Today, we are making history, as we put to test a new arrangement of work, working from home and learning from home. We are rehearsing for a future work environment, where there would be no need for permanent physical service centers or to take long commutes in order to accomplish routine tasks. Regardless of the level of success of this format, it is certain that we will learn a lot of lessons by the end of this phase.
The concept of working remotely has been discussed among visionaries and future planners for a long time, much earlier than the outbreak of COVID-19. A study by Gartner showed that 2030 will witness a 30 per cent increase in teleworking as a result of Generation Z getting into the employment sector.
Technology is the most prominent enabler for remote work, but it is also the biggest challenge facing remote work. 54 per cent of the HR leaders that were surveyed by Gartner said that the biggest challenge to remote work is the lack of the required digital infrastructure.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) launched several initiatives to minimize the impact of COVID-19. These initiatives focused on maintaining the telecommunication network and services, and these initiatives certainly highlighted the importance of the availability, affordability and accessibility of digital infrastructure and services. It is also noteworthy to mention that TRA successfully implemented ‘work from home’ for all its employees on 26 March 2020.
Under the network capacity enhancement and re-engineering initiative, TRA urged the telecom service providers to enhance their network capacity, perform network re-engineering when required, and to implement any necessary changes as soon as practicable in order to facilitate the success of distance learning and remote working.
In addition, TRA instructed the telecom licensees to suspend deactivating mobile services to people who could not furnish renewed documents to ensure service continuity. This offered valuable support to people working and learning from home.
Under the initiative of enablement of the UAE Government to work from home, TRA assisted by:
TRA led the Security Advisories on securing systems and infrastructure initiative. TRA, through aeCERT (Computer Emergency Response Team), published a guideline to IT admins on how to secure VPN connections, and continues to release security advisories to all IT and information security professionals on the latest COVID-19-related cyber incidents and attacks.
Moreover, for the initiative “Security Awareness campaigns for the public”, TRA is leading the efforts of raising public awareness on the implications of COVID-19 on cybersecurity and the safe ways of working from home. TRA is doing this through online sessions and videos presented to students in schools and to their families, as well as TRA employees.
TRA is leading the UAEPASS initiative. UAEPASS is a digital identity and signing platform. It enables individuals to verify their identity digitally and receive seamless digital services without the need for a physical visit to government customer service centers. Furthermore, UAEPASS offers the ability to sign documents digitally and get the digitally signed documents verified. This helps government contractors to work from home.
The first lesson that we will need to take into consideration after COVID-19 is under control, is the need to develop programs and systems for remote work in order to enable managers and officials to measure performance and productivity and follow-up work mechanisms in a streamlined and coordinated manner.
However, as in many cases, theory may be different from reality. There are many questions that must be answered before assuming that technological readiness is all that is needed for working remotely. For example, managers might wish to know how to ensure that staff can make good use of the opportunity to work remotely and how to apply evaluation mechanisms in such scenarios.
Employees, on the other hand, may find difficult to stay focused and motivated while working from home. They may face technical problems that hamper their productivity and prevent them from meeting deadlines. They might even feel ignored or unappreciated.
As for organizations, they might face questions relating to the legal framework. There might also be concerns relating to clear and understandable policies and guidelines and mechanisms for measuring productivity.
In this regard, TRA launched the following guidelines: “Guide of Remote Working in the Federal Government and the Procedural Guidelines in the Critical and Emergency Circumstances”, “Business Continuity Readiness Guidelines for UAE Organizations in the event of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” and “Collaboration and work from home guidelines for IT Administrators”.
These guidelines make it easier to work from home.
The Guide of Remote Working in the Federal Government provides the procedures to be applied during the implementation of the ‘work from home’ schedule. It also lists responsibilities and obligations to be adhered to by federal government entities, and their employees, for the smooth functioning of work.
The Business Continuity Readiness Guidelines for UAE Organizations prepares entities to be able to carry out essential functions in times of crisis and describes tools to assist organizations in measuring their readiness for such crises.
The Guidelines for IT Administrators address issues pertinent to security as well as the provision of technical infrastructure such as laptops, software, cloud services and video conferencing tools. From this perspective, employees are all set to work from home just as they would from office. With all services being made available at their fingertips, employees wouldn’t feel the boundaries between home and office. It would appear seamless.
Today, we have an opportunity to reinvent how we work together. I am hopeful that COVID-19 will subside soon. And, when that happens, each organization will have to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the readiness of its infrastructure and regulatory framework to have its employees working remotely.
Assessment should include dividing jobs into three categories: jobs that cannot be done remotely; jobs that can be done remotely, but at a high cost; and jobs that can easily be done remotely.
This should be followed by setting up an executive plan for each of these categories. These plans could include the gradual movement of employees from office spaces to their homes, steps to ensure a smooth workflow, re-modelling the key performance indicators if needed, measuring employee performance, scheduling employees’ leaves, allocating back-up staff in case someone is on leave or is unwell and conducting periodic virtual meetings to share updates.
The UAE is hopeful that we can improve the balance between our personal and working lives, leading to motivated staff and, in turn, a happy society.