The national work from home directive could be a watershed moment in the adoption of flexible work

  • The Coronavirus crisis seems to have led to many employers in the UAE warming to more flexible work cultures
  • With the surge in virtual conferencing and collaboration tools, small businesses have also had a crash course in the use of remote access security and virtual private networks

The embrace of flexible work before the Coronavirus Crisis

March 26th, the day the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources and Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization issued the national work from home directive, could go down as a watershed moment in the adoption of flexible work as a reality of operational continuity in the face of the Coronavirus crisis. Across the region, for the better part of 2 decades now, human resource specialists have been touting the merits of flexible work modalities to address youth unemployment and female labor market inclusion.

Numerous studies of regional employers over the years have found they were generally reluctant to accommodate flexible working schedules and alternative employment modalities which may appeal to women. 

The Coronavirus crisis has been a shock therapy treatment that seems to have led to the embrace of the future of work in the United Arab Emirates and throughout the region with many employers now warming to more flexible work cultures.

Pre-Coronavirus Theory X views of the employee-employer relationship were very much prevalent with the employee time and attendance system at the entrance to the office the primary technology which defined the tenor of employee relations. Even at the beginning of March, if you asked most government senior leaders and business owners about flexible, remote work, you would have gotten a much different answer than now.

Tech enabling UAE businesses to manage through the crisis

Based on Ministry of Economy statistics, small and medium-sized businesses make up more than 94% of companies in the United Arab Emirates and employ nearly 90% of the private sector workforce. 

So really what Coronavirus has done is force many small businesses to very rapidly undergo forced digital transformations to ensure operational continuity.

One of the key learnings of the crisis thus far is that a workable long-term regulatory solution that accommodates security, data, and telecom competitive concerns for enabling VoIP based conferencing systems, such as Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts, to be used broadly is required. The affordability of business and home broadband subscription prices, which are amongst the highest in the world, has also been highlighted by the crisis as fast internet connectivity is critical to the bandwidth-intensive demands of managing geographically dispersed team members.

Across the United Arab Emirates, employers have adopted a range of technologies to manage remote workers which include tools for project management, messaging and conferencing, document collaboration, remote access, and time management.

In particular, workforce conferencing and messaging tools, such as Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, have been rapidly adopted by small and medium-sized businesses as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. Cloud-based document collaboration apps, such as G Suite and Microsoft Office 365, have become critical in enabling real-time document collaboration and coauthoring.

With the surge in virtual conferencing and collaboration tools that create vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit, small businesses in the United Arab Emirates have also had a crash course in the use of remote access security and virtual private networks in protecting business-critical, proprietary data. However, many employees remain unaware that the traditional punch and swipe card attendance systems notorious in the pre-Coronavirus office setting have much more prying digital analogues in the form of employee monitoring software that tracks activity to make sure employees are staying on task.