Karam Malhotra, Partner and Global Vice-President, SHAREit Group
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the world of work has witnessed a degree of reform few could have predicted. Despite unprecedented disruption and companies forced to evolve in order to endure, the pandemic has, however unintentionally, resulted in various positives for businesses and industries alike. Remote working has been a resounding success, workforces are more satisfied, employee well-being awareness has never been higher, and diverse teams are fulfilling their full potential through a culture of openness and inclusivity. Now, with the post-pandemic era fast approaching, the onus is on businesses in the Middle East to continue appreciating the value of these beneficial outcomes and ensure flexibility, wellness, and inclusion remain key operational components in the years ahead.
In response to lockdown and movements restriction measures, the majority of professionals across the Middle East have spent the past year to 18 months working remotely, often carrying out responsibilities at their own pace. Yet this trend, together with the newfound flexibility they have become accustomed to, has led to key considerations for businesses, including combining face-to-face meetings and virtual settings permanently. A survey by global recruitment consultancy Robert Walters found that 32% of regional professionals would prefer a hybrid working model, spending at least 50% of their time working remotely. Moreover, almost 73% value the flexible hours derived from remote working, with 31% citing the practice as an enabler for increased focus on personal well-being.
It is important to note that the pandemic was detrimental to employee health, particularly initially, with many adopting unhealthy practices while attempting to make the transition to remote working. For example, leading researcher Gallup found that 35 percent of employees in Saudi Arabia had reported high rates of stress during the pandemic, while 95% of employees in the UAE have stated their belief that they would be more productive if they were happier in the workplace – something that can be accomplished through effective and engaging employee wellness programs. Furthermore, driving the diversity and inclusion agenda is also proven to boost organizational performance. With these considerations in mind, the coming period represents a critical period for Middle Eastern organizations, and meeting obligations in each of these areas is essential for business continuity, workplace prosperity, and employee performance.
Key considerations for companies
With the pandemic compelling companies to make sure their employees feel cared for, several viable options can be explored to deliver on these priorities. Firstly, employers can embed flexibility within their company’s culture. With hybrid working now preferred by a significant amount of the region’s professional population, organizations cannot afford to ignore employee expectations. Therefore, they take proactive steps to continue providing the flexibility they have become accustomed to, encouraging a mix of in-person and virtual practices to accommodate employee wishes, creating more personalized experiences, accelerating professional development and progression, and encouraging career transitions. After all, flexibility is not solely about location; it is also about a series of arrangements to boost productivity while fostering inclusion and diversity in the workplace.
A renewed emphasis on wellness and inclusion must also be showcased and pursued, which will undoubtedly be a key differentiation point for employers as they look to hire the best talent. Employees must believe that their company truly cares about them in order to secure them in the long term – and highly engaged and motivated employees will have a direct impact on a company’s productivity. As such, employers must listen to their personnel and continuously encourage a healthy work-life balance.
They should transform their culture wherever necessary, promoting an inclusive environment while assuming greater social responsibility. An effective example could be creating well-structured corporate wellness programs that can help employees cope up with the challenges of the pandemic. SHAREit Group recently conducted self-care and mental health workshops with interesting, interactive, and fun activities for its employees. These workshops included sessions on self-care strategies, sustainable work-life balance, and simple breathing exercises to help employees relax and relieve their mental pressure, stress, and tensions. The sessions were done virtually by leveraging technology for employee engagement, improving workplace wellbeing, and social togetherness.
Supported by digital solutions, successful inclusion efforts and wellness initiatives can be accelerated, building workplaces that are inclusive, accessible, and fully supportive of employees, irrespective of their location, background, or personal circumstances.
For Middle Eastern companies, the coming period can, in years to come, be remembered as one where the foundations for long-term sustainability and success were set. By implementing full-time hybrid operations, introducing engaging corporate wellness programs, and harnessing technological capabilities, companies will successfully enhance workplace flexibility, employees wellness, and inclusive culture, all of which are imperative both now and in the future.