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‘One-third of Gulf companies planning work from home to combat Coronavirus threat’

TDT | Manama

With the Coronavirus outbreak spreading across the world, onethird of Gulf-based employers are planning to have staff work from home, according to a survey conducted by Middle East employment portal, GulfTalent. The survey received responses from 1,600 company executives, managers and human resource professionals across the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Based on the survey results, up to 35 per cent of Gulf-based businesses could soon be asking employees to work from home.

This consists of 6pc who have just launched work-from-home plans as a result of the recent outbreak, 5pc who have confirmed plans being rolled out soon, 12pc who are reviewing the concept, combined with a further 12pc who already had remote work arrangements prior to the outbreak.  Meanwhile, 54pc of survey respondents said they had no remote work plans so far, while 11pc said their firms will definitely not entertain the possibility of staff working from home. Across the region, firms in Bahrain reported the highest rate of remote work plans at 38pc. This was followed by Qatar, UAE and Kuwait at 37pc each.

In Saudi Arabia 30pc of firms indicated plans for working from home, while businesses in Oman registered the region’s lowest rate of possible remote work at just 18pc. Among firms shifting to remote work, 45pc plan to do so universally for all employees. The remainder are applying it selectively for certain job categories – with admin and HR being the most common functions to be moved to home, while Engineering and Operations receive the least share of remote jobs. With remote work being a new concept for most businesses in the region, the survey found that many were scrambling to get set up technically and organisationally to have staff work from home.

By contrast, multinationals surveyed indicated the highest readiness to switch to remote work. The HR Manager of a multinational company who participated in the survey, said: “Our offices in China and Korea are already closed and staff are working from home. We are monitoring the situation in the Gulf in case the same measures become necessary here.” Some of the executives surveyed speculated that the push to remote work may fundamentally change how regional businesses operate in the long run, with many retaining elements of remote work even after the current business necessity has ended.

Apart from introducing remote work arrangements, many companies surveyed reported a range of other measures to deal with the impact of the outbreak – including restricting business travel, providing health advice to employees and limiting external meetings of staff with clients and suppliers. Faced with a decline in business resulting from the outbreak, some of the firms reported plans to reduce costs through staff redundancies and unpaid leaves. These were mainly concentrated in the hospitality sector, followed by aviation, logistics and events. A significant 42pc of employers surveyed reported no plans or changes of any kind in response to the outbreak. 

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