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Why UAE-based businesses should continue flexible working patterns post Covid-19

Why UAE-based businesses should continue flexible working patterns post Covid-19

In light of the ‘new normal’, businesses much find a way to nurture that need for greater flexibility

There is no doubt that the current Covid-19 pandemic forced us to rethink how – and where – we work.

Luckily, entrepreneurs are a resourceful bunch. Since founders, software developers, and growth experts can operate wherever there’s a computer and an internet connection, remote working isn’t an issue anymore.

Dubai eased lockdown measures, and offices re-opened. But will employees want to return full-time? As startups pivot in this new economic reality, there’s never been a greater need for in-person collaboration. So perhaps it’s flexible, rather than remote, working that could be the answer.

Let’s look at the possibilities!

  1. Find what works for your business

While UAE was well-prepared to deal with the pandemic at an early stage, a lot of companies have been forced to change the way they do things – overnight in some cases. This was a steeper learning curve for some companies more than others.

For technology companies, going remotely has been a relatively smooth transition. This has undoubtedly caused businesses to consider the need to have every member of staff present in a single office every working day. However, every business is different. The status of your product, service, and the need for your team to be in close proximity to each other will differ – depending on the exact nature of your business.

But as the lockdown eases, designing a more flexible working plan for your startup could be beneficial in several ways.

How could this work for your tech startup?

At a time when finances are tight, it’s always better to compromise on overheads rather than staff. For example, securing a smaller office space for a much lower price proves to be cost effective, especially if that space is located somewhere more affordable but still close to the centre of things and gives access to communal, shared facilities and 24/7 access.

Consider a company with eight employees would typically need to rent an office space of 70-80 sqm, and half of their workforce were given the flexibility to work remotely on some days, they could instead rent a much smaller office – say about, 20 sqm. If they add a flexi desk space, they would meet work visa requirements while running their operation smoothly.

Thriving in this kind of setup ultimately hinges on having the right technology solutions in place. By locating your business in a location conducive to this flexible approach, you manage to get the best of both worlds.

  1. Leverage the right tools at the right time

In less than five years, only one quarter of business meetings will take place in person – according to 2019 research from Gartner entitled Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions.

This is testament to how efficient and reliable technology has become which is proved by the surge in the use of platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, Skype, Google Docs – as well as a host of other video conferencing and collaboration tools. In fact, the 2019 Remote Work Report by Zapier states that knowledge workers get more meaningful work done from outside the traditional office environment.

So, if working remotely hasn’t negatively impacted productivity or team cohesion so far, the case for continuing to do so, balanced with some office-based work, is a strong one.

It’s important to remember that while tech tools are great at providing ongoing collaboration – in a world where the majority of team interactions are remote – they place even more emphasis on making the 25 per cent of in-person meetings count.

How could this work for your tech startup?

The lockdown has helped many companies realise that giving employees access to the right tools can help maintain business continuity. Even though technology provides a good deal of the flexibility that workers need to do their jobs, there’s still a strong need for them to connect in person – especially at pivotal moments in a startup’s development.

The post-lockdown for many startups will be to find a balance between the services needed to function remotely and the physical space required to accommodate a team with shifting needs.

Done correctly though, a flexible approach can be a real differentiator for tech startups when it comes to attracting new talent.

  1. Better talent, lower costs

In addition to reducing the overall costs of operating a business, there are other financial benefits to offering flexible working. Tech startups may also find that they can attract international talent for less by championing flexibility.

Statistics from the 2019 Zapier report show that even before the crisis hit, jobs with flexible working options were in hot demand. Many employees were willing to quit current jobs in favour of working for a company with more flexibility in their approach.

How could this work for your tech startup?

It’s becoming clear that many people (particularly those in the millennial demographic) value flexibility regarding where, when, and how they work just as much as remuneration. Arguably, a more forward-thinking attitude is one of the biggest attractions of working at a startup.

But flexibility doesn’t just benefit talented employees – it can also positively impact your business. That means a less stressed staff with a better work/life balance, and an acknowledgement that different people are productive at different times. Allowing them to design their own schedule can only enhance their output. Also, having some overlap in the working day can help teams to plan their meetings better – around mutually beneficial times. It can also help to have office-based staff working different hours – especially if you have staff operating in other time zones.

Facing up to full-time flexibility

Remote working in a crisis has helped us to realise that startups can operate in this way. The big question remains: ‘Should they?’

Many tech giants continue to create cutting-edge office spaces to leverage the creativity and collaboration which come from being together in one space. And businesses that offer their staff access to creative coworking spaces do so to stimulate creativity and productivity. So there is clearly great benefit to everyone being in one place.

In the UAE, foreign businesses, including startups, often establish themselves in a free zone. This means that companies still need a central point of reference – whether it’s a corporate presence where team members occasionally congregate, or a base of operations.

However, office spaces and corporate service providers need to better accommodate a range of needs in spaces that offer flexibility of growth, rather than setting the terms of engagement and insisting companies, like startups, commit to a prescribed plan.

Ultimately, just as employees all work differently, businesses operate on individual terms as well. Now that we’ve all experienced a ‘new normal’, we have an opportunity to think what’s best for our own business and find a way to nurture that need for greater flexibility.

William Chappell is the chief financial officer and executive vice president of technology and entrepreneurship at Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority

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