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Wed 4 Mar 2020 02:53 PM

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Revealed: how Gulf firms are adapting to cope with virus outbreak

A third of Gulf-based employers are planning to have staff work from home as fears surrounding the new coronavirus grow

Revealed: how Gulf firms are adapting to cope with virus outbreak

The survey, which received responses from 1,600 company executives, managers and human resource professionals across the GCC region, showed that up to 35 percent of businesses could soon be asking employees to work from home.

A third of Gulf-based employers are planning to have staff work from home as fears surrounding the new coronavirus grow, according to a survey by employment portal GulfTalent.

The survey, which received responses from 1,600 company executives, managers and human resource professionals across the GCC region, showed that up to 35 percent of businesses could soon be asking employees to work from home.

This consists of 6 percent who have just launched work-from-home plans as a result of the recent outbreak, 5 percent who have confirmed plans being rolled out soon, 12 percent who are reviewing the concept, combined with a further 12 percent who already had remote work arrangements prior to the outbreak.

Another 54 percent of survey respondents said they had no remote work plans so far, while 11 percent said their firms will definitely not entertain the possibility of staff working from home.

Across the region, firms in Bahrain reported the highest rate of remote work plans at 38 percent, followed by the UAE and Kuwait at 37 percent each, Saudi Arabia (30 percent) and Oman (18 percent).

Among firms shifting to remote work, 45 percent plan to do so universally for all employees, with the remainder applying it selectively for certain job categories – with Admin and HR being the most common functions to be moved to home.

Some of the executives surveyed speculated that the push to remote work may fundamentally change how regional businesses operate in the long run, with many retaining elements of remote work even after the current business necessity has ended.

According to the survey, many companies reported a range of other measures to deal with the impact of the outbreak – including restricting business travel, providing health advice to employees and limiting external meetings of staff with clients and suppliers.

Faced with a decline in business resulting from the outbreak, some of the firms also reported plans to reduce costs through staff redundancies and unpaid leaves. These were mainly concentrated in the hospitality sector, followed by aviation, logistics and events.

A significant 42 percent of employers surveyed reported no plans or changes of any kind in response to the outbreak.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the virus through large gatherings, governments in several Gulf countries have ordered the cancellation of public events and exhibitions, and closure of nurseries and in some cases even schools.

A further challenge reported by many firms was the difficulty of securing supplies, particularly products and equipment manufactured in China being delayed due to factory closures. Around one-fifth of survey respondents said their company was actively seeking alternative suppliers.

Several respondents also reported recruitment from outside their country becoming more challenging, due to flight cancellations, restrictions on entry as well as lock-down in candidates’ home countries.

Many restaurants and retailers reported a jump in online orders while in-store purchases dropped, as customers chose to stay home and have items delivered to them, GulfTalent added.

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