The words “work” and “office” go hand in hand for many people, but some enjoy the benefits of full-time employment without leaving their homes.
It has often been the case that writers, photographers, web designers, programmers, translators, typists and data entry professionals can work from anywhere as long as they have a computer and an internet connection. However other professions such as trainers, educators, customer service personnel, fundraisers and sales staff are joining the growing army of homeworkers.
“Demand for working from home is absolutely skyrocketing,” says Lama Ataya from Bayt.com – one of the region’s leading jobs websites with a database of 26,000 employers and 1.7 million job-hunters. While exact figures are not available for the number of people working from home, the demand has increased year-on-year since the company was first launched in 2000, she says.
“Professionals and expatriate mothers are the two categories that this type of employment is best geared to,” Ataya adds. “The numbers have increased particularly as more expatriates have come to the UAE and the demand tends to come from women who want to spend more time with their families.
“Top employers from abroad have very much brought this to the Middle East and key UAE companies are now embracing it.”
Besides the country’s changing demography, economic factors are also at play. Rising rent costs and a lack of office space – particularly in Dubai – mean many companies now find it more profitable to have some staff based at home.
In addition the development of a knowledge-based economy has created a vast new pool of jobs that lend themselves to working from home. And as the arrangement becomes more common in the region, major international corporations are now considering it for key management personnel.
Ataya says she was aware of 10 household-name corporations that had recently appointed management-level homeworkers. They include firms in the IT, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, advertising, consumer goods and real estate sectors.
These professionals – a sales director, a lawyer, a senior public relations consultant, an executive search consultant, a senior IT consultant and others – are paid on average Dh30,000 per month.
“None have sacrificed the responsibility that goes with their positions,” says Ataya, who believes that homeworking is becoming much more common as a new softer, kinder corporate culture emerges that is quite different from the tough, hard-nosed approach of the 1980s.
As companies struggle to retain their brightest and best they are beginning to recognise the need to be more flexible about working hours. “Today’s organisation realises that the new buzzwords are ‘work-life balance’ and ‘key employee retention’,” she says.
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Jane Colbeck-McKillon, 41, has been in the UAE for eight years but quit her job in the hospitality events industry after her 15-month-old daughter, Skye, was born. She now works on a freelance basis doing administrative and marketing work for organisations such as Feline Friends and the upcoming Art and Antiques exhibition.
She says: “I didn’t want to be a full-time mum or employ a full-time maid after Skye was born, so I decided to put her in nursery in the mornings. This arrangement works for me but it’s not as stimulating as when I worked in an office. It can also be a lonely existence as meeting people is difficult, as is staying focused, especially when there are household chores to do. It was quite scary initially and it felt strange sitting down on my first day without anyone to tell me what to do. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and for the moment it is the best option for my family.” (AG)
Benefits for the employee
No hidden costs: commuting, Salik, parking, work clothes and childcare
More flexibility over hours
Less distraction from colleagues
Proximity to family
Less stress from commuting and office politics
Better mental and physical health
Better work-life balance
Drawbacks for the employee
Homeworkers can become isolated and alienated from colleagues
The difficulty of drawing a line between work and home
Failing to hear about daily developments in the company
Risk of being overlooked for promotion
The difficulty of remaining disciplined and motivated
Advantages for employers
Improved employee retention
Access to many job candidates that the company might not have previously considered
Less time wasted through commuting delays
Savings on rent, energy costs, maintenance and housekeeping
Disadvantages for employers
Security risks arising from the storage of confidential information on employees’ home computers
Difficulties maintaining an adequate level of communication
The problem of keeping motivation levels high
Risk of a work-from-home epidemic
Home is where the work is