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Remote working on the rise: opportunity for abuse?

A new study has revealed that more than 50% of UAE employees have responded that they work outside the office. While there are several benefits to permitting remote working, is there potential for abuse?

Is the era of the cubicle behind us?

A recent study by the International Workplace Group (IWG) that surveyed 18,000 professionals from across 96 countries shows that the general consensus on a flexible working environment has developed in a new direction.

Particularly in the UAE, about 60% of employees work outside the office once a week. 52% reported working remotely for 3 days or more.

84% of those interviewed believe that a flexible work environment helps engage and retain top talent, and 44% said it helps to improve job satisfaction. In a surprising turn of events, 65% of employers interviewed said that they offer the opportunity of remote working to potential employees, as a job benefit.

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So how did this happen?

This change in work behavior has been brought about by a few factors, but mainly two.

Firstly, the advent of fast internet speeds, coupled with the high mobility of employees’ devices, have both allowed for basic, solitary work to be conducted outside the workplace. Emails, reports, and phone calls can all be handled outside the office now. Even those in the artistic field, such as graphic designers and illustrators, can now work remotely. Laptops have advanced enough to offer a secondary option to bulky desktop computers.

“New technologies mean many of us can now work anytime, anywhere. The challenge for businesses is how to optimize this new landscape. Companies are realizing the benefits of flexible working and its ability to increase productivity, job satisfaction and business performance,” said Ian Hallett, IWG Group Managing Director and Global Head of Brands and Ventures.

The second factor to consider is changing employee values and expectations. According to the Dubai Statistic Center, 50.9% of male employees and 51.7% of female employees in Dubai were millennials in 2016. Research site Brookings Now forecasts that by 2025, Millennials will represent 75% of the global population.

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With so many Millennials entering the workforce, it is only natural that with this influx of young minds will come a new way of thinking. Millennial values differ greatly from those of older generations such as Baby Boomers. They spend less, put more importance on environment preservation, and want to make a difference at their jobs. Finally, as explains, they are quite critical of the traditional 9-5 shift, and this sentiment is slowly snowballing across all industries as more and more Millennials enter the workforce. In fact, in the book Remote: Office Not Required, Jason Fried says that work hours are generally increasing, but a whole lot less is being accomplished.

While the concept of a flexible workspace has been a staple of Silicon Valley startups, it has slowly begun to spill over to all other kinds of businesses. Huge companies such as Microsoft, Etihad Airways and Master Card have dabbled with the concept of remote working.

And now, with an innovative and entrepreneurial country such as the UAE following suit with this predominantly Western practice, it only makes sense that more countries in the region will try this approach.

Yet, could there be room for abuse of this privilege?

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Potential for abuse, and drawbacks for everyone involved

With every benefit or privilege an employee is offered, there will often be room for abuse. Back in July 2017, 31,000 Kuwaitis took an extra 2 days off following the Eid holiday, claiming sickness. The sick leave was used to get a further 2 days off despite have been granted 3 days as national holiday, as well as a weekend to top it off.

The Kuwaiti Civil Service Commission even confirmed it was launching an investigation, saying, “The Commission has to make sure that the public interest is preserved and now wants the ministry of health to take the necessary legal measures against doctors who did not respect ethics and abused the system by issuing bogus sick leave, which amounts to forging official documents.”

Further back in 2016, Saudi Arabia was also facing a similar issue, with both Saudis and expats abusing sick leave. The Saudi Health Council had begun work on an electronic system to prevent further deception.

Another breach of confidence committed by employees is the undertaking of freelance work during office hours. This problem becomes a greater concern when remote working is brought into the mix. In Kuwait, expat employees are bound by contract to their singular job. Signing up for two jobs, or doing freelance work while employed, are both illegal.

In the US, there have been several cases of employees abusing their flexible workplace arrangement. In response, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer had to entirely shut down the program of “teleworking”, or performing work duties from home, at her company.

There are procedures to reign in remote working abuse, such as the implementation of a clocking in and out system online. Innovative apps such as PukkaTeam allow for a simulated office experience through an online connection. With the app, employers can keep tabs on their employees and make sure they are not slacking around. Even using simple apps like Skype can help keep staff at home and in the office connected.

However, constantly monitoring employees would also soon prove to be quite the hassle, and perhaps not worth the trouble of permitting remote working.

While the potential for abuse is always going to be there, there is a compromise to the problem: offering flexible working as a privilege to a select few employees, or those who earn their managers’ trust. This way, employees would feel the weight of the opportunity given to them, and in turn, self-monitor themselves.

In the end, remote working is not for everyone. Not all employees are able to operate and self-manage outside the constraints of an office environment. While the benefits of remote working do exist, the potential for abuse is still there. The best way to go about this issue is to find what works for both the employer and the employee.

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