We take a look at how some startups in the region have adjusted their daily work routines in a pandemic-stricken world and how they have been adapting to the “new normal.”
With some of the region’s economies gearing towards reopening after weeks in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, companies very much look forward to returning to their offices and pre-COVID-19 daily routines.
However, at a time when more governments are adopting a phased return to business, it is worth taking a look at how regional startups are adjusting and adapting.
The rapid digital transformation, the uptake of cloud services and collaboration technologies, and the survival lessons learned by small companies during the pandemic will affect the region’s business dynamics in the future.
THE TRANSITION TO REMOTE WORK
“Covid-19 has obviously had a huge impact. The entire company has been working from home since early March and will continue to do so until at least September,” says Ryan Andrews, marketing director of Eat App.
This Bahraini startup operates an electronic system for table and reservation management for restaurants in the region. Being a technology company, Eat App already had an existing toolset for remote work, including Slack, Atlassian, 15Five and Zoom.
“[This] drastically helped with the transition and resulted in minor interruptions to the existing workflow,” Andrews notes.
Surprisingly, some companies did not experience any disruption in their work routines; on the contrary, they saw a surge in business.
“What happened was a total blessing! At least this is how I see it; this is how I feel it,” says UAE-based fashion designer Aiisha Ramadan.
Her long list of clients includes some of the region’s most admired celebrities. Ramadan has long relied on a remote business model that has perfectly served her customers’ needs.
Remote collaboration platforms expanded their presence in MENA to help with this transition. Zoom achieved huge growth in revenue from the region, with the surge estimated at 246%.
Cisco’s WebEx virtual collaboration platform experienced similar dynamics. While Dubai’s Expo 2020 has been rescheduled for October 2021, the 2,000-strong event team shifted to a remote-only work schedule using Webex. The company says its staff conducted one million minutes of virtual meetings with more than 140,000 participants since making the shift on March 15.
HELPING EMPLOYEES STAY MENTALLY HEALTHY
One easily overlooked impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses is what the WHO highlighted
as the mental health burden on people. Thus, maintaining a sense of community and a positive attitude amongst employees seems to be of the utmost importance.
The Virtual DAFZA Staff Forum is an initiative launched by the Dubai Airport Freezone Authority (DAFZA) to provide an online space for remote workers to share achievements, discuss experiences and offer recommendations. The goal is to help them cope with stress and protect their mental health.
“Emotional management and community support [are] also vital for business operations and ensure a level of normality in attaining our objectives whilst working remotely,” Yousuf Behzad, DAFZA assistant director-general of people growth and strategy, said in a statement.
Andrews acknowledges that employees’ mental health is a key area companies need to address. His approach to the problem has been to run company-wide check-ins at least twice a week to keep the staff motivated throughout this period.
“It’s all about the intention, so without the intention, I might have felt that it was chaos,” says Ramadan, adding that employees and business owners can maintain their sanity by altering their own views of situations. “It has been the perfect opportunity for us to reflect on ourselves.”
For many startups already operating cross-border teams, remote work and collaboration are not entirely new elements of the daily work routine.
“COVID-19, however, accelerated users’ adoption to 50 times [with] a huge jump in regulations that has to [accommodate] the new digital trend,” says Wael Kabli, CEO of Saudi remote medical consultations startup Cura.
Kabli believes some business models have been entirely halted as new ones arise, particularly those related to access issues. The change is likely there to stay, at least through the near future.
By: Ahmed Gabr