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Inside Office

Five trends shaping the UAE workplace

Chris Hobden, Head of Strategic Consultancy, Chestertons MENA, lists the five trends shaping the UAE workplace in 2020

  1. Lower-density layouts

Modern office space has become increasingly open-plan, with a desire for greater efficiency and employee collaboration steering firms away from once-common modular desk areas and private offices. This has driven a notable reduction in employees per square foot (sqft), falling from an average of one employee per 120 sqft pre the 2008 financial crisis to around 85 sqft by the end of 2019. We expect this trend to reverse medium-term, with a greater focus on safeguarding health necessitating less dense working environments moving forward.

  1. Incorporating remote working

While the large-scale roll-out of work from home policies has seen companies rapidly embrace distance working, we expect the vast majority of commercial occupiers to require largely office-based employment once the pandemic subsides. With that said, remote working and flexible office space will continue to play an essential role in companies’ workplace strategies, enabling firms to offset the need for additional office space driven by lower density layouts.

  1. Focus on health and employee well-being

Although the introduction of short-term safety measures, such as the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing, will disappear once the pandemic passes, we expect office occupiers to be increasingly focused on employee health and workplace hygiene longer-term.

Technology will play a key role in supporting a more health-conscious workplace, from reducing surface contact through to monitoring staff temperatures.  Zaha Hadid Architects has recently incorporated such technology into plans for Sharjah-based Bee’ah Waste Management’s new headquarters. The project designs reportedly include ‘contactless pathways,' with doors opened through motion sensors and facial recognition, with various services, from the lifts through to coffee, ordered through smartphones.

  1. More decentralized locations

Consolidating office space has long been employed by occupiers as a cost-saving efficiency. The 2019 introduction of dual licensing in Dubai, coupled with the 100% foreign ownership law, further negates the need for multiple locations. While the aforementioned has removed legal hurdles previously requiring some Dubai-based firms to maintain more than one office, we expect a desire to create a physical distance between teams to drive a more decentralized occupier footprint moving forward.  Multiple locations can also bring the added advantage of reduced staff commute times.

  1. A more significant role for flexible space

Demand for flexible office space will continue to grow in the UAE, although social distancing measures, along with subdued economic activity, will limit demand over 2020.

While co-working areas will be particularly affected by ongoing social distancing policies, we expect larger UAE occupiers to increasingly use flexible space to complement their conventional leases.

Layouts in UAE flexible office centers generally provide a higher ratio of private office and fixed-desk formats than typically found across European or Asia-based equivalents and will be well-placed to adapt to a shift in occupier requirements moving forward.  

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