Embracing Flexible Work Practices: Insights from Weather Challenges in the UAE

April 18, 2024 thehrobserver-hrobserver-dubaifloods

Despite severe weather warnings issued by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government, Matthew Adam was instructed to report to the office for his 9-5 job on Monday. Recalling his experience to The HR Observer, he described the challenges of navigating impassable roads during what he referred to as the “baby storm” Monday.

“On the ‘baby storm’ Monday, our company insisted everyone came to the office on time. The roads were impossible, so the only way to Media City was by Metro, then on foot,” he told The HR Observer. 

For him, it soon became apparent at 9am, that it was not possible without wading through knee-high water across roads.

“Still, we got there to do our nine-hour shift, but not one senior member of staff came to the office,” he added. 

“I felt used, expendable. Like they did not care,” he said. “I felt more for the security and reception who had to get there during the storm and are paid a lot less than me.”

Matthew is one of the many people who were instructed to report to the office despite warnings advising against leaving their residences. In a now-deleted Reddit thread, an employee recounted a tragic incident where their colleague lost their life due to the company’s insistence on attendance. The colleague became stranded in the floodwaters while attempting to reach work.

“I just got to know that my company’s driver, who is a 24-year old Pakistani citizen, died during the storm. Even though there were numerous warnings from the government, our company opened the shop and sent the driver to the warehouse during the storm.” The HR Observer tried to verify these claims but the thread was deleted after reaching out and interacting with the author who said will send further details.

Rigid work from office mindset

On Monday, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) issued a circular recommending the private sector to “ take all necessary precautions and make sure that occupational health and safety requirements are met to ensure the safety of their workers during the expected period of weather fluctuations.”

The unprecedented rainfall has flooded streets, toppled palm trees, and damaged building exteriors, marking a historic event in the Middle Eastern nation since records commenced in 1949. In Dubai, flights were grounded, traffic paralyzed, and schools shuttered.

On Tuesday, meteorological data from the airport reported a staggering one-hundred millimeters (almost 4 inches) of rainfall within a mere 12-hour span – approximately the annual precipitation average for Dubai, as per United Nations statistics. Yet, there were companies who have asked people to show up at the office. 

The UAE has emerged as one of the leading countries for remote work following the lockdown in 2020 to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Since then the country has adopted several laws to encourage remote working when needed. But despite these efforts, many employers still believe that to be productive employees must come to the office. 

“Focusing on productivity instead of people’s lives. Commutes instead of communications and care. Thousands of people stranded in waterlogged roads, with no way to get home, just because companies demanded they come to work,” wrote Anthony J Permal, a Digital Marketing consultant on his LinkedIn page, following an incident where his contact was asked to come in to work regardless of the weather. 

Building a risk assessment for employees

Experts like Carl Sykes advocate for proactive risk management, emphasizing the need for companies to develop comprehensive crisis plans and protocols. This involves distinguishing between inconveniences, issues, and actual risks, such as distinguishing between light rain and severe flooding, to ensure business continuity and employee well-being.

“Forward-thinking companies will complete an annual or bi-annual risk assessment and review and develop and communicate clear critical protocols and procedures around those risks. Understanding the difference between inconveniences, issues, and risks will be built into that assessment, and be built into the supporting process and policy creation,” said Carl Sykes, Group Managing Director, Neptune P2P Group.

“Additionally, it’s essential to prioritise the impact – some issues will be more detrimental to Business As Usual operations than others,” Sykes explains.

The completed Risk Register, often integral to a Business Continuity Plan (BCP), provides a comprehensive overview of potential risks and their impact on various aspects of the business, including assets, supply chains, and employees. It outlines strategies for managing and mitigating these risks to ensure the continuity of operations. For example, in the case of adverse weather, the BCP would include protocols for addressing staff transportation challenges and ensuring supply chain resilience.

The BCP encompasses various scenarios that could disrupt business continuity, such as supply chain disruptions, employee safety concerns during travel, and other critical risks. The key focus of the BCP lies in understanding these risks thoroughly, establishing clear procedures for response and recovery, effectively communicating these protocols across the organization, and regularly reviewing and auditing them to ensure relevance and effectiveness.

Furthermore, alongside developing risk and crisis management strategies, companies benefit from undergoing risk and crisis preparedness audits at least annually. These audits help identify potential vulnerabilities and gaps in existing plans, ensuring that when a crisis occurs, businesses are equipped with pre-established solutions rather than scrambling to devise responses on the spot. This proactive approach enhances organizational resilience and minimizes the impact of unforeseen events on business operations.

“Employees… people… are the greatest asset a company may have. Companies have a duty of care and an obligation to ensure the well-being of their staff, inside and outside of the office,” said Sykes.

Business travel is an example to look at as it presents a myriad of potential risks, ranging from those in well-known high-risk areas to seemingly safe destinations. While many companies have established protocols for employees traveling to known high-risk regions, there may be gaps in addressing risks in seemingly safe locations. For instance, international companies frequently require employees to travel for work, often to destinations perceived as safe.

However, even in seemingly benign locations, unforeseen events such as an employee going missing, facing danger, or encountering sudden political unrest can occur. In such situations, it becomes crucial for companies to have robust protocols in place to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees.

Effective protocols should include measures such as:

  1. Comprehensive Travel Itineraries: Ensuring that the company has access to employees’ travel itineraries, including flight details, hotel reservations, and any planned activities or meetings.
  2. Risk Assessment: Conducting thorough risk assessments for each destination, including gathering information on recent developments, known risks, and potential hazards specific to that location.
  3. Emergency Contact Information: Maintaining up-to-date emergency contact information for employees and establishing communication protocols to verify their safety regularly.
  4. Check-In Procedures: Implementing procedures for employees to check in with the company at regular intervals during their travel, with specific protocols for what to do if an employee fails to make contact within a specified timeframe, such as 48 hours.
  5. Crisis Response Plan: Developing a comprehensive crisis response plan that outlines steps to be taken in various emergency scenarios, including protocols for initiating search and rescue efforts, contacting local authorities, and providing support to the employee’s family.

“Employee risk and crisis mitigation should be a central thread throughout the BCP. For events such as the past few days, there are a number of important factors to consider,” explains Sykes.

The most important advice Sykes offers is this: don’t wait for a crisis to develop your crisis and contingency plan. Develop a BCP for all critical business continuity scenarios, audit it, communicate it, and test it.

Editor’s Note: The name of the individual mentioned in the story has been changed to protect their identity

Omnia Al Desoukie

Editor, The HR Observer

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