Will the hybrid working model survive in 2024?

There has been a significant increase worldwide in employees demanding flexible working benefits

Many office-based roles can be worked from home or elsewhere. Photo: Unsplash
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Will we see more or less of hybrid working in 2024?

As most of us return to work after the holiday season and new job opportunities come on to the market, how important is flexible working to jobseekers, and are employers in the UAE likely to accommodate them?

In recent years, particularly since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, there has been a significant increase in hybrid and/or remote working across the world, with some regions more open to it than others.

In the UK, the demand for flexible working or 100 per cent working from home has significantly increased and, in many cases, it is almost an expectation that there is no need to go to an office.

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I have clients in Europe who have almost completely shut down their offices, not necessarily because employees have demanded it, but simply because they are no longer needed.

With the emergence of many hot desk facilities around the world, employees can meet team members, customers or colleagues by simply booking a meeting room in a preferred location, or even in a coffee shop or restaurant.

This gives much greater flexibility to both employer and employee and saves money in rent and facilities management.

Office space in central London is among the most expensive in the world and can cost four or five times more than sites 15 kilometres away.

Some job roles are obviously more suited than others to the remote model, but most positions that are traditionally office based, can be worked from home or elsewhere.

Not everybody wants to work from home. I, for one, prefer to be in the office with my colleagues if I am not out meeting clients.

The obvious choice for employers is to offer a degree of flexibility, such as hybrid working. But are employers in the UAE catching up with the trend?

In the UAE, most of our clients have a physical presence in terms of an office. In the tech industry, for example, we would normally see support functions such as human resources, finance and admin staff based in the office, with sales and customer-facing roles off site much of the time.

However, many of these companies allow the majority or all of their staff to work from home two to three days per week if they wish.

I would also say that there are fewer companies here that are fully remote in comparison with the UK, as an example. But why is that?

Although the UAE is a world leader in quality of life, it can sometimes take longer for more international working practices to catch on.

There are some organisations that take a much more traditional approach, with fixed working hours and employees “clocking in and out” of the office, but this is becoming less prevalent overall.

I have recently spoken to jobseekers who work one to two days in the office and otherwise fully remote – some of whom would not entertain a five-day week in the office, so clearly there is a disconnect between some employers and employees.

This could also mean that hiring managers are missing out on good talent if they do not offer flexible working.

The good news is that in general, employers are becoming more flexible and catching up with other parts of the world.

Two years ago, the UAE changed the weekend from Friday and Saturday to Saturday and Sunday, in line with most other countries.

At the time, many organisations also offered flexi-working on Friday afternoons.

When I moved to the region in 2007 and Saudi Arabia’s weekend was Thursday and Friday, candidates in western companies often complained that they were taking calls from management during their personal family time – but times have changed a lot since then.

The demand for talent in 2024 will be a lot higher compared with last year and if employers want to be competitive for the best candidates, they will need to look closely at how they can attract the right people for their open positions.

Compensation and benefits will always be an important factor, but HR and leadership teams will need to look beyond this and ensure that the work environment itself is attractive.

If you asked 100 people if they would move companies to jobs that they would enjoy less than their current one for a 15 per cent to 20 per cent pay increase, my bet would be that a high percentage of those asked would say thanks, but no thanks.

The UAE will no doubt continue to push for a safer, happier environment for its residents, and I firmly believe that the work culture in this country will follow this trend.

John Armstrong is founder and managing director of JCA Associates

Updated: January 12, 2024, 6:02 PM