Hybrid work: The great middle ground?

We are collectively having healthier conversations about the best way to work

Woman analyzing documents while sitting at home. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Woman analyzing documents while sitting at home. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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You’ve gotten used to it, haven’t you? Yes, you miss the office banter and wearing nice trousers, but there’s heightened productivity and quiet at home. You’re not alone: A LinkedIn survey in September revealed that 70 percent of employees in the UAE and Saudi Arabia feel “out of practice” with office life and 40 percent still want a flexible schedule. Basically, we are still confused and offices are having a hard time making plans for the future.

Now that we have lived with the pandemic for two years, we are entering a new period of long-term work goals. Tech giants like Facebook and Apple still don’t have concrete plans to return to the office anytime soon, while Google and Microsoft plan to offer flexible work models indefinitely. In some cases, like with Twitter, remote work is now a permanent option.

Regional companies are taking cues. Active Digital Marketing Communications trialled a four-day workweek at the beginning of September this year.

“Our plan was to offer a healthy work-life balance and it’s actually led to greater creativity and enthusiasm,” said Louay Al-Samarrai, managing partner. “We will review at the end of the year and are really hoping and planning for this to become a permanent fixture.”

When he broke the news to the team over a Zoom call, he said they initially thought he was joking, before raising concerns over potential salary cuts. When the team was reassured that they would now only work four days a week for the same pay, they were ecstatic.

Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, who runs a leading PR agency in the region, found that her team desperately missed the fun office environment, but were understandably tired after the pandemic. She began a 4.5 day work week trial in July to support her staff — and made it a permanent move in September.

She explained that the PR industry does not keep regular working hours, with most of her team working “way past 5:30 p.m., answering WhatsApps from clients and attending events. We didn’t want to cram extra hours into existing days, we removed five working hours completely.”

The 4.5-hour working week is designed to give back to those who make her agency successful.

“Phrases such as ‘balance’ and ‘burnout’ are permeating many offices and it is our responsibility to protect and support our staff to ensure they not only do their best when at work, but actually want to be here too,” said Hatherall-Shawe, founder of TishTash. “We will reassess again in the New Year to see if a move to a four-day week is possible.”

Whether you are enjoying watercooler talk in the office again or still at home working from the dining table, one thing rings true: We are collectively having healthier conversations about the best way to work. It may differ from person to person and company to company, but talking about it is one great outcome from an exasperating period.

• Sara Hamdan is a former Merrill Lynch banker, NYT journalist and editor at Google. She writes on startups, women in business, and post-COVID-19 work trends.

Twitter: @SaraHamdan

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