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Smart Working in the Middle East

Smart Flexibility featured at the Emirates Festival of Literature in Dubai

An international literature festival in one of the world’s most diverse cities is a great place to be. With an atmosphere of overwhelming hospitality and friendliness, the Emirates LitFest promotes a lot of interaction writers and audience and also between the writers.

‘Smart Flexibility’ was one of a handful of business books in the new business strand at the Festival, and was featured in both the local press and on radio. I did a session on the book and the isues around smart working, and a panel session (above right) on 'How to Change Your Life', where I was included to provide perspectives on changing work and work-life balance.

But how ready are Dubai and the rest of the Middle East for smart and flexible working?

The business environment, like wider society, is both conservative and dynamic at the same time. Working practices are closely regulated, and there is very little in the way of flexible working practices. Even part-time working is comparatively rare. But I found amongst the audiences a strong appetite for more in the way of flexible working, both amongst local people and amongst ex-pats.

As in the West, there is an abundance of talented women who are unable to find work after taking a break to have children. Sometimes it is an ex-pat spouse who has followed her (or sometimes his) partner out to the Gulf for highly paid work. But more often it is local women who are restless to find work to match their skills, education and experience. As in many of the neighbouring countries, the education system is very good and the working population young, energetic and ambitious.

Women take education very seriously – perhaps more seriously than many of their male counterparts – and while valuing their domestic and family roles also want to contribute more to society. There’s a hunger for more flexibility – but also an awareness that the dominant business culture and the policies around working practices may be slow to change.

At the same time, this is a very tech-savvy working population. Being able to work from anywhere, from the point of view of technology use, should not prove to be a problem. There are issues about the way telecoms infrastructure is managed by a monopoly provider, however.

In terms of workplaces, in an area once seemingly awash with money the lessons of the recession have hit home. The messages about doing more with less are well received. But there seem to be issues around status and hierarchy, and reliance on ‘management by presence’ that mean that office design for smarter and more mobile working may face some challenges from traditional approaches to management.

So in some ways many of the issues are similar, with the main focus of interest so far on work-life balance and creating fairer work opporutnities for women perhaps rather than on the business-benefits of having a strategy for working smarter. But this is a fast developing world here, and the signs are encouraging for taking further steps towards smart and flexible working.


Andy Lake at panel session at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai

March 2014


Smart Flexibility in Dubai

Andy Lake was at the Emirates Festival of Literature with his management book Smart Flexibility. Here he reflects on the experience, and looks at the potential for flexible working in the Middle East.





















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