Mackenzie. How firms are social distancing staff who are back in the office working. Thursday, May 21st, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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A Dubai government decision to introduce flexible hours could lead to more freedom for private sector employees to choose when and where they want to work.

From Sunday, August 16, all staff who are able to can opt to start any time between 6.30am and 8.30am, as long as they complete their contracted hours.

The government hopes the move will help ease congestion during peak hours, improve work-life balance, and give employees more time to devote to their hobbies.

But experts have said it could also inspire more private sector companies to offer alternative working arrangements, something they have not been keen to do until recently.

It sends a very clear message that things are changing and they're changing forever, basically

The coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to be more flexible with staff, as they grappled with social distancing requirements and other factors like remote learning.

“Companies are now very aware that consultants, certainly people like us, can actually work from home and still perform their job on a day-to-day basis,” said David Mackenzie, group managing director of recruitment consultancy Mackenzie Jones.

That has led to companies offering employees the choice to continue working from home, even after restrictions were lifted.

“We are seeing not only multinational organisations in Jebel Ali doing it, but we are also seeing banks implementing the same thing, and of course going to the office when required,” said Vijay Gandhi, regional director for Korn Ferry Digital, a global consultancy firm.

Such arrangements are often driven by personal circumstances, such as employees with chronic conditions, elderly parents, or children being home schooled, he said.

“I don’t think I have seen any employer forcing people to come to the office,” said Mr Gandhi.

However, experts point out employers also benefit from the arrangement, as more staff working from home means fewer overheads for companies.

“If you look at our building here, we have had six companies move out and move into serviced offices,” said Mr Mackenzie.

“A big advertising office next to us which had 8,000 sq ft has just left and they have gone into a serviced working office just down the road in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. I think they have 15 desks rather than 50."

By introducing flexible working arrangements, the government is sending a message to older, more established companies, which do not believe you are working unless “your jacket is on the back of the seat, or your coffee cup is still warm,” said Mr Mackenzie.

“It sends a very clear message that things are changing and they’re changing forever, basically.”

And it may just be the start of even more flexible working arrangements for employees of Dubai government, said Claire Donnelly, from Mike Hoff Consulting, a business and HR consultancy company in Dubai.

“They are still in every day. But perhaps the next stage will be they only need to come in three days of the week.”