Can UAE companies extend work-from-home policy beyond heavy rains?

Flexible work arrangement offers benefits like easing traffic congestions and cost savings, say experts

by

Sahim Salim

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Published: Thu 9 May 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 9 May 2024, 10:32 PM

UAE-based companies are unlikely to offer remote work options to all its employees, even though some are experimenting with flexible work arrangements, experts have said. Though companies have the infrastructure to get the job done as employees work from home, many prefer they report to office over perceived productivity issues.

Several offices went online almost overnight, with employees asked to work remotely amid unstable weather conditions in mid-April and early May.


“The recent experience with remote work during the UAE's heavy rains demonstrates its viability as a business continuity strategy. However, an entirely office-free future isn't necessarily the answer for every organisation,” Pedro Lacerda, senior vice-president at recruitment company TASC Group, told Khaleej Times. “The success of remote work hinges on company culture and individual job functions. Collaboration, creativity, and team building can benefit from in-person interaction. For some positions, physical presence might be crucial.”

Pedro Lacerda. Photo: Supplied
Pedro Lacerda. Photo: Supplied

The expert said some companies have recognised the “potential benefits” of this arrangement. These include improved employee satisfaction and “even cost savings in terms of office space and infrastructure.”


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Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has launched a survey and is seeking insights from private sector employees on how flexible work hours and remote working arrangements can ease traffic.

Workers seek flexibility

As employees try to strike a work-life balance, they are seeking flexibility when it comes to their jobs.

Citing a pan-Gulf study, Oliver Kowalski, managing director at Hays Middle East, said 34 per cent of professionals view flexible working as one of their most valued benefits and 31 per cent report the same about hybrid and remote working options. “In a post-pandemic world, working habits and expectations have changed. Professionals generally want more flexibility in how they work in terms of time and place,” he said in an interview with Khaleej Times earlier.

Lacerda reported a “noticeable increase” in the number of employers in the UAE who are offering remote work options. “Many companies (are) offering at least one work-from-home day to their employees. While it may not yet be considered the standard practice across all industries, there is a discernible trend towards embracing remote work arrangements. This shift is driven by several factors, including evolving employee expectations, the need for greater work-life balance, and advancements in technology that make remote collaboration more feasible than ever before.”

Productivity

Aws Ismail, general manager, Marc Ellis, raised concerns about productivity getting affected when offices go online.

Aws Ismail. Photo: Supplied
Aws Ismail. Photo: Supplied

“Remote working was tried and tested during the Covid-19 period … But eventually, (companies) requested all employees to return to the office because of a dip in performance,” he said. “I personally believe that working from home depends on the job role and industry. For example, if you are in an administrative role, working from home may not affect your performance … but if you are in a sales or creative role, then working from home becomes an obstacle to collaboration and team work to achieve the work required.”

Lacerda admitted that transition to remote work during the heavy rains recently could have impacted productivity. However, there are ways to overcome them.

“While some employees may face challenges such as distractions in households with children or difficulties adjusting to a non-traditional work environment, others may thrive due to the flexibility and independence remote work offers. Additionally, with many companies embracing flexible work arrangements, most employees have become skilled at managing tasks from home, leading to minimal disruptions.

“To effectively assess the impact of remote work on productivity, it is advisable to adopt a data-driven approach. Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) and conducting employee surveys can provide valuable insights into productivity levels and areas for improvement,” he added.

Scope of remote work

Several sectors have shown adaptability to a fully remote work model, according to Lacerda. These include sectors driven by knowledge-based tasks and digital communication. “Industries such as IT, finance, and consulting are well-suited for remote work, given the nature of their work, which predominantly relies on computer-driven tasks and effective online collaboration," Lacerda said.

“Furthermore, recent advancements in AI innovation and IT disruption have facilitated the transition to remote work across various sectors. Businesses, including contact centres, bank branches, and even medical practices, have successfully substituted traditional office set-ups with remote operations. For instance, doctors conducting medical appointments and consultations from home highlight the potential for remote work even in traditionally hands-on fields,” he added.

Even with flexible work options, some roles may still require a physical presence. “Jobs in customer service, logistics, manufacturing, and healthcare often necessitate on-site interaction for optimal efficiency or safety reasons. The key is to identify roles where remote work is feasible and establish clear policies to manage hybrid work environments,” said Lacerda.

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