Should Companies in the Arab World Offer the Ability to Work from Home?

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Who would have guessed that in 2013 we would still be discussing the pros and cons of working from home?

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like everyone was agreeing on the benefits of working remotely. It only took one decision made by Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, announcing that Yahoo! employees would no longer be permitted to work remotely, to reinvigorate the debate. Could working from home be a good solution for the Arab world, or is it doomed to always sacrifice "speed and quality" as Yahoo! claims?

Perhaps part of the vision for the internet is that it would create a decentralized world that freed people from geographical limitations, empowering people regardless of their hometown. This dream was personified by the mobile workers, those people working off-site, whether from coffee shops, coworking spaces or home.

A solution to many issues in the Arab world?

As the Internet has somewhat freed people from geographical limitations, working remotely has benefitted many. Some choose to work remotely to be more productive and creative, as a cosy environment enhances creativity (some, like coffitivity, even say that working in a coffee shop stimulate your creativity). Some have also decided to work away from work to avoid an expensive, stressful and time-consuming commute, or to have a bit more time with their families.

Employers have also used the option to work remotely to retain talent and attract new employees who live far from the office. Most employees are grateful. WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association, noted in 2011 that companies with more flexible cultures experienced lower turnover and increased employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement (read the complete study).

All those reasons are particularly relevant in the Arab World. For the many women balancing work with raising a family, a flexible job is a great solution. And in cities like Cairo or Beirut, which are well-known for their traffic, working from home could save employees precious time, and across the region, the option of flexibiity could help companies compete in markets where talent is scarce.

Is working remotely the magical solution we’ve been waiting for?

Workplace flexibility is still new in this region, but its growing.

So why did Mayer turn her back on a HR policy that's on the rise?  The memo that Yahoo!'s Head of HR sent out  explains that "some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home."

Many companies like Google are also sharing Mayer's dislike of teleworking for team-building. As Patrick Pichette, Chief financial officer of Google, explained in February, "There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer 'What do you think of this?'"

Some managers also fear that if they don’t have an eye on their employees, they will work less and the quality of their work will be affected.

As much as I believe those arguments to be true, I’m also convinced that they can be overcome with the right management and business culture. The good news is that in emerging markets, the concept of working away from the office is still young enough to be modeled into something that could enhance the positive elements and minimize the inconvenience. Those managing employees in various locations, whether at home or the in the office, can also look to our tips for managing a virtual team.

What are your thoughts? Does your company offer the ability to work from home? If so, has it benefitted the company? Let us know in the comments. 

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