When compared to other advanced economies, the UAE allows 10% of all workforces to work from home 1-2 days. For comparison, in Germany the government allows 80% of workforces to work from home.
The challenge for many is overcoming the policies and cultural expectations that have discouraged organisations from allowing employees to work remotely and embracing the prospects of improved productivity, less traffic and pollution and less office rent and associated expenses. It will take a shift in mind-set that we are ready for and where the Government of Abu Dhabi can lead the way.
Covid -19: Disrupt. Adapt
We know that the global Covid-19 pandemic has radically changed the landscape within which our everyday lives unfold, impacting businesses and humanity alike. Governments and industries have been tirelessly working together to understand and address the challenge, support our communities, the virus’s victims and their families.
All over the world this unprecedented event has forced public and private actors alike to change their attitudes and behaviours, challenging all of us to rethink workforce management, business practices and long-term strategies. Indeed, Covid-19 has forced us, in a fundamental way, to do things differently. Working remotely has become a necessity and we have accepted that challenge and change, but it is important that we embrace this change for the longer term and not lose this opportunity to reinvent ourselves.
“We need to make changes because we need a more flexible government to cope with the accelerating changes and the changing national priorities. The world will not be same after Covid-19” – HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed
More time for productivity
Recent studies conducted by the Draugiem Group used a computer application to track employees’ work habits. Specifically, the application measured how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels. It was established that the length of the workday is not as consequential as how people structure that day. Based on natural science and the limits of our cognition – even for the most accomplished expert, deliberate practice of any kind is best capped at four hours a day. A shorter workday gives knowledge workers more energy (and yes, time) for what really matters. In fact, the average American works 8.8 hours every day. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,). Yet a study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most were not working for the majority of the time they were at the office. In order of time spent, these were the activities that most workers would spend supposedly productive hours on:
At home with The Department of Culture and Tourism’s Supply Management
In our experience at DCT so far, we have seen that our employees have readily accepted the remote working options and have been using the tools provided effectively, with bottlenecks few and far between. The response times for end-users have improved significantly during lockdown, while migration to the Microsoft Office Suite and other tools has been smooth and efficient. In fact, this solid base has allowed us to push further and add new tools such Adobe Signature and fast-track other improvement initiatives for paperless and more efficient operations.
Regular employee engagements can be seen, especially through Microsoft Teams, which has proven to be an excellent tool for working remotely, providing an instantaneous, centralised communication and sharing platform, from meetings, video conferencing and instant messaging to name a few.
Although the legacy ERP systems are dated and will be going through a refresh soon, having access to them online has helped in completing tasks as seamlessly as if they were done in the office. The potential for increasing the use of technology in our daily working lives is still immense, but it depends on us and an organisational willingness to take those steps towards a true digitisation of the workplace and workflow.
For Abu Dhabi Government entities, the infrastructure for working remotely was in place for almost a year pre-Covid 19. However, more changes are still required to truly transform our way of working and usher in a digital age of productivity and efficiency.
Time to change: transform our Organisations, Workspaces and Employees
A first step would be to conduct detailed analysis of business operations, the need for an on-site presence and existing infrastructure to support remote working arrangements and any modifications required.
To ensure efficiency is retained, studies of employee productivity while working remotely could be monitored. For example, measuring the number of tasks assigned versus tasks completed, employee availability and response times. These metrics would be key to making data-driven decisions to catalyse permanent change. This would eventually allow for re-evaluating organisational and employee KPIs and aligning them to post Covid-19 working scenarios as an integral facet in re-structuring performance and evaluation. Re-imagining how decision-making and productivity is calibrated with an emphasis on task completion, would be the ultimate goal.
This could, for instance, consist of implementing a platform for crowdsourcing for tasks that need to be outsourced. These can be advertised through the platform for registered freelancers and consultants to bid on. Employees would also need remote working tools and adequate IT setups provided to them, such as cyber-security protections and IT controls and infrastructure (both physical and virtual) to allow employers at home to cope with the new requirements.
Introducing new concepts such as hot desking on each floor and limiting the number of non-employee visits to the workspace could also be new ways of streamlining office spaces and the way that we do business while also responding to the challenges a pandemic like Covid-19 presents. These innovative ways of organising the workspace, managing employees and rethinking organisational strategy are not without their benefits, the potential saving opportunities are substantial.
Workplace optimization could lead to significant financial savings associated with rent, utilities, parking, and facilities management, as well as office furnishings, equipment and supplies. Reducing business travel not only saves time and money, but also the environment, delivering and creating a greener way of doing business and working.
This is not to mention the benefits to the mental and physical health of our employees and as result there capacity and ability to perform to a high level would be increased substantially as well from better work-life balances, health benefits, time and money savings and feeling part of positive environmental impact to name a few.
The future starts now:
It is time for digital and technological solutions which are user friendly, comprehensive and fast to implement and a culture of work that is adapted and responsive. While Covid-19 is a once in generation crisis – it has provided a catalyst for positive and lasting changes in the way we work.
Overall, policies need to be re-evaluated to accommodate remote working options and a review of what functions require on-site office operations. We need to re-write our standards and allow for more flexibility and agility in our procedures and policies. This will not only accelerate innovation but also the creation of cost reduction as well as efficient delivery models adapted to respond to the health and safety requirement of the post-Covid-19 era.
At DCT’s Supply Management Department, we have proven that it is possible to respond to this challenge by adapting to remote working and thriving, in what many would perceive, as difficult conditions. Time will tell what impact a global event like Covid-19 will have on how we work and live together, as a global community.
We have seen Abu Dhabi, a modern city built out of the desert, welcome people from all four corners of the globe and show an ambition that few can lay claim to. It is our hope that Abu Dhabi will continue its tradition of being a pioneering city and disrupt the old systems and lead the new world into a new way of working, one that will be better for all.
This requires the establishment of a Project Team to lead a wholesale Transformation Initiative across Government in a carefully planned roll-out of improvement initiatives and pilot programs starting with workstreams associated with Support Services like Procurement, HR, Legal, Finance and IT.
This will allow best practices to be replicated and facilitate knowledge-sharing, synergies, cost savings and efficiencies across all of government. Importantly, it could allow for better visibility and reporting capabilities to Government to inform strategic decision-making and direction for the future, as well promote a more productive and fulfilled workforce.