Working from home is a new experience for many in the UAE Image Credit: Getty Images

Dubai: Away from the stress of commute and long hours at the office, work from home has come a novel break for many residents. Employees are enjoying their time home with families even as they work.

While some say it is productive, others concede that the structure and professionalism of the office environment is required if they are to stay productive and businesses have to prosper in the long run.

Time for a family lunch

Marizel Salvador, working in administration and marketing in the hospitality industry, is happy to work from home as it gives her more time to be with her family.

Marizel Salvador

“So far we have maintained a regular office schedule with conference calls on digital platforms, liasing with clients and corporates. What I most like about working from home is being spared the pain of getting ready and driving to work. It has given me flexibility and increased my efficiency.

"My 17-year-old daughter studying in Grade 12 is at home doing her remote learning classes in another room. As a family we have lunch together and that is wonderful,” said Salvador who made arrangements the previous weekend for shopping and cooking in advance to be able to handle home and work smoothly.

A retailer’s challenge

Vladimir Radojevic, Serbian national employed as a distribution manager with a Dubai-based company, has been working from home for the last two weeks.

Vladimir Radojevic

He said, “More than 80 per cent of my work, which includes talking to clients over the phone can be done from home. I have a total of eight people on my team and we put in a proper work day from home, holding a conference call on the available digital platform so that we are all on the same page.

"Work for home has been very productive for me. But at least three members of my team are into merchandising and replenishing and their job is to go around stores and liase with clients on the field, replenishing stocks. With all the major malls being closed in the region, their job has ground to a halt. As of now, we have taken no decisions for any layoffs and are asking staff to utilise their annual leave. I hope that in a month’s time matters will resolve. However, the complete shutdown has put back all retail schedules by months. We do have cancellation and postponement of orders. I know that even when markets open for business in September, retailers will be cautious and go slow on orders.”

Boon for IT, but what about work-life balance?

For Ali Shabdar, Canadian Iranian expatriate who is the regional director of an IT infrastructure business, work has actually exploded as practically all offices require digital and IT support for remote working.

“Our volume of work has gone up by leaps and bounds. Our job centred around less face-to-face meetings and more web meetings and the entire world is following that now. I think in terms of the cut in commute time, the sustainability of working from home and the reduction in stress, this is a complete boon.

"But there is also the issue of work-life balance as work has spilled much beyond nine hours and I find myself answering mails and conducting meetings way past my normal office timings. I think in terms of physical and mental health, we need to recalibrate and reallocate our time well so we truly enjoy the benefit of working from home.”

More time for meditation

Su Greig, a Sri Lankan expatriate, working as a senior property adviser for a property developer, feels work at home has proved to be a very joyful experience.

Su Grieg

“I am into alternative healing, meditation and find more time for these things, now that I don’t have to be in office and I am completely at peace with the new working schedule. We started working from home a week ago.

"I am able to juggle my calls and meetings well and also squeeze in some meditation and gardening and multitasking as a mom, time for my daughter and completing household chores in the new schedule. However, in times like these, there would be no walk-in clients. My efficiency has gone up and I am able to manage much more and feel happy that I do not have to take on the stress of travel.”

‘I miss the real interaction’

Rex Bacarra, Fillipino expatriate and Dean of General Education at the American College of Dubai, said work from home does not mean an extension of the spring break as many students want to believe.

Rex Bacarra

He said: “Our digital platform is set up and we work as per the time table. So if students have class at 9am, they and the lecturer log in using their unique username and password. The teaching continues in the same manner albeit remotely. We have changed the pattern of examination and eliminated objective type choice questions and are evaluating students on critical thinking and their ability to link and draw parallels and analyse concepts.”

However, Professor Bacarra feels remote learning is a challenge for senior teaching faculty who had to undergo intensive training for the transition.

“The students are digital natives and they had no difficulty moving to digital classrooms. What I miss is the real interaction as I believe true education lies in nurturing students and shaping characters and there is hardly room for such inspiring interactions.”

Stay alone but stay active

Joe Franklin, UK expatriate and co-founder of Steppi, an online app that incentivises steps people take each day, “Ours is a new start-up, so in terms of huge overheads we do not have to lose much. In terms of passion and morale, working at home has not impacted us. We are three people in the organisation and feel now is the time to motivate people .

Joe Franklin

"We connect with each other over the digital platform and are working on a new campaign “Stay Alone but stay active.” However if the work from home extends too long, then it is bound to impact our productivity and slow down our work.”

HR speak

Vishanti Coutancar

Vishanti Coutancar, HR and recruitment professional and founder of V Mai Stars HR Consultancy in Dubai, said, “Working from home is very important to keep things smooth and running for both corporates and employees. Where possible, working from home should be compulsory and where it is not feasible, alternative options should be looked into, benefiting both the employer and employee.

"This way, we are not only protecting our lives and that of others, but at the same time carrying on with our day-to-day activities which will in the long run reduce long-term illnesses. It is very important to support the governments initiatives to protect us from COVID -19.”

Tips from a psychologist

Tanya Dharamshi, Clinical Director and Counselling Psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, said while some people working from home would have already developed strategies and copious amounts of self-discipline for optimising their performance and well-being from experience, some might be finding it a real test

Tanya Dharamshi

“Humans are naturally social animals and so regular contact with other people provides us all with a sense of security and contentment, which some will rely on more than others. Clearly, working in isolation is not ideal and, importantly, could exacerbate mental ill health symptoms in those with existing mental health problems, or even cause symptoms to develop in others who have not previously been affected. It’s vital support and advice is provided for these colleagues.”

“Humans are naturally social animals and so regular contact with other people provides us all with a sense of security and contentment, which some will rely on more than others. Clearly, working in isolation is not ideal and, importantly, could exacerbate mental ill health symptoms in those with existing mental health problems, or even cause symptoms to develop in others who have not previously been affected. It’s vital support and advice is provided for these colleagues.”

How to successfully work from home:

• Be strict and try to stick to your normal working hours and routine as much as possible. Get dressed and out of “home clothes’ as this psychologically lends to the feeling of purpose and productivity. On the other hand, try not to let your work infringe on your evening/family time. Incorporating adequate time to wind-down, switch off from work and relax is just as important.

• Often messages and their meaning can be misconstrued via email, so far better is face-to-face interaction via webcam, or if this is not possible, simply pick up the phone which is far more personal and, in most instances, also more productive than email.

•Ensure regular, daily contact with your colleagues to help allay any feelings of anxiety and stress, which this current, uncertain situation could cause. Be clear in your communication and emphasise the need for everyone to be flexible and understanding of one another. You could even consider allowing a five-minute informal ‘social catch-up’ at the start of any video/conference calls to help encourage interaction and add some sense of office ‘normality’

• Connect with colleagues via technology such as WhatsApp and Snapchat – supportive messages are a great way to help keep morale up during coffee and lunch breaks.

• Ensure easy access to IT support as this is likely to be a lifeline for most

• For many, children will also be at home, so ensure your work-station offers peace and tranquillity, free from any distractions.

• For those struggling with high levels of stress and anxiety, learn and practise active relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness. Shift your focus with exercise, and hobbies whether it’s reading or listening to music or talking to your loved ones. Take the time to do the things that you’ve wanted to do for yourself and embrace the opportunity to reflect on the positive impact of a slower paced life.

• A healthy body really does help encourage a healthy mind. So, it’s key to follow a healthy diet, to keep hydrated, get enough sleep and stay active throughout the day. Stick to your usual routine and day-to-day activities where you can.