Is the UAE enjoying a flexible working revolution?

New study says majority of employees work away from the office at least once a week

The concept of flexible working – allowing employees to work at home or in other locations to maximise efficiency and promote work-life balance – has been transformational for many businesses in the US and Europe. And now it seems that despite misgivings among more conservative employers, the UAE is getting in on the act.

A new study from International Workplace Group (IWG) suggests that 60 per cent of employees in the country work away from the office at least one day a week and around 31 per cent spend half the week or more away from headquarters.

IWG suggested that enabling flexible work correlated with improved financial growth, productivity and retention among businesses. More than eight in 10 (84 per cent) UAE businesses surveyed said that flexible work helped them retain talent, while 86 per cent said it had a positive effect on productivity.

Etihad Airways, Mastercard, Microsoft and Oracle were among those named as strong supporters of flexible work and Mark Dixon, CEO of IWG, said: “Flexible working, supported by a professional, on-demand workspace network, is now being discussed by senior leaders across functions in companies including risk management, business development, human resources, marketing and strategy. One day soon, flexible working could simply be known as ‘working’. We are reaching the tipping point.”

There are caveats to the headline findings, however. While the survey relied on feedback from more than 18,000 people globally, they were predominantly office-based knowledge workers – flexible working is unlikely to be available extensively among the blue collar workforce.

Anecdotally, while many companies are on board with the idea of enabling agility – and are happy to judge employees by results rather than how often they turn up in the office – many traditional businesses, including those that are smaller or family-owned, remain resistant to the idea.

And while the UAE’s adoption of flexible working may sound progressive, it still lags below the global average. In China, more than 60 per cent of staff report working away from the office at least half the week, while other highly flexible economies include India, Mexico, South Africa and France.

Despite this, the news will be welcomed by HR professionals and business leaders who believe flexible working promotes productivity and employee wellbeing. In 2017, Dubai-based classified advertising platform Dubizzle told People Management how it had reaped the benefits of enabling flexible working. Employees can work from home whenever they require it, and those in the office can choose to start or finish their day at different times depending on what works best for them.

The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department has also successfully implemented a flexible working scheme which allows employees to use ‘telecommuting’ technology to work from home.

The desire for flexibility has also led to a raft of new co-working spaces – where individuals can work in an office environment alongside other flexible workers – opening in Dubai. AstroLabs, for example, says it has more than 30 nationalities among its membership, while other popular brands include The Cribb and Impact Hub.

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