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Messages from executives: How are regional offices reopening amid Covid-19 concerns?

Messages from executives: How are regional offices reopening amid Covid-19 concerns?

With regional businesses now allowed to return back to offices, how are they handling the transition?

TOPSHOT - A worker wearing a hard hat walks past a mural in Dubai on June 3, 2020. - Shopping malls in Dubai will fully reopen for business on June 3, in the latest easing of COVID-19 coronavirus restrictions, the emirate's media office announced. The step makes the glitzy city-state the first in the Middle East to drop nearly all restrictions to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus that hit retailers and leisure activities. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP) (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)

While the Covid-19 pandemic has far from subsided, governments globally and regionally have started lifting lockdowns and eased restrictions to help economies begin the process of recovery. How have corporate entities welcomed back their workforce?

Saif Humaid Al Falasi
Group CEO, ENOC

Following Dubai government directives, ENOC Group developed a detailed plan for returning to work. A staggered work plan was put in place to manage employees returning to work from our headquarters. This started with allowing 50 per cent of the workforce to return to work from our offices on May 31.

This was followed by a decision to have 100 per cent of our workforce return to work from our offices effective June 14. Special exemptions have been allowed for mothers, pregnant women, people of determination, people with chronic diseases and immune deficiencies, and elderly workers, allowing them to continue working from home.

A dedicated cross-functional task force, whose main objective is to identify the various preventative measures during and post the sterilisation period, has also been formed since the pandemic broke out.

Covid-19 has offered ENOC an opportunity to revisit work patterns. We believe employees that do not require a physical presence in the office can work remotely in the future, which in turn will benefit employees, enhance productivity, and thereby improve and streamline business operations.

ENOC strives to fully restore its operations with the necessary preventative measures in place to instil confidence and drive growth while safeguarding our employees, customers and the community.

Les Male
CEO, DGCX

We continue to closely monitor and follow all the guidelines set by the UAE government and the World Health Organization to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees.

Currently, the DGCX Group is gradually returning to the office, and we are constantly assessing the new working environment, adapting as necessary as we move forward.

We are following stringent safety protocols, including mandatory social distancing between workstations and a thorough daily deep clean and weekly sanitisation of our offices. Despite the initial challenges, the transition to working remotely was hugely successful, and we continued to operate normally across both the exchange and clearing house.

The last few months have actually been a particularly busy period for us, as we partnered with Albilad Capital in Saudi Arabia to provide pricing data for the recently launched shari’ah compliant gold-backed ETF and developed new products.

We are also working on the soon-to-be launched FX rolling contracts to support our members during these volatile times. Undoubtedly, many challenges still lie ahead, but as we enter a post-pandemic world, I firmly believe that the DGCX Group and the UAE will emerge even stronger than before.

Nader Haffar
Chairman and CEO of KPMG in the Lower Gulf (UAE and Oman)

We are planning a gradual, controlled and phased return to our offices. Until then, large-scale remote working will remain the norm. There will be strict controls in place reflecting government regulations and recommendations. Social distancing measures will be applied and will determine how many people can be in the office at any given time.

Remote working has been a success for us, thanks to our business continuity plan, our capable IT infrastructure, our colleagues’ ability to adapt, and the goodwill of our clients who have been equally agile and supportive. At the same time, as a professional services firm, being with clients is where we make the biggest impact, and we are beginning to visit their offices.

Our priority is to safeguard our peoples’ wellbeing and we are in dialogue with clients to assess safety protocols. No colleague is being asked to visit a client unless we are comfortable with the precautionary measures and we are confident that the necessary hygiene equipment is available.

While we are hopeful, no one knows when the pandemic will end. By focusing on the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and our clients, and continuing to accomplish our business commitments,
we have established a culture that will carry us through these trying times.

Wojciech Bajda
Head of Ericsson GCC

Ericsson offices in the GCC are closed until further notice. There are protocols in place to deal with various issues that our company may face, to ensure both the health and safety of our employees and to minimise impact on our operations.

In order to ensure a safe, productive work environment for employees, Ericsson has established specific protective measures including (but not limited to): physical distancing, relevant signage, disposal and sanitation measures to be followed in the office as soon as it reopens in line with government legislation and guidelines. During normal circumstances, most of Ericsson’s office workers have successfully had the opportunity to work remotely.

Decisions about recommending or requiring employees to work remotely are made per site or country and is usually made in coordination with local authorities. There is near-term uncertainty around sales volumes due to Covid-19 and the macroeconomic situation, but with current visibility we have no reason to change our financial targets for 2020 and 2022.

Ericsson has delivered a solid result during the first quarter of 2020, with limited impact from the pandemic.

Benoy Kurien
Group CEO, Al Hamra

The easing of restrictions in Ras Al Khaimah to operate malls has been welcomed by shoppers, and we have recorded a significant increase in footfall at our two shopping malls – Al Hamra Mall and
Manar Mall. We have worked closely with our tenants to ensure they provide customers with a safe and comfortable shopping and dining experience. We have initiated a phased reopening with 20-30 stores opening on a daily basis since the beginning of June 2020.

The malls are now almost fully operational. The comprehensive set of precautionary measures that we have deployed will reassure our visitors, tenants and employees that their health, safety and wellbeing is of paramount importance and our priority.

Our mall management offices are working at normal operating hours while adhering to the social distancing guidelines and operating protocols. Introducing more flexibility into our corporate culture, we have also integrated selective remote working. It is here to stay and will become an integral part of the way we work. We are expecting a slow and gradual return to normality in the second half of 2020. We will continue to work closely with the authorities to enhance customer and market confidence.

Joerg Hildebrandt
Managing director and senior partner, BCG

We have opted for a gradual resumption of office activities. Our business model and technology infrastructure give us the opportunity to continue operating at lower attendance levels for longer.

We’ve segmented our office into multiple zones to further minimise virus transmission risks wherever possible. Staff are required to stay within their designated zones at all times and are
working on a rotation basis (Team A/B) to keep attendance levels low.

We conduct deep cleaning of all surfaces and floors, while everyone is required to wear a mask at all times and contactless sanitisers are available throughout the office. We keep close track of who is in the office, where and when, so we can quickly respond in case of an infection and prevent further spread.

As a consulting firm, our teams are accustomed to spending more days in our clients’ office than our own. Hence, we were very well setup to support our staff working from outside the office. While
working remotely, both our clients and us have quickly learned how to adapt to this model and with great success. Like any other business, we had to make changes to the way we work. Regardless of
these changes, and with the reopening of the economy, we are pleased to see a positive shift in business opportunities and a greater sense of optimism.

Robert Nichols
Managing director, 3M MEA

Safeguarding employees’ wellbeing is paramount because no plan to resume normal operations can succeed without them. For 3M, the focus is on getting employees who really need to be in the office or on the factory floor back into the building as soon as we have satisfactorily taken recommended safety and practical measures in close alignment with government and regulatory guidance.

Stringent cleaning, medical screening, staggered shifts and increased signage to ensure social distancing are in place across our offices. We also provide face coverings to all employees.

Many of our administrative and office based workforce will continue to have the option to work from home: 3M’s approach to bringing our workforce back on-site places an emphasis on flexibility.

We are playing a unique and critical role in the fight against Covid-19 and it’s a responsibility we take seriously. As industries reopen in this resource-constrained environment, we have been closely working with distributors and governments to ensure secure supply chains. We remain optimistic in our outlook and expect the increased flexibility brought on by necessity to stay on as part of the new normal here-on-in, with an increasingly safe work environment for our employees.

Ahmed Khashan
President – GCC and Pakistan, Schneider Electric

We are slowly, carefully reopening our offices in the GCC, in line with governmental guidelines on safe working practices including mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.

We’re also taking into account the feelings of our employees. Some miss the physical interaction with their colleagues, while others are more comfortable with remote working right now. We’re doing all we can to ensure that people can work at their best, wherever they may be. We’ve put in a range of practices to ensure that the office is a healthy and safe environment.

For example, to ensure that we monitor the number of employees coming to the office, everyone must apply the day before for approval to come to the office and work from here, myself included. We introduced remote working into the Gulf region several years back, so the transition for the team has been easier than for firms where remote working hasn’t been an option.

Business-wise, there’s now more optimism amongst our channel partners – they’re keen to get back to work and reengage with customers. There’s much more focus on digital transformation, which I’m happy to see.

The GCC is the most resilient region I’ve ever worked in. The region has adapted over and over again and I’m confident that we will overcome and endure, and that the region will transition to economies that are built around technology and innovation.

Ayman El Hout
CEO, Marsh UAE

We have been very fortunate that we have been able to operate remotely with minimal to no disruption to our services. We have decided that a gradual move back to the office is the ideal reopening strategy.

We have adjusted our workplace to ensure the welfare of our colleagues, implementing social distancing, opening floors where minimal access to elevators is required and providing the returning colleagues with all the necessary protective material they need.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic will profoundly reshape the concept of the office in the future. Many businesses globally have already been moving towards promoting flexible working policies and remote working opportunities, but for sure, 2020 will expedite the prevalence of such policies, making the office more of a place to collaborate and interact with others supporting organisational culture, rather than to work.

Due to the nature of our business as an insurance and risk management consultant, we have been working closely and providing advice and support to our clients on how best to respond, recover and rebound from the effects of the pandemic.

We are seeing ‘green shoots’ of opportunities. The region is resilient. Businesses who have the ability to reimagine their operating models and portfolio of offerings will find opportunities in this new world.

 

Paula Wehbeh
Head of Strategy, Ellington Properties

While we have been serving our customers and working remotely, we have now reopened our offices and currently operate at less than 100 per cent capacity with only essential staff.

As part of the safety protocols, we are checking the temperature of everyone who enters the office and have made hand sanitiser dispensers widely available, in addition to frequent and thorough disinfecting of common facilities and amenities.

We do not see work-from-home as the norm in doing business in the days ahead. Flexible and remote working for certain job roles is a welcome option provided productivity is not affected. The office building will continue to remain the foundation of our professional lives.

The market has gained positive traction following the opening of the economy. We have clients visiting us to evaluate the progress of projects and demand for homes is gradually returning as people look at long-term investments. This is more so given the UAE and Dubai being lauded globally for the effective measures it took to address the pandemic.

We are confident that the economy will gain strength in the days ahead, especially as the travel sector reopens.

Eva Mattheeussen
Head of HR – Middle East and Africa, DHL Global Forwarding

Where possible, our colleagues have been remote working for the past few months. As part of the first phase of reopening, we have designated employees into two teams and staggered their time in the office.

Employees will only return on a need-be basis as approved by their line managers.

We expect this to extend into July, and will continue to monitor as the situation evolves. We have also gained new perspectives in terms of team collaboration, communication, trust and adaptability.

We have ensured open communication channels with all our staff and seen engagement levels rise as we leverage existing technology to maintain close contact.

Given this, we will continue to promote effective flexible work arrangements, incorporating telecommuting where desired. With digitalisation as a core agenda in the group’s 2025 strategy, we will partly invest in our IT infrastructure to enhance the remote working experience.

 

Folasade Olashore
HR director – India, Middle East and Africa, P&G

Our communities have been through a lot over the last few months, and all of us are looking forward to reuniting with our colleagues and reinventing our new normal. Our intent is to ensure a safe and healthy work environment in the office for employees that choose to work from the office while maintaining the same level of personal flexibility that we all need during this period of transition into the new normal.

We recognise that personal challenges continue to remain in this challenging time, like home schooling, vulnerable or at-risk family members, which is why flexibility is paramount for our  employees.

We are reopening our office at limited occupancy from mid-June until end-September. We will continue to give employees the flexibility to work from home if they need to for personal reasons or if they, or their direct family members, fall in high-risk categories.

Every person entering the office is expected to wear a mask and temperature checks will be performed with a contactless thermometer upon their arrival and upon their exit. We encourage our employees to meet virtually whenever possible.

All workstations and meeting rooms also undergo rigorous disinfection throughout the day and bathrooms are disinfected after use. All employees have received a personal protective equipment (PPE) kit to help protect them at home and work while we transition to a new and better normal.

Despo Michaelides
Chief HR and diversity officer, AXA Gulf

After evaluating the maximum number of employees that could be accommodated in each office to ensure social distancing, we gradually managed the return to office, in line with the UAE authorities’ guidelines.

We propose complimentary mobility services to avoid staff taking public transport and we provided private furnished accommodation to contractors who may be at risk of exposure. We have created a comprehensive guide including all safety measures put in place to prepare staff for their return to office.

Our AXA Wellbeing programme gives our staff access to a 24-hour mental health teleconsultation service and 22 in-house mental health first aiders trained to support their colleagues.

We have already seen an increase in the footfall of our branches across the UAE but we are available at all touchpoints for those customers that do not feel comfortable going out in public spaces.
Through our online and call centre platforms, customers can purchase, renew and claim all of our products from the comfort of their homes.

David Moloto
HR director – MENA, Nestlé

Our frontliners in the factories, warehouses and sales have continued to provide needed foods and beverages throughout the entire Covid-19 pandemic. Other employees have started to come back to
the office. Our approach to return to the office is gradual and phased, while ensuring employee health and safety.

Nestlé premises has started reopening since the first week of June with a maximum of 30 per cent capacity and will gradually increase in the months to come.

We have added some new health and safety protocols and measures to our workplace such as putting in place temperature screening machines and new enhanced routines of daily deep cleaning
of meeting rooms and workstations.

Employees with underlying health conditions like heart disease, immune system weakness or any other serious respiratory illness are asked to work from home for the time being in alignment with our medical experts. Given the current situation, and the closure of schools during this period, our employees are still able to continue to work from home.

We all know that the post-Covid world will look very different and that includes more flexible working arrangements, a greater shift towards remote working, more agility at work, alternative ways of
doing meetings and connecting remotely as we are seeing now through video conferencing platforms.

Anurag Agrawal
Managing director, Canon Middle East and Turkey

In the past three months, our teams have shown exceptional agility, working from home and at the office on a need-to basis. Our offices will re-open from July 1 at 30 per cent capacity. The health and safety of our employees is our utmost priority and we are taking strict measures to ensure we are fully compliant in providing a safe environment.

When we reopen in July, several new measures will be in place, starting with the redesign of all our offices. We have also defined the number of people to be allowed in the office space and in meeting rooms based on social distancing measures and room sizes. Temperature checks will be conducted and use of masks will be mandatory.

I believe we need to have a flexible and agile mindset and work around the demands of the new reality. Working remotely might become a new norm and we must be prepared for that. We have put a ‘COVID sprint team’ cross functionally to look into emerging trends and suggest new ways of working in future.

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