When remote working was imposed on majority of the world’s office workers last year, some embraced it with gusto, while others struggled with the lack of interaction with their colleagues.
As new variants of the coronavirus continue to emerge, remote working and work from home (WFH) is still in place for many of the world’s office workers and organisations are still trying to figure out what sort of policy to enact for their workers as vaccination drives develop.
A recent survey by global job listing platform, Indeed, showed that the number of people working remotely has dropped by almost half versus May last year when WFH peaked worldwide.
Tech companies worldwide embraced WFH, with the likes of Twitter enacting it as a permanent policy. UAE-based super app Careem announced back in September 2020 its intention to become a permanent remote-first company across the 14 countries where it has operations. But Careem now seems to have realised the importance of maintaining in-person interaction in the workplace, and so the company is looking to test its remote working policy by launching a two-month pilot programme in the UAE, asking employees to attend the office once or twice a week for social purposes.
“The idea is for us to test assumptions about what work is best done together in-person, and further develop our tools and approaches for successfully involving distributed colleagues in other locations in this work. We'll gather learnings from this pilot and iterate on our remote-first ways of working to drive productivity, effective collaboration and strengthen the Careem culture,” said Mudassir Sheikha, founder and CEO of Careem.
The initiative was announced during a press briefing held virtually on Wednesday.
"What we have seen is that people really value working remotely and the flexibility that it gives them, but also are sort of missing the collaboration and relationship building. On balance, we felt that that could be achieved within the space of one to two days. We had sort of small cohorts of which said zero-days,” Ruth Fletcher, senior vice president (SVP) of people at Careem, said during the press conference.
According to Careem, the pilot is aimed at assessing the frequency of in-person interactions at the office as well as engagement levels among remote colleagues.
It’s a move that other big-tech companies have also embraced, including Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent company. In an email sent to staff, Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai stated that in the offices the company has reopened, almost 60 per cent of employees have opted to return to the office. Google is now moving to a “hybrid work week” where employees spend three days in the office and two days working remotely.
“Taken together these changes will result in a workforce where around 60 per cent of Googlers are coming together in the office a few days a week, another 20 per cent are working in new office locations, and 20 per cent are working from home,” said Pichai.
Traditionally, startups and technology businesses have long been hailed as the pioneers of the WFH concept. Now that the hybrid remote-office model continues to gain steam among the business community, Ahmed Ameen, head of the executive committee of Egyptian HR management Associate (EHRMA) argues that it is still too early to decide on a specific model whereby companies should operate as "the Covid-19 crisis is not over yet".
"Many companies have evolved to enable WFH policy to be part of its culture. But reality is, the remote work setup might not be sufficient to meet the needs of a lot of businesses. Many have adopted remote work policies because they had to, not because they are convinced of the viability of virtual ways of working. From the employee perspective, remote work might not always be ideal," said Ameen.
He also goes on to explain that the current facelift that the traditional workplace is going through will affect work-related activities.
"Now companies are more familiar with virtual meetings and that a lot of learning and development (L&D) programmes are being held virtually. I think that trend will continue to catch on,'' he added.
On the technology front, the adoption of remote work policies has contributed to the rise of employee benefits apps, such as UAE-based MyBenefits, which enables companies to streamline and standardise their staff discounts, rewards and benefits.
"We launched it in February 2020, just in time for Covid-19, perfect timing, during the year, we were able to onboard a lot of companies. We wanted to make it really easy and simple for them to standardise all these things in all markets. It's just been a natural fit," Sherif Zaki, founder of MyBenefits told Wamda in previous remarks.