Employers in Bahrain are leading the Gulf countries in asking their staff to work from home as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), according to a survey.

Nearly a third of Gulf-based employers are planning to have staff work from home, said GulfTalent, a Middle East employment portal.

The survey, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, covered 1,600 executives, managers and human resource professionals from the GCC, including from Bahrain.

“Across the region, firms in Bahrain reported the highest rate of remote work plans at 38 per cent,” said the survey.

“This was followed by Qatar, UAE and Kuwait at 37pc each.

“In Saudi Arabia, 30pc of firms indicated plans for working from home, while businesses in Oman registered the region’s lowest rate of possible remote work, at just 18pc.”

With remote work being a new concept for most businesses in the region, the survey found that many were scrambling to get set up technically to have staff work from home while multinationals surveyed indicated the highest readiness to switch to remote work.

The study found that up to 35pc of Gulf-based businesses could soon be asking employees to work from home.

“This consists of 6pc who have just launched work-from-home plans as a result of the recent outbreak, 5pc who have confirmed plans being rolled out soon, 12pc who are reviewing the concept, combined with a further 12pc who already had remote work arrangements prior to the outbreak.”

Meanwhile, 54pc of the respondents said they had no remote work plans, while 11pc said their firms will definitely not entertain the possibility.

The work-from-home plans of employers in the Gulf

Administration and human resources (HR) were the most common functions to be moved to home, while engineering and operations receive the least share of remote jobs.

“Our offices in China and Korea are already closed and staff are working from home,” said a HR manager of a multinational company who participated in the survey.

“We are monitoring the situation in the Gulf in case the same measures become necessary here.”

Besides introducing remote work arrangements, many companies covered reported a range of other measures – including restricting business travel (51pc), providing health advice to employees (51pc) and limiting external meetings of staff with clients and suppliers (33pc).

“Faced with a decline in business, some of the firms reported plans to reduce costs through staff redundancies and unpaid leaves.

“These were mainly concentrated in the hospitality sector, followed by aviation, logistics and events.”

However, a significant 42pc of employers surveyed reported no plans or changes of any kind in response to the outbreak of the virus that has affected all the Gulf countries.

The most common impact reported was the difficulty of business travel (67pc), followed by reduced customer demand (39pc) and harder to get supplies (31pc).

Impact of the virus on companies in the Gulf

“Companies also reported reduced demand for their products and services, particularly in hospitality, events, education and retail.

“In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus through large gatherings, governments in several Gulf countries have ordered the cancellation of public events and exhibitions, and closure of nurseries and in some cases even schools”.

A further challenge reported by many firms was the difficulty of securing supplies, particularly products and equipment manufactured in China being delayed due to factory closures.

Around one-fifth of the respondents said their company was actively seeking alternative suppliers.

Employer responses to the virus

However, not all businesses were negatively affected by the outbreak.

“Some reported a surge in demand for their products and services, particularly those active in healthcare.

“Many restaurants and retailers reported a jump in online orders while in-store purchases dropped, as customers chose to stay home and have the items delivered to them.”

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