This year will end with workplaces and employers ditching some time-tested practices and mindsets. Image Credit: Agency

2020 will be a fable for us to share with generations. It is a year that revolutionized the way we work... and adapt to uncertainty. A year that started full of promise and soon was surrounded with negativity around jobs, pay cuts and life at a standstill.

Organisations that survived the pandemic have shown tremendous resilience and agility to adapt. As costs were taken out of business in the first-half of the year, we have seen higher productivity and the drive to restore profitability. It was also a year where there remained no doubt that that the most critical driver for any organisation was its people.

With 2021 almost here, there has been never a tipping point like this before for governments and organisations to transform how they work, engage employees and service clients. 

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Bring on the reforms

Transformation in business set up and labour reforms was on top of the UAE and Gulf agenda in 2020. The Labour Reform Initiative (LRI) brought into action in Saudi Arabia under the National Transformation Program (NTP) has swung the focus back to shared services. This initiative has not only set a strong precedent for the future of workers in the Kingdom, but also carved a structured model for businesses looking to hire personnel.

Similarly, there were two landmark moves in the UAE.

* Allowing foreign investors to own local companies without the need for an Emirati sponsor will open doors for more FDI and greater business opportunities.

* Allowing professionals to reside and work on a Dubai residency is a boon for professionals where they are delivering or leading teams remotely.

These reforms would strengthen labour competencies, enrich the work environment and put together an inviting job market. The flexibility will definitely help employers access to more talent, help them drive performance irrespective of whether the team is dispersed around the region.

Show that empathy

Managements will have to go beyond showing interest in the development of each individual and be empathetic towards employees who survived the crisis with them. In fact, the Global Workplace Study 2020 by ADP Research Institute shows employees are 13.2X more likely to be resilient when more workplace disruption occurs.

Empathy was shown by employees in many ways during the work-from-home phase, by taking pay cuts to help companies save further job losses.

Innovation is constant

Organisations in both the public and private sector had to make changes to the way they work through digitzation. Another conundrum we are facing is the real estate impact of employees desiring greater work-life flexibility. It’s unlikely that office spaces will disappear overnight, but rather a greater integration of virtual and in-person work is around the corner.

The recent decision by Dubai Government to work-from-home comes on the back of flexible working hours announced in April. Workplace flexibility works best when implemented to address both the organisation’s need for leaner workforces to employees’ needs for work-life balance. 


The social element of your workplace has likely taken on a much different look. You may have employees in a social distance-friendly environment, employees working from home, or a mix of both. Organisations will have to find ways to encourage them to stay connected while being physically disconnected.

Even before COVID-19 had entered our vocabulary, burnout, stress and anxiety were significant issues in the workplace. Once we throw the mental health impact into the mix, and work-related stress is likely to reach staggering levels.

Businesses have to promote the mental well being and invest in benefits that will bring people together in a different way.

Future of work

I agree with thinkers such as Aaron Dignan. He makes the compelling argument that unless we question organizations’ principles — i.e., the operating system on which they run, not just the features they possess — we cannot hope to shift away from the ‘human as machine‘ thinking of the 19th century.

Technology would continue to dominate workplaces. However, the most valuable services in the marketplace will always be done better by humans. In an era defined by crisis, emotional intelligence, compassion, resilience, and morality may prove more important than ever before.

As long as business is about humans, the future of work must be too.

- Vijay Gandhi is Regional Director at the consultancy Korn Ferry.