Are we there yet?

Despite eased restrictions, many UAE companies are not rushing to get back to the office just yet

May 06, 2020

On 24th April 2020 the UAE government announced lockdown measures were to be eased. Under a strict set of rules and regulations, individuals no longer needed a permit to leave the house between 6am and 10pm. Shopping malls were allowed to re-open and public transportation was to operate again. Companies were also given permission to slowly return to the office on the condition that on-site staff does not exceed 30% of normal office occupancy, and companies adhere to strict preventive measures including physical distancing and wearing of facemasks.

Although staff members are allowed to return to the office, has this actually happened? A week into the eased restrictions, we find that there is a very mixed response. This is similar to what we have seen in Asia, where returning to the workplace since early March has been “very gradual”, “measured” and “in a scientific way” and not up to the maximum allowance.

On the second Sunday of the UAE government’s permission to return to the office, JLL has undertaken a survey amongst companies in the UAE, to understand how they are currently responding to re-opening their offices. The below is based on feedback from 40+ companies that occupy office space in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Key Findings

Only a small portion of companies have returned to the office under the allowed 30% capacity

Only a small group of the respondents (23%) have returned to the office at maximum allowed capacity as soon as restrictions were eased. These companies considered their staff to be business critical and instructed up to the allowable 30% of the workforce to return as soon as they were able to. They all implemented strict operating measures within their office space.   

37% of responding companies are still fully working from home stating that this will likely continue through Ramadan.

A majority (40%) of the companies only have a small portion of the workforce return to the office. These include staff members with a role challenging to undertake remotely due to their specific function or the need to work together with colleagues. A large portion of the companies have indicated to have given staff the option to return to the office and those that chose to do so cite substandard WFH arrangements as the main reason to return to the office. Their WFH arrangements offered lack of space for a decent workstation, slow internet connections and too many distractions.

Currently, many employees choose to work from home

However, when given the choice to WFH, the majority of staff still chose to work from home for the moment. 46% of the respondents said their staff reaction to being able to return to the office is very mixed. 31% is excited to return to the office, while 20% remains hesitant.

It is clear that a majority of the workforce has seen the benefits of working from home in general; staff like the flexibility it offers in terms of working hours, as well as the opportunity to have a healthier work-life balance (e.g. spending time with the family or practicing hobbies at home).

As over time continued progress is made in containing Covid-19, we expect more office users to want to return to the office. In the meantime, however, schools are still closed and parents are unable to leave their children unattended or feel that they need to help with school tasks. Others are anxious about contamination risks, especially those who live with elderly family members. People are still nervous about using public transportation and spending time in public places. They simply feel it is too early.

Not all landlords have yet clearly communicated new measures or adjusted building operations

The majority (60%) of respondents have indicated they are satisfied with their landlord’s adjustments & communications around rules in the building. Landlords are widely implementing temperature checks (through thermal cameras or individual checks), signage in elevators and corridors to remind building users of physical distancing rules, provision of gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, additional training of security staff, removal of common area seating as well as increased frequency in cleaning schedules.

30% of the respondents however indicated that their landlord has to date taken no, or insufficient actions, in order to communicate new rules in the building. It is in some of these cases that companies are not allowing their staff to return to the office. In line with local regulations, we expect all landlords to have their measures in place in the next few weeks.


Things will never be the same again?

In the UAE, WHF has taken over our lives in the last month but for almost 15% of the respondents, it is too early to tell if our ways of working have changed forever.

The vast majority however (55%) believe that working from the office will never be the same again. It is worth mentioning that many of the expected changes are quite nuanced, like allowing staff to work from home a few days a month or reducing meeting room capacity. So far no single respondent has stated that their office space function would dramatically change as the majority of respondents are assuming that staff and clients would be comfortable again to visit office buildings at some stage. Only 28% of the respondents said that they are aiming to return to pre-Covid19 ways of working over time.  

As much as this crisis has had an impact on our economies it has changed the way we work, think and act on a daily basis. As developments continue to unfold, we will continue to monitor and share with you how the corporate community is responding. Although companies are allowed to re-open their offices, the decision to return to the workplace is currently driven by key considerations around health & safety.

For more information please contact Dana Williamson - Head of Offices, Business Space & Retail - MENA on