Are we there yet? (Updated)

As the lockdown measures in the UAE were eased in early May, we surveyed 40 corporates in the UAE, to understand how they are responding to re-opening of offices. Eight weeks later, we reached out to the same group of corporates to find out how their approach may have changed since our first survey.

June 19, 2020
Are we there yet?

On 24th April 2020, UAE companies were allowed to return to the office under a 30% capacity regulation. Later in June, this was increased to 100%, given strict compliance to the precautionary measures stipulated.

It has been 8 weeks since our first survey, where we asked over 40 corporates in the UAE on their strategy and findings around returning to the office. We asked the same group of companies how their approach may have changed since our first survey in May.

Employee confidence in returning to the office has significantly increased

In May, only a small portion of companies had returned to the office under the allowed 30% capacity. In June, and in line with the lifting of curfew and other restrictions, most companies are now allowing employees to return to the workplace, with 81% of respondents currently back in the office.

It is worth noting that the percentage of staff back in the office varies greatly- the range is anywhere between 20% to 100%. This could be an indication that the “next normal” could look very different for each company and that future ways of working are likely to be unique to each organization.

A common reentry strategy remains to be the identification of critical functions that are best executed from the office (e.g. trading activity, IT, etc.) or those functions that require a level of collaboration.

A small portion of corporates interviewed are still maintaining 100% work from home policies. Key reasons include the absence of a real immediate need to return to the office in combination with some health concerns, as well as some companies not being comfortable with the surrounding areas of their office locations (dense areas in the city or near a medical facility).

Employee confidence in returning to the office has increased

In May, 20% of the respondents said their employees reacted negatively to returning to the office. This level has now reduced to 5%. It is mostly staff with health challenges, those with younger children or living in multi-generational homes that have shown a clear preference to not return to the office yet. A total of 33% of respondents said their workforce were mostly positive and eager to return, whereas a vast majority of 63% of the companies remain mixed about returning to their offices.

After almost 4 months of working from home, it is obvious this way of working will remain to form part of the “next normal”.  The new key development is that with the opening of restaurants and other public areas, staff we see an increased mentality of “work from anywhere”.  JLL estimates that globally, 30% of the office workforce, will work flexibly by 2030.

Landlords have significantly improved the tenant approval rating of measures applied 

Whereas 60% of respondents in May had indicated they were satisfied with their landlord’s adjustments and communications around rules in the building, this percentage has now increased to 84%. Landlords have significantly improved the health and safety measures through installing sterilization chambers, continued use of hand sanitizers, automatic doors, clear demarcation of social distancing spots, temperature checks (through thermal cameras or individual checks), as well as additional training of security staff, removal of common area seating and increased frequency in cleaning schedules. This highlights how landlords must remain attentive to occupier needs, to avoid high vacancy rates.

Things will never be the same again

In May, 55% of respondents expected things to never be the same again – this number has now increased to 60%. The previous 28% of respondents who aimed to go back to pre-Covid ways of working, has now slightly reduced to 26%.

Based on responses, the next normal will include a mixed implementation of working from the office, working from home, including working from anywhere. A common ratio is allowing working from home 1 day a week. In addition, respondents expect increased application of technology for daily tasks, less travel, but with the frequent response that it will differ between teams and countries.

As the cities continue to open up, our business activities outside the confines of our homes seem to equally increase - we will continue to monitor and share with you how the corporate community is responding but one thing is certain – each company will continue to apply their own philosophy and ways of working based on business needs and staff comfort levels.