Finally, there is a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. As countries get closer to the easing of lockdowns and social restrictions, many organisations are starting to look forward to welcoming employees and clients back to the office. But if enterprise organisations are thinking that this is the end of working from home, they need to think again. Industry experts look at the pro and cons of remote working and why enterprises in the Middle East should embrace a high breed model if they want to appeal to new talent, writes Manda Banda.
While working from home was initially a reactionary solution to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions that governments in the Middle East region had imposed, now that it has demonstrated its value, it is here to stay. And as the need for organisations to reassess their remote work and learning capabilities, in order to create a digital workplace that’s ready for anything and ensures productivity from anywhere garners momentum, CIOs and IT teams have been grappling on how best to embrace the work from anywhere model for their organisations.
Matt Hancocks, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner, said there are many reasons why organisations in the Middle East should start to embrace working from home. Hancocks said these range from organisational effectiveness, productivity, employee experience in, but more importantly is the potential global talent war. “One of the main considerations is what will this mean for accessing talent. Many organisations, especially in IT roles, are looking at sourcing talent from outside their geographies, via a remote research model,” he said. “But also, those companies that do offer greater flexibility are likely to be better attracters of talent and could pull talent away from those organisations that don’t offer remote work.”
Osama Al-Zoubi, CTO, Cisco Middle East and Africa, agreed with Gartner’s Hancocks and said: “Last year, Cisco commissioned a Workforce of the Future survey, with over 10,000 workers across 12 markets in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia (EMEAR). The intention was to understand what was working well during the work-from-home phase, what was no longer fit for purpose and how to build a future workplace that caters to all.”
According to Al-Zoubi, the survey revealed that even in a post-pandemic world, employees wanted to keep hold of many of the positives that had emerged in the new way of working. “These benefits include having increased autonomy, working well as a dispersed team and being able to keep hold of faster decision-making. Even though only 5% of those surveyed worked from home most of the time before the lockdown, now an overwhelming majority hope to keep this increased independence,” he said. “87% of people told us that they want greater ownership in defining how and when they use office spaces – blending between being office-based and working remotely.”
Embracing a hybrid model
Ranjith Kaippada, Managing Director, Cloud Box Technologies, said COVID-19 is an eye opener for business to adopt transformation. “In fact, we must put into place a system which businesses can reap many benefits. Firstly, the acceptance and adoption of new technology,” he said. “The speed at which this was put into place ensured that the normal employee resistance which one would have otherwise experience was not possible due to the circumstances in which the new business requirements were put into place. Productivity has been rising and this helps businesses and encourages them to strengthen their future growth plans.”
Vaidy Panchabikesan, Regional Sales Director, Kissflow, said the talent landscape has shifted quite a bit in the last 24 months. Panchabikesan said the opportunity to work remotely has given employees not just more time with family, but also time to do deep work over blocks of undisturbed time. “Over 70% of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, but over 65% are craving more in-person time with their teams because they have become more siloed and digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat. So, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work will be critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent pool,” he remarked.
At Fortinet, Alain Penel, Regional Vice President MEA, said creating a culture of security and establishing a new, updated cybersecurity strategy is critical for organisations moving with hybrid workforce models. Panel said this means implementing the tools needed to help advance business and security objectives, from multi-factor authentication to SD-WAN. “In turn, these solutions will also enable businesses to be more productive. Building out a robust cybersecurity plan for a hybrid workforce starts by identifying user types and establishing controls that protect the systems, networks, software and data they need for their jobs,” he said. “As part of a hybrid workplace cybersecurity strategy, organisations should also think about ways to better enforce authorisation and authentication policies. For example, multi-factor authentication makes it more difficult for a cybercriminal to compromise user accounts and passwords in a credential theft attack.”
Aside from the security concerns, other issues organisations should be looking at when developing and adopting a hybrid model include the benefits to employees from freedom to choose between tradition office environments and working remotely industry pundits noted.
Amir Sohrabi, Area VP for Emerging Markets, Citrix, said despite the practical benefits experienced by many people due to remote work, it is essential that companies pay attention to their employees’ mental and physical well-being. Sohrabi said hybrid work models have the potential to create a new digital divide that, if left unchecked, will quickly establish two classes of workers and infuse the workplace with inequity and bias. “To successfully make the leap, companies will need to implement technologies and new work policies that create an equitable environment, empowering both remote and in-office employees to engage and collaborate equally, transparently and efficiently,” he said.
Feras Al Majed, Vice President of Human Resources and Communications at Gulf Business Machines, said there have been numerous advantages to organisations who have embraced a hybrid work model. Al Majed said most have gained the agility to respond to change quicker, by leveraging technology, embracing automation and accelerating Digital Transformation. “The adoption of collaboration tools has also enhanced businesses, with work operating as normal while employees were at home,” he said. “There has also been a more efficient use of time during meetings which are held virtually and a better service to customers with quicker response times. This has also allowed employees to juggle everyday work and life commitments without having to take a career break.”
Vinod Nair, Cluster Head – Middle East, Logitech, said there are many issues that organisations should look at to ensure their hybrid working model is successful. Nair said far from just sending employees away with a company laptop, organisations must ensure that their staff has all the right tools to work comfortably, efficiently and productively, whether they are in the office, at home or anywhere else. “To help keep their remote workers happy, healthy, and productive, organisations should provide good quality peripherals including a well-designed keyboard, mouse, webcam and headset,” he said. “When an employee spends several hours each day at their computer, it’s essential that they use peripherals that work effectively, help increase productivity and are designed to encourage natural posture and movements. Indeed, poor posture has been identified as one of the key risk factors for repetitive strain injury (RSI).”
Nair said research shows a 15% loss in productivity for office workers suffering from wrist pain. He said ergonomic mice and keyboards have the potential to be a game changer for users in pain and more importantly, to prevent pain in the first place.
According to Nair, another issue that organisations should focus on is collaboration. “It’s easy for employees and teams working remotely to feel disconnected from colleagues. Hybrid workforces should communicate and collaborate regularly, just as if they were in the same office,” he said. “Organisations can achieve this by using good quality video conferencing solutions in the office and by ensuring that employees working remotely have a premium webcam and audio solutions, enabling everyone to interact as if they were in the same room. This will encourage collaboration and help boost productivity. Good quality collaboration tools will also help remote workers connect effectively with partners and customers.”
Fadi Kanafani, Managing Director, Middle East, NetApp, said: “CIOs and IT managers who were behind in their plans to build their data fabric faced much difficulty during the work from home mode. They had to make sure employees have access to tools and information to perform their jobs.”
Kanafani pointed out that they were accountable to ensure data protection and security especially that company’s critical and sensitive information are outside the perimeters of the physical building where there is hardly any control.
He said not having a cloud strategy was another challenge particularly that companies were able to leverage resources and services in the cloud to drive competitive advantage.
Emad Fahmy, Systems Engineering Manager Middle East, NETSCOUT, said despite having proved to be advantageous, there is no denying that remote working has been a challenge for CIOs and IT teams as IT professionals have had to overcome connectivity and security issues. Fahmy said due to the increasing intricacy of digital infrastructure and services alongside the lack of visibility into them and their dependencies, IT has compensated for initial deficiencies in infrastructure to allow the optimal performance of the remote workforce. Another challenge is security. There has been the need to increase security measures as the workforce is spread out over a more significant number of networks, leaving room for more cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” he said. “This is also due to employees using various Internet of Things (IoT) devices to access their companies’ data across multiple private and public networks, making it easier for unwanted threat actors to intercept their connection.”
With organisations grappling to ensure that the value that the remote working model has generated during the pandemic is inculcated in the company’s culture when everything returns to normal, pundits caution that remaining behind may entail an organisation failing to attract talent to its workforce.
Tarik Belhachemi, MEA Head of Connectivity and UC/CX Business Development, Orange Business Services, said the old norm has gone and the new normal will be different or even radically different, depending on the sector. Belhachemi said education, hospitality and healthcare may shift back towards to the pre-COVID-19 norm based on their reliance on human touch and strong dependence on physical assets. “Many other sectors may experience a new norm with only minimum changes while others will transform,” he said. “For companies which had to radically change the way they worked during the COVID-19 pandemic (retail, IT, banking, insurance, MOFA) they have to continue their journey towards adopting a more flexible, agile and sustainable way of working. This has proven to be a factor for resilience during crisis and it has also accelerated adoption of services that benefit customers and employees (such as the acceleration of e-commerce and e-banking).
According to Belhachemi, the most important factor is ensuring that the user is at the centre of every decision. “Businesses that build working practices around employees, rather than forcing employees to bend to fixed approaches, will be much more successful at implementing hybrid working,” he said. “Every business is different but there is a general consensus that support for remote working usually improves organisational culture and employee engagement.”
Ali Elsabban, Head of Corporate, Pearson Middle East, said a good work culture is the backbone of every organisation and has a huge impact on the overall business performance. Elsabban said while a physical space does not make a company culture, it can become more challenging to uphold a successful corporate culture across dispersed employees, teams and offices. “The aim for these team members is to achieve a common business goal. Organisations that are exploring the hybrid work model should implement policies to retain the talent and allow them to grow as the company does,” he said. “Additionally, it is important for these organisations to enable virtual interaction with their employees and engage in an organic conversation through surveys, polls and other engagement tools.”
He said once the model has been implemented, it is crucial to collect data and continue to get their feedback on possible improvements on areas that can help the company grow in a lateral format and enhance the work culture.
Max Hsu – Regional Director MEA, ViewSonic, said most enterprises have embraced new ways of remote working in the past 15 months, aiding in building on the shared regional experience of the lockdown phase. However, observed Hsu, public memory is often short and more needs to be done by organisations to ensure that the value that their remote working model has generated during the pandemic is inculcated in the company’s culture in the post-pandemic period. “Apart from making some major technological changes, companies will be required to make a cultural change for the region that will positively support the transformation and help reap the benefits of the value created by their hybrid working models. Imparting the right lessons and applying them swiftly will empower the region to advance at a greater speed towards a digital future that benefits everyone in the region,” he added.Click below to share this article