Coronavirus: UAE firms rush to adopt 'flexible working', survey reveals

Change in practices brought on by crisis could have lasting impact on working life, experts believe

Ryo Matsumoto, member of staff of artificial intelligence company GumGum Japan, works at the office Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that companies should allow employees to work from home and hospitals must expand their treatment capacity in order for Japan to control its virus outbreak. GumGum Japan, an artificial intelligence company that already allowed flexible hours, now is telling all of its employees to work from home. It also banned unessential business trips and hopes to communicate with business partners via phone and video conferences.  (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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Six in 10 UAE businesses have brought in flexible hours for workers and sought to impose travel restrictions in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

A snap survey carried out by Korn Ferry, a global consultancy firm, revealed that the private sector has adapted rapidly to the Covid-19 crisis, overhauling working practices and offering employees greater flexibility.

The firm said that more than half of companies surveyed – 60 per cent – had announced flexible working hours, with the same percentage bringing out policies to limit travel to the world’s worst-hit areas.

Many have also urged workers to reconsider any personal travel plans as a precaution.

Companies are becoming increasingly reliant on video or audio conferencing tools, the survey found, and the rapid changes could lead to long-lasting changes in employment practices even after the outbreak ends, Vijay Gandhi, regional director for Korn Ferry Digital, said.

“As more people work from home, companies will realise they have similar or greater productivity,” he said.

“So we may well see them keeping flexible working hours and adopting formal policies around this, especially with regard to working from home.

“The UAE is behind some of the more mature markets, like the US, UK and Singapore in that area, so this could mean a step in the right direction.”

Korn Ferry questioned 85 UAE firms across a range of sectors over recent days. It found just over one in 10, 11 per cent, had asked workers to take voluntary leave. These companies mostly associated with the tourism or hospitality sector, Mr Gandhi said.

Meanwhile, a third of companies have implemented a hiring freeze and some have implemented shorter, Ramadan-style working hours, in part to help workers with children manage school and nursery closures.

More than one in five – 22 per cent – plan to adjust targets in the months ahead to take account of the impact the coronavirus has had on business conditions.

“Businesses do not believe that this issue is going to go away any time soon,” Mr Gandhi added. "So they are alive to an ever-changing situation, and many are updating workers every few days, or even daily.

"Businesses are being sensible in taking a more flexible approach.”