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Hybrid working is the key, as UAE offices fill up again

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More than half of UAE employees have returned to office attendance although many adopt the hybrid model and continue some remote work
  • Almost 90% of workers want to work remotely or in a hybrid model
  • Over 50% of UAE employers offer no working-from-home options
  • Flexible arrangements help staff retention and satisfaction

After years of coronavirus pandemic-induced remote and hybrid working, 2022 saw the UAE’s offices once again filling up.

However workers have made it clear that they would prefer a hybrid model, according to a study by Cisco Middle East and Africa. Out of the 1,050 full-time UAE employees surveyed almost 90 percent said they wanted to work remotely or in a hybrid model in the future.

But, as the pandemic recedes into memory, fewer UAE employees are able to work from home.

According to Hay’s 2022 GCC Salary Guide, 55 percent of employers in the UAE offer no working-from-home options, while 20 percent of employees can work completely flexibly, from home or their office. Some 12 percent of employees now work at home two to three days a week.

Emirati businesses have no obligation to allow their employees — however much they want it — to work from home.

Luke Tapp, a Dubai-based partner at London-headquartered law firm Pinsent Masons, said: “In the UAE, unless an employee is expressly permitted to work remotely by their employer, their rights to do so under the current legislative framework are limited.

“An employee’s work permit and the applicable labour laws do not extend to anything more than allowing the employee to work from the employer’s registered office address.

“Beyond any pandemic-related stipulations, there is no legal right for employees to insist on working remotely. As a result, UAE employers determine whether employees work remotely or are required to work from the office.”

“Few professions are in the office five days a week, and this is likely to continue,” said Taimur Khan, head of research at CBRE Middle East & North Africa.

Office occupancy rate for offices in the UAE for the year to Q3 was around 87 percent, Khan said, while about a year earlier it was roughly 78.5 percent. He added that new entrants to the market have helped occupancy rates.

This is reflected in the office market. “Prime rents are increasing by around 16.5 percent, grade A rents by 10.5 percent and even grade B is up almost 10 percent.”

Khan also pointed out that the visa system in the UAE protects office space.

“Effectively, you get an allocation of visas depending on how much office space you take. You can’t necessarily get rid of the corporate office,” he said, adding that the policy has been relaxed in recent years but is essentially still in place.

Nadia Harris, a former HR professional who now assists businesses managing the transition to remote working, said remote work and flexible arrangements help staff retention and employee satisfaction — hence the vast majority of UAE employees wanting to keep working remotely or in a hybrid setting.

“With remote work policies in place people can spend more time with their families. People save time spent on the commute,” she said.

For workers in Dubai, who work some of the longest hours in the world, those commuting hours matter.

Harris pointed out that many companies are setting up in Dubai and hiring remote workers from overseas, administering their companies from the low-tax Emirates.

In addition to tax benefits, Harris said “working conditions, lifestyle, quality of life, and timezone” mean remote workers and remote-first teams are drawn to Dubai. 

For remote workers, companies, and digital nomads, “this is a hotspot”.

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