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Technology | Global Arab Network
Office or home - the internet is reshaping the way we work
Global Arab Network - Dr Mohamed Ramady
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The changing lifestyle patterns in the West and the IT revolution have opened up a new way of working, either from a home office or from a variety of locations using the internet.

People working from home probably now account for a significant segment of the workforce in the UK. It has probably sped up with the widespread adoption of broadband and the growing use of mobile links. Many of these workers are involved in the telecommunications industry, but increasing numbers in other sectors are also taking advantage.

For the Gulf, this type of work could be a boon for female employment, especially in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where segregation of the sexes at work and their dependence on others for mobility makes working from home an attractive proposition.

Already a large number of Saudi banks have female-staffed call centres. It would not be impossible to have these females work from home, given the right level of IT support and communication infrastructure.

Other tasks can follow. We are caught up in an employment world that is changing fast. The old certainties are gone and the Gulf has to adapt now.

Globalisation and adoption of international work practices all have a part to play in the transformation, and the changes are being accelerated by the new economic situation.

Bahrain has introduced a flexible sponsorship system with the government acting as the sponsor of foreign workers who are allowed to search for willing employers, according to market forces.

While the ramifications of the Bahrain model on local employment will be keenly watched, and might take years to implement across other GCC countries, there are other discernible shifts in employer and employee relations.

Recessions and economic uncertainties speed up structural change in the sense that they make things that almost certainly would have happened anyway take place more swiftly.

In the Gulf, the pressure on family businesses to convert themselves to public companies, and a greater awareness of the younger, communication-savvy generation are putting pressure on long-held relations between employers and employees.

Soon there will be fewer major family companies operating in the Gulf run on patriarchal lines, where employees are treated and expected to be treated as part of an extended family.

Relationships will be more impersonal, based on contractual obligations and greater job mobility.

As personal bonds loosen, other forms of employment relationships will emerge in the Gulf, particularly part-time work, working from home and tele-working.

These can have a significant impact on female employment in the Gulf.

In a more dynamic economic environment, movement between jobs – at least in the private sector – has become ever faster as employees take their skills elsewhere.

Long-term job loyalty and the cradle-to-grave ethos is fast becoming a thing of the past, even with the traditional employers in countries such as Japan.

In the Gulf, some family businesses often boast of employees who have been with the company for decades, but as the older generation passes on responsibility to the younger generation, that bond of loyalty is also eroding as younger owners seek competency and skills in employees instead of blind loyalty.

In a study of employment patterns in the UK, it was found that only half a typical company’s workforce had been with their employer for five years, with the majority being two years.

As such companies have to manage a completely fluid pool of people, they must deliver their products or services with staff that are moving in and out all the time.

This leaves them with little institutional memory of what goes right and what goes wrong, which has been a particular problem in banks.

Company-run pensions become an irrelevance for most staff who seek the most advantageous perks.

In Saudi Arabia, this turnover of employees has been most noted in the banking sector. The idea of career building is something people do for themselves rather than assuming an employer might do it for them.

That has been greatly reinforced by recession. Some companies, not just the big manufacturers, are shedding huge proportions of their workforces.

Even supposedly safe jobs in banking are no longer safe at all. Employers have also adapted to changed economic climates by requesting employees taking unpaid leave or going on to shorter working weeks. Some Gulf companies are already doing this.

Global Arab Network

Dr Mohamed A Ramady is a former banker and visiting associate professor, finance and economics, at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This article appeared in The National

 

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