One Size Doesn’t Fit All
A shift towards the new working model
By: Sahar Samara, MSc | Managing Partner
The drastic change in the working model driven by the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a lot of scrutiny in the past few months. The sentiment towards the “new norm” of working from home has been very subjective and highly debated, with lots of mixed views on how employees have adjusted to it and experienced it – but more importantly how it has impacted businesses.
While remote working is not a new concept per se, it has previously only been sporadically practiced by many businesses. The sudden enforced shift was unprecedented and triggered a profound change in our day-to-day lives. Overnight, my desk had transported from my office at Dubai Science Park, to transient spots across the house, before finally being anchored at my dining room table. Zoom became my interface with the outside world.
“Overnight, my desk had transported from my office at Dubai Science Park, to transient spots across the house, before finally being anchored at my dining room table”
While it felt different at first, as days blurred into weeks, I naturally started falling into a routine. It was one which was not typical of what I had been accustomed to, but rather a unique schedule that was exclusively fitted to my disposition and personal circumstances. I muddled through my tasks at my own pace and my working hours were not rigid but rather contingent on my evolving workload and timelines, and the need to accommodate supporting distance learning for my two children.
Paradoxically, I found that I had more time at hand. I was able to embrace an exercise regimen, attend to personal obligations, and even squeeze in a power nap occasionally – and all this while staying on top of my work commitments and expectations. Furthermore, I was attending upskilling programs conveniently scheduled and delivered through virtual webinars, something that I have pined for but rarely seemed to find the time to do in the past. In a nutshell, I felt more relaxed, in control and empowered.
I realized that not only have I succeeded in adapting when circumstances demanded, but I actually rather enjoyed it – and I was not alone. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by YouGov, 94% of UAE office workers see positive benefits in flexible working.1 This is a staggering outcome. And the reason is simple – we have finally realized the importance of flexibility in achieving a healthy work-life balance, a concept that is frequently promoted as a company ethos and an HR wellbeing priority, but rarely adopted on a holistic level.
The term work-life balance has often been linked with boosting an employee’s experience. This was often realized through offering attractive benefit schemes, shaping organizational ethos, introducing opportunities for advancement and advocating employee appreciation.
However, with all the above-mentioned approaches, how often have flexible work arrangements been considered instrumental to boosting an employee’s experience?
“How often have flexible work arrangements been considered instrumental to boosting an employee’s experience?”
While flexible trends have been on the rise, managers have often been reluctant to grant flexible working schemes for employees with 81% following a rigid approach to traditional office hours and less than 10% working remotely.2 This is built on the common assumption that remote workers are less productive than those who are in a traditional office.
The perception is now changing for companies after seeing that during the enforced shift to remote working, productivity levels were retained or even increased – people were getting their work done. Afterall, the nature of work doesn’t change when you are working away from the office. The pressures are the same, and so are the targets. Suddenly, returning to the office was no longer a prerequisite to ensuring productivity. To support this, let’s examine a survey conducted by the Best Practice Institute which reveals that productivity of teams actually increased by 72% when working from home.3 This is on top of the additional benefits observed including the perk of operating with no footprint, allowing access to a wider pool of talents and the associated financial benefits to both the company and employee, due to reduced overheads and travel costs, respectively.
“Productivity levels were retained or even increased when working remotely”
So, it does work, and company policies will in time need to gradually adapt to reflect this change through introducing tools and structures that advocate to effective remote working. But there’s always another side of the coin. Not all companies and employees embraced the remote working structure. For some it had a negative overall impact, with reports of employees feeling isolated and burned out. Another observed shortcoming was associated with decreased employee visibility and mentoring.4
Personally, I would also be lying if I said I did not miss my workplace. After the relaxation of lockdown rules, I drove back to the office on a Sunday morning, music blasting, and realized that I had missed the feeling of leaving the house, the daily banter with my colleagues over morning coffee, our venting sessions, the latest gossip, and of course the opportunity for collaborative face-to-face working. This always made work bearable even at times when pressures were at their worst and was definitely something that could not be replaced by any remote platform.
And this finally brings me to my conclusion: at the end of the day, one size doesn’t fit all and remote working suits some personalities, personal circumstances, and job types over others. The imposed shift to remote working model has opened our eyes to embracing the approach of deploying flexible working models, where the working pattern is tailored to an individual rather than a company policy. Personally, my ideal scenario would be a hybrid model where I would split my time between home and the office – and now I know it actually works.