Research from the UAE’s largest business group has found companies are adapting their strategies to increase the use of technology and reduce future travel, with fewer than a quarter planning to reduce their workforce.

According to the study by British Business Group (BBG), members reported they have been innovating and implementing changes to the way they work, refocusing their strategies to maintain business health and continuity as reopening builds momentum in the country.

Furthermore, the survey found 44 per cent of members plan to reduce requirements and budgets for travel and 75 per cent stated they will now regularise remote working and the use of web technology for internal and external meetings.

Stuart Walker, partner at Afridi & Angell, a multi-discipline law firm, which has operated across the MENA region for over 45 years, promptly adapted its future strategy regarding travel and technology in February, 2020.

“As soon as the news began to hit home, we realised the world was changing and we quickly created systems for working remotely for all our lawyers, and as many of the support staff was possible. This will have an impact on all our staff going forward as we are now successfully working very differently to the way we worked only a few months ago. Not having to waste time commuting is an obvious positive. Enhanced interactions with clients is an unexpected benefit, where video conferencing has replaced some email exchanges, and we are now putting faces to some names we had only previously dealt with in writing,” he said.

Walker, however, doesn’t believe the new way of working won’t be without challenges. “Onboarding new colleagues and maintaining some form of corporate culture, will be much more difficult in an environment where there are less physical interactions,” he said.

“The most significant impact of the pandemic for us has been the change in behaviour of our clients. Corporate work has slowed down significantly, yet disputes have increased. However, the sudden and widespread adaptation of video conferencing has been remarkable. We continue to invest in additional physical assets to facilitate this, such as more cameras and speakers in meeting rooms.”

There are over 5,000 British businesses and 120,000 British citizens living in the UAE and a further 1.5 million visit every year. Total trade in goods and services between the UK and the UAE was AED21bn in the twelve months up to Q3 2019. The UAE is the UK’s fifth largest export market outside Europe, after US, Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Chairman of the BBG in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, John Martin St.Valery, explains how BBG is refocusing its own efforts to help members emerge from the lockdown period: “During times of crisis, community becomes the foundation upon which we are able to survive as businesses and employees. Our focus during this period has been to connect with our members and ensure they continue to benefit from the opportunities we provide, highlighting the social media and network connections we have built over the last 33 years.  To ensure our members were still able to connect with other members, we digitalised our events, increased our social media sharing and provided access to authoritative sources of information through our relationships with our stakeholders here in the UAE and in the UK.”

Of the 153 members that responded to the survey 51 per cent also confirmed they are actively looking at digitalising their proposition.

Paddy McGrath, managing partner of Niche Solutions, who manage BioClad across the GCC, an international provider of antimicrobial and hygienic wall cladding solutions for healthcare, hospitality, F&B, food manufacturing and pharmaceutical brands, took the opportunity during lockdown to add more products to his company portfolio and build a new website for the expanded services.

He said: “I’ve been operating now for five years as an SME and, being the only employee, my time had been allocated to business development and operations. Expanding services and creating a website had always been on my list of things to do, but I never had the time. Coupled with the development of our offerings beyond BioClad, the enforced lockdown offered the opportunity to finally focus on the website. We have also added an Instagram account, become more active on LinkedIn and are currently reviewing the office location during a period where cashflow is critical for survival.”

BioClad and its global priorities have been significantly impacted during the pandemic. Due to increased demand on materials in the UK, BioClad took the decision to prioritise UK projects, which has caused major challenges with significant impact on GCC projects.

“During the ‘Work from Home’ advice from the UAE Government, I have utilised the time to expand our product portfolio adding some exciting antimicrobial hygienic solutions, which is an exciting development, and one I hope we will be able to capitalise on with hygiene being at the forefront of change,” he added.

BBG Dubai, along with BBG Abu Dhabi, recently launched an online portal britishbusiness.org/covid-19/ to help members affected by the pandemic with advice on legal, business continuity issues and direct contacts within banks.

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