Heba, a 27-year-old employee at a local Saudi company, is unable to get used to office life again after she spent a whole year working from home.
A loving mom of two kids and a hardworking marketing assistant, she believes going back to the office has turned her life upside down. “After I discovered the merits of working from home, I find the office life less appealing. Home is more convenient and flexible. I don’t have to send my little kids to the nursery, I can work and take care of my children at the same time,” said Heba, speaking to Majalla when asked whether she prefers working in the office or from home.
“I wish I could work from home for the rest of my life,” she added.
Heba is one of many employees who believe that what can be done in the office can be done at home. She is wondering why Saudi companies insist their employees go back to the premises of their companies to do things they used to do efficiently from home.
Others believe it is the norm to work from the office. Working from home is just an exception due to the pandemic. The wide spread of Covid-19 made it hard for people to get together in one place.
Even though Covid-19 is under control due to strict precautionary procedures and ramping up the drive of vaccinations by the Saudi health authorities, some employees believe it is safer to work from home.
Jaber, a 45-year-old marketing assistant, told Majalla that every time a colleague is suspected of Covid-19, the whole staff undergoes a test. “This will never happen if we work from home,” he added.
The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD) has obliged companies to re-structure their office layouts to follow the social distancing protocols.
Mohammed Ahmed, an HR specialist in his thirties, says: “Most Saudi companies asked their employees to go back to offices in the last quarter of 2020. Any employee, who gets infected with Covid-19 will take a 14-day leave. Most infections are the result of social gathering where precautionary procedures are not respected. Employees put on masks all day long. HRSD does not tolerate any violation of protocols.”
“Fear of infection is a poor excuse. Every employee who follows the HRSD Office Protocol will be safe. Companies have invested a lot of money to restructure office layouts. Employees need to get together in person,” he added.
Working from home saves money. Home-based employees do not have to use their vehicles to go to their offices every morning or order food for lunch.
Noora, a communication specialist, believes that meetings with clients can be attended on Zoom, Google M or MS Teams. There is no need to cram streets with cars just to see someone for an hour or two.
“Companies pay transportation allowances for employees to cover the cost. It is illogical to have that allowance and work from home. It is better to drop the allowance if an employee prefers to work from home,” commented Mohammed Ahmed.
Noora agrees to have the transportation allowance cut from her salary if she is allowed to work from home permanently. “The transportation allowance is only 10% of my salary. I would sacrifice that amount if I were allowed to stay home and take care of my family during the working day!” she said.
From a purely economic point of view, working from home will negatively affect consumption because people spend less. This means businesses cannot sell their products or services as usual, which means more businesses will be out of the market. Demand is key for growth.
Dania and Salman work at a Saudi local company that allows them to work at home for a couple of days every week. They pushed hard to reach a settlement with the management. Out of five working days, they are allowed to work from home on Mondays and Thursdays.
Both believe that they can deliver the same quality regardless of the place from which they are working.
Five years ago, HRSD launched the Remote Work Manual. The manual contains all of the information needed for both job seekers and employers, including the contractual agreements and the jobs targeted by the initiative. Call centers for marketing, sales, and telecommunication companies were the perfect choice of housewives to work from home.
There is no legislation for mixed-mode working. It is all a matter of agreement between employees and employers. Which option do you prefer: home or office?