Coronavirus: How UAE firms are bringing staff back in to the office

Flexible working, new rotas and rearranged workplaces are just the start

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Companies have begun to bring staff back into the workplace after more than 10 weeks at home - tearing up rotas and rearranging offices to meet social distancing rules.

A legal requirement to ensure just 30 per cent are in the workplace will see employees juggle days in the office and working from home for the foreseeable future.

The National spoke to a number of firms about the measures they have brought in to ensure employees can return to their desks.

Nidal Abou Zaki, managing director of public relations agency Orient Planet, said their staff were working in shifts to meet the new regulations.

Mandatory measures include the wearing of face masks at all times and that colleagues should remain at least two metres apart.

We've got staff sitting in one-bedroom apartments. We are worried about how they are coping being stuck at home for 24-hours a day for three months

"People come to the office from time to time and we are happy with this,” said Mr Zaki.

“We are of course maintaining social distancing and other measures to make sure we are not taking risks.

"It was a bit challenging but we managed to do it. Definitely the current situation is much better, with 30 per cent of the workforce in the office."

Late last month, the UAE government announced staff would be allowed to return to work only as long as it was deemed “absolutely necessary”.

Any employee who is pregnant or is aged more than 60 must continue to work remotely. In Abu Dhabi, employers were also told to show flexibility to parents whose children are learning from home.

Imraan Khan, a manager at advertising and marketing firm Zia Creative Network, based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said his company had redesigned its office space.

Out of a team of 45, 14 people can work from the office on any given day, equal to 31 per cent.

“We have completely revamped our office set-up to make sure we comply," he said.

Advertising agency Zia Creative Network revamped their office to ensure staff are spread out
Advertising agency Zia Creative Network revamped their office to ensure staff are spread out

"We were sitting very closely before. Now all the tables are separated at a safe distance so we can be safe all together, more than two metres apart.

“We made sure to provide masks and hand sanitiser, free of cost, to all employees. When we came back we felt very safe.”

David Mackenzie, group managing director for recruitment firm Mackenzie Jones, said he brought staff back due to welfare and not productivity concerns.

“One of the issues of this crisis is we’ve got some staff sitting in one-bedroom apartments with nobody around them,” he said.

“We are seriously worried about how they are mentally and how they are coping being stuck at home for 24-hours a day for three months.

“What we’ve said is anybody who’s in that situation has the opportunity to come in one or two days a week.”

Mr Mackenzie said that very few of his 20-strong workforce were currently operating from the office in Jumeirah Lakes Towers so that social distancing measures were still easy to implement.

“We only have about four at a time in the office," he said. "People are actually about eight metres apart and really spread out.

“They have got to wear masks at all times and if they go out they must wear gloves."

Other companies have introduced further measures to ensure their offices are only staffed by those that need to be there.

“We have exempted employees with kids of two-years-old or under, as well as those suffering from respiratory or chronic diseases and anyone above the age of 55,” said Prakul Kumar, head of human resources at Dabur International, which produces healthcare products.

“Employees are also being provided with a safety kit that includes gloves, face masks, hand sanitisers and multipurpose sprays.”