Many UAE firms may ask staff to work remotely to avoid virus

18% of companies have already asked employees to work remotely

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. A group of startup business employees working together in a modern office environment.

Image used for illustrative purpose. A group of startup business employees working together in a modern office environment.

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Several companies in the UAE could soon be asking their employees to work from home as concerns over the spread of the coronavirus escalate.

Recruitment specialist Gulf Talent polled nearly 1,000 company executives, managers and human resource (HR) professionals in the UAE, and 37 percent indicated that they would shift to remote working if the situation worsens.

Remote working in GCC

Across the GCC, a small number of employers (18 percent) have already implemented remote work strategies to contain the spread of the virus, according to Gulf Talent.  

Another 17 percent have decided to shift to remote work or are actively considering it.

“We do not have statistics on the exact timeline, but [we] expect most of this group to implement the policy within the next few weeks, particularly if virus infections continue to rise,” a spokesperson for GulfTalent told Zawya.

Still, the majority (54 percent) of employers have not come up with any remote work plans at all, according to Gulf Talent.

However, among the companies shifting to remote work, 45 percent plan to do so universally for all employees.

“The remainder are applying it selectively for certain job categories – with admin and HR being the most common functions to be moved to home, while engineering and operations receive the least share of remote jobs,” Gulf Talent said.

Will remote working work for UAE?

Savio Tovar Dias is the senior director for sales engineering at Avaya International, which provides tools for companies who have staff working remotely. 

Dias has noted a significant interest from UAE businesses in enabling staff to work from anywhere, even before the outbreak. 

Dias said it is possible for employers to implement a remote working strategy without affecting overall productivity levels.

“But to do so, they must equip their employees with the right tools [such as] seamless access to virtual video and audio collaboration, messaging and the ability to instantly share files in a secure manner,” he told Zawya.

The tech company has just announced it is offering its communication tools to all schools in the UAE for free, for a period of one year, to make it easier for students and teachers to communicate remotely during the planned school closure. The offer is also being extended to all hospitals and non-profit organisations in the UAE.

According to Jesper Andersen, CEO of Infoblox, employers have many options to make it convenient and productive for companies to implement a work-from-home strategy. “In previous outbreaks [like] SARS, MERS and H1N1, the available networking technology limited employee’s productivity if they were unable to come into the office, even if he or she was healthy. Today, this isn’t necessarily the case,” he told Zawya.

He said staff can now easily communicate through video conferencing and cloud-based applications, among other tools, without disrupting business operations.

Large organisations, including Twitter and Google, have urged thousands of employees to work from home, as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States advised that the spread of the virus is inevitable and that firms should find ways to ensure their workers are protected. 

Coinbase, a digital currency exchange headquartered in San Francisco, California, said it has also implemented a similar strategy.

“Employees that are likely to get sick more easily or for whom getting sick would be particularly problematic should now work with their manager to move to 100 percent work from home,” the company said in an email to its staff.

The Gulf Talent survey included 1,600 respondents across the GCC. The majority of those polled (60 percent) are based in the UAE.

The coronavirus has now infected more than 95,000 people worldwide, with the death toll hitting over 3,000. 

(Reporting by Cleofe Maceda; Editing by Seban Scaria)

Cleofe.Maceda@refinitiv.com

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