What will the future world of work look like in the UAE? Hybrid working is a big talking about in the UK but will it take off the UAE? It’s a 90% export workforce, lots of different nationalities working together, a high emphasis on collaboration so the pull to being physically in the office is a strong one. But is safe for the workers? How is the vaccine rollout progressing? These are hot topics and are being discussed in the region’s press. Gulf News has a special report looking in some detail at whether home working is here to stay in the region and flags a clear trend which has emerged. They say survey after survey show most people who have gone into work-from-home mode prefer to keep at least some of it when this pandemic is over, although it is recognised that it’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ and remote work is not for everybody and, indeed, some employers are already saying that remote work is not sustainable in some sectors in the region. However, the clear consensus is that going back to the office with 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time has a zero chance of happening.
The report goes on to look at different hybrid working models being considered in the region. There are currently three front-runners:
1. Split Teams Model – Two hubs, or two roughly equal teams, would collaborate while working in different locations. Members could still be working remotely in their respective locations but there would still be a hub for each.
2. Hybrid Teams Model – Most team members would work from a fixed office location with less than 50% working remotely. Those that did work remotely may be required to come into the office from time to time to collaborate with their co-located team members. That model is, apparently, especially popular in the Tech sector.
3. Fully Remote Model – Everyone would work remotely, there would be no office and no need to meet your colleagues in person. This is there proposal where you have people from numerous countries and time zones working together. The snag with that, however, is it takes a lot of effort and a lot of trust to make it work.
As you would expect, we are very keen to understand what our clients think might happen in different parts of the world, and what they want to see, and to that end last week we held a webinar called ‘What the future holds for employment law and HR’ which brought together a number of different jurisdictions. The UAE was represented by Dubai-based lawyer Luke Tapp and shortly after the webinar finished, I caught up with Luke to gauge how the session went and the likely trends for his region:
Luke Tapp: “Thank you Joe. It was a really interesting webinar, great to get all of our international employment partners together to talk through the current climate with our international clients. I think the two key topics from a UAE perspective that we discussed were the short term issues for clients to think about from an HR perspective, and then those medium to longer term issues for them to be thinking about as well. I mean, in terms of the short term issues for our clients with operations in the UAE, it is very much around issues like the vaccine and the extent to which clients can encourage or require their workforce to take a vaccine to support the health and safety of the workplace and then the other short term issue that clients are discussing with us is around the return to the office, the return to the workplace, and that's because of how successful the vaccination rollout has been within the UAE and because clients are seeing the opportunity now, with employees coming back to the workplace, the opportunity to rediscover that connectivity between colleagues, collaboration between colleagues, you know, improving the culture within the organisation. So, our clients are seeing that and particularly our global and international clients, because the UAE has been so successful with the vaccination rollout those clients with operations in the UAE are seeing the UAE team, or the UAE offices, as the pilot offices for returning to the workplace. So that's the sort of short term measures that clients are thinking about at the moment. In terms of the medium to longer term implications, what we're seeing, and what we're discussing with clients in the UAE, is around the new model of working, the new model of engaging a workforce because, historically, the UAE has always been a little bit behind Europe in particular in relation to the way it staffs its organisations within the UAE. It’s a little bit old fashioned, it’s employees working five days a week 9am until 6pm on a full time basis. But what the last 12 to 15 months has created in the UAE, it's created opportunities for the private sector to think about alternative ways of engaging a workforce whether that means putting people on part time hours, engaging people in a more flexible way, engaging employees in an a more agile way so that they can work from different locations rather than having to come to the office. Also, not just engaging employees, but looking at alternative ways of recruiting manpower such as through consultancy arrangements. All of those different options are not areas that have been that prevalent in the UAE in the past, but because of the private sector has been required to be more dynamic, be more forward thinking over the past 12 to 15 months, we see that a lot of our clients in this market have experienced the benefit of that and are looking at implementing those types of arrangements going forwards and I think the UAE being such an international facing jurisdiction, being such a modern and diverse jurisdiction, I think there's a huge opportunity there because there are so many of our international and global clients operating within the UAE, there's an opportunity to rely on that international workforce when delivering business for the private sector’s clients in relation to the UAE or the Middle East region generally.”
Joe Glavina: “Can I ask you about the hybrid working model because that is something that has been getting a lot of attention in the media in the UK. There is a general acceptance that we will see a mix of home and office-based working and employers are, on the whole, quite happy with that prospect. What’s the view in your region? I get the sense there’s a pull to getting people back to the office. Is that fair?”
Luke Tapp: Yes, so a really good question, Joe. I think that there is a different approach depending on the sector in which clients are operating and so I don't think it's a case of 100% of all private sector companies want people back into the organisation, but I think maybe partly because we're slightly ahead of Europe in terms of the vaccination rollout so we're getting to a position where people are more comfortable going back into society generally, whether that's eating out, whether that's, you know, going to shops on the weekends, which means that companies are beginning to focus more on the return to the office. Also it's a 90% export workforce, there’s a lot of different nationalities working within most offices within the UAE so it probably does place a slightly higher importance in getting people together, getting people to work together, to collaborate together, to share the office culture and develop the office culture together. So, I think there may be a slightly higher emphasis within the UAE of having people within the workplace but, having said that, the clients that we're speaking to are not saying they want everybody back in the office five days a week. I think they fully appreciate that people are more productive where there's a balanced approach where you spend some time in the office in some time working from home. But yes, I do think some of the particular aspects of working in the UAE do mean that there is a focus on getting people back into the office. I think the other point to mention is that for a lot of people living in Dubai, for example, the commutes are not the sort of commutes that you see in the UK. So, it isn't a one or two hour train journey into London to get to the office. It’s more likely to be private transport that gets people into their workplace and a much shorter journey.”
Luke mentioned the success of the vaccine rollout. As far as Covid is concerned, there is now a degree of mandatory Covid testing in force in some UAE business sectors. We covered that issue recently with the help of Luke’s colleague, Ruth Stephen. That programme is called ‘Mandatory Covid testing in force in some UAE business sectors’ and is available now for viewing from the Outlaw website.