Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 September 2020

Dubai is at the heart of a workplace revolution

The UAE city is at the vanguard of innovation when it comes to technology and flexible work in the Middle East

Dubai Government's move to introduce flexible working could inspire others. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dubai Government's move to introduce flexible working could inspire others. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus has disrupted lives, severely affected the economy and changed our relationship with the workplace. Private companies and public institutions all over the world have had to adapt the way they do business in order to protect their staff. This has meant re-arranging office spaces to allow for as little contact as possible, or limiting the number of employees who come into the workplace so as to maintain physical distancing measures.

In May, major technology firms announced that flexible work would become the norm for their employees. Google and Facebook said that their staff will work from home until next year, while Amazon and Microsoft decided it was best for most of their employees to work remotely until at least October. Twitter and Square, a business services company, took it a step further, giving their employees the option of working remotely for an indefinite period of time.

New technologies and means of communication have played a big role in facilitating this transition, even amid a pandemic. The UAE has invested in those fields for years and it was the first country in the world to designate a Minister of Artificial Intelligence. Investing in those key sectors has prepared the Emirates to cope with the impact of Covid-19 on the workplace. Last month, Omar Al Olama, UAE Minister of State for Digital Economy, AI and Remote Working System, told a reduced audience at the Dubai World Trade Centre that “because of our connectivity and the right investments, the government could operate 100 per cent virtually” when Covid-19 restrictions had to be put in place.

Mr Al Olama said that “remote working was seen as a luxury and a gimmick, in the past”. Yet the pandemic has pushed private and public sector employers to become more flexible and innovative. Remote learning and school closures have also added pressure on companies and government entities to allow parents more leeway to take care of their children.

Dubai has spearheaded innovation in the workplace, taking steps to allow for flexible work in the public sector. Beginning next week, Dubai government staff will be free to commence their shifts at any time between 6.30am and 8.30am, as long as they complete their contracted hours. The measure aims to improve productivity and maintain employee satisfaction. Transport experts have also said the decision could help to alleviate rush hour traffic.

Dubai has spearheaded innovation in the workplace, taking steps to allow for flexible work in the public sector

For some employees, being given the option of flexible work hours or remote working has allowed for a better work-life balance. For others, it is not as easy but they have adjusted as Covid-19 developments forced them too. Flexible working arrangements can also be beneficial for employers, as studies have shown that remote working boosts productivity. A survey by Prodocscore, a US-based company, indicated a 47 per cent increase in productivity for those working from home. Of course, there are sectors like those for emergency services, that cannot provide the same flexibility but they too have adapted.

Some employees have enjoyed flexible working for years. Due to Covid-19, it is now also becoming a trend in the region. The UAE is at the vanguard of workplace innovation in the Middle East, and will certainly pave the way for others to follow suit.

Updated: August 12, 2020 10:54 AM

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