Majority UAE professionals want virtual working environment to remain finds BCG survey

Dr. Christopher Daniel, Managing Director and Partner, BCG Middle East.

COVID-19 has had a positive impact on work practices in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) overall, and a large percentage of professionals across various sectors hope to continue working remotely, at least to some extent, when the ongoing pandemic has reached its conclusion. A new study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Bayt.com has shed light on worker preferences in the post-pandemic landscape, with 86 percent of people insisting they would like to work completely virtually or see remote and on-site working come together – almost aligned to the 89% global average.

The joint report, ‘Decoding Global Ways of Working,’ assesses the pandemic’s impact on worker preferences and expectations, with the findings based on the inputs of 707 people nationwide.

“The transformational workplace changes that transpired when the outbreak first emerged have been well-documented, with workforces suddenly forced to transition practices and processes to digital for continuity purposes,” said Dr. Christopher Daniel, Managing Director and Partner, BCG Middle East. “What was unknown at this stage was how successful this would be and how well employees would adjust and become acquainted with the new reality. However, this is now much more clear following our survey with Bayt.com. The fact that the vast majority of respondents have indicated their wishes for remote working to remain to some degree illustrates their high satisfaction with the newfound flexibility and efficiency. Furthermore, other insights attained also provide clarity regarding worker attitudes across the UAE.”

In terms of remote working during the crisis, the UAE is below the global average. Driven by the early restart of businesses and the majority of jobs being in the service, industrial, and retail sectors, 43 percent of respondents said they are working in some form of remote arrangement compared to the 51% worldwide.  In addition to the work models people wish for in the future landscape, the UAE workforce is somewhat more open to not returning to the office. Considering the country’s high readiness for digital capabilities to enable remote work, 31 percent indicated they would prefer to work at home on a full-time basis compared to the 24% at the global level.

BCG and Bayt.com report identifies worker preferences and expectations concerning full-time office returns, career progression drivers, and personal values

“From a UAE standpoint, the pandemic has, for the most part, actually had a positive impact on work practices and processes,” continued Dr. Daniel. “Contrary to other results worldwide, the respondents did not experience any major difficulties with regard to their well-being and the vast majority embraced virtual environments. Hence, many are open to recent changes becoming permanent due to sustained positive outcomes throughout this period.”

The report by BCG and Bayt.com also casts a clear picture of other work-related preferences, with values people look for in their line of work not changing significantly in the UAE since 2018. The continued importance of building relationships and progression was highlighted. Even in remote working environments, relationships with colleagues and management remain the most important, closely followed by career development opportunities. However, job stability and security have become more important to workers in recent years, with work-life balance and training to learn new things and develop skillsets becoming somewhat lesser priorities.

At the same time, more respondents said that diversity and inclusion have become more important to them over the past year, reflecting the diverse nature of the UAE population with a high portion of expats in the workforce. Of the UAE respondents, 70 percent of young people and 77 percent of people overall confirmed that these issues now impact their job preferences, higher than the 68.7 percent globally. When asked the question of if they would refuse a role that does not align with their personal beliefs on diversity and inclusion, 50 percent of young people and 52 percent overall said they would do so, almost aligning with the 51.4 percent global average.

Dr. Christopher Daniel, Managing Director and Partner, BCG Middle East.
Dr Christopher Daniel, Managing Director and Partner, BCG Middle East.

In terms of environmental responsibility, 72 percent said related issues have become more important over the last year, echoing the UAE leadership’s drive to prioritize sustainability as part of its long-term plans. This figure is marginally higher than the 69.6 percent globally, while 51 percent said they would exclude companies that do not match their environmental sustainability beliefs, slightly lower than the 51.7 percent average worldwide.

“Across the UAE, workforces want the flexibility associated with remote working to remain in place. What is also apparent are the reasons behind work-related preferences, stances on diversity and the environment, and how both are likely to affect professional decisions moving forward,” added Dr. Daniel. “As employers look ahead to the post-pandemic world of work and shape their operations in this new era, these insights can help them to make decisions based on what staff expects and what drives them professionally.”