A new survey from global advisory and brokerage Willis Towers Watson has reported that the sudden shift to remote working caused by COVID-19 hasn’t significantly affected productivity among workers in the UAE. Indeed, more than one-fifth of large local employers stated an increase in productivity, while the majority of respondents (39%) suggested only a minor decrease.
“The pandemic has forced us into a massive experiment in working from home, and many employers are relieved at how well staff productivity has held up or even increased. Technology like fast broadband has been a huge enabler, and workers have been quick to switch to tools such as video conferencing.”
The challenges of remote working have been one of the most common lines of criticism since various measures put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 forced a sizeable portion of the global workforce to set up temporary offices in their homes almost overnight, but the longer-term impacts have also attracted attention.
Nevertheless, there has been little direct research to date beyond anecdotal discussions into the impacts of remote working on productivity. The new WTW survey quantifies the landscape to some degree, finding that in addition to those UAE companies which stated small increases or decreases, another 11 percent felt there had been no change, while the same number noted that the decline was at worst ‘moderate’. No respondent stated a large impact.
Still, the survey results may not be representative of the broader picture. “The UAE has always strived to be a leader in smart-working and this is a great opportunity to re-imagine how work can get done,” said Janssen. “Employers have seen that staff can be just as productive away from the office, and that may spark a greater shift to more agile working options, which could have implications for office real estate and the wider economy.”
On this point, the advisory also questioned its survey participants on future intentions. Currently, two-thirds of UAE employers have three-quarters of their staff working remotely, with roughly 80 percent having less than 10 percent working from home prior to the crisis. Now, over three-quarters of respondents state they have no end date to the new arrangements in mind, although the survey was conducted prior to the recent lifting of some restrictions in the UAE.
“This is a game-changing leadership moment for many companies,” Janssen concluded. “Those that put their people first will be best placed to emerge from the crisis with higher employee well-being, morale and engagement, which will all be essential for the future success of any business. Good employers are thinking of ways to help their staff navigate the pandemic, through better communication, more flexible working, and improvements to benefits packages.”