Majority of businesses in the Gulf have recovered from impacts of COVID-19: Report

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More than half of employers in the region have recovered from the negative impacts of COVID-19 on their business operations, according to a Hays report released on Tuesday.

Based on a market-wide survey of more than 1,000 professionals working throughout the Gulf region, the ‘COVID-19 Business Impacts One Year On’ found that 52 percent said their organization was in either a ‘business as usual’ or ‘growth’ phase of operation following the outbreak of COVID-19 last year.

Of those that are still recovering, 28 percent expect their operations to be back to pre-pandemic levels or beyond in the next 12 months, suggesting that 80 percent of organizations will be back on their feet, if not growing by 2022.

“Our own experiences of working with employers and job seekers certainly confirm that business activity is on an upward trajectory,” said Kieran Fitzgerald, senior operations director of Hays Middle East. “We saw job numbers decline across all sectors in the region from April through to late summer of 2020 however, opportunities have been increasing significantly since the end of last year and sentiment is generally very positive.”

Findings from the survey suggest that total job numbers for the region will be up on last year, with 58 percent of employers stating that their current headcount is either the same as or greater than their pre-pandemic numbers, and a significant 74 percent expecting their headcount to further increase this year.

When it comes to salaries, 71 percent of working professionals in the region said their salary was either the same or higher than before the pandemic and a promising 39 percent of employers expect salaries within their organization to increase before the end of the year.

“These statistics are a clear sign that market confidence is returning, if not exceeding pre-COVID-19 levels locally,” said Fitzgerald. “While there remains a proportion of the population who are battling the negative repercussions of the pandemic, the outlook is largely optimistic.”

“From what we have seen in the market and based on those employers’ intentions stated in the survey, we expect salary trends to be much the same as they have been regionally for a number of years, whereby more than half of all professionals salaries will remain the same year-on-year and up to 40 percent will increase on prior year.”

The new era of work

While findings suggest salaries are likely to follow trends seen in previous years, there have been significant changes in working patterns and the flexible working options offered by organizations in the region over the past 12 months.

The survey found 69 percent of organizations now offer remote working, compared to a lower 43 percent who did so at the start of 2020. The most common option is complete flexibility to work from home, as offered by 38 percent of employers. This is followed by two to three days a week remote working, offered at 18 percent of organizations.

Employees work at the Saudi National Health Emergency Operations Center in the capital Riyadh on May 3, 2020. (AFP)
Employees work at the Saudi National Health Emergency Operations Center in the capital Riyadh on May 3, 2020. (AFP)

From an employer perspective, findings show that remote working is influential in attracting and retaining talent, with 42 percent of working professionals saying remote work is an important factor when considering an employer.

The integration of remote work within organizations has also had some impact on office space and rents in the region. Of those employers who took part in the survey, two percent have closed their offices altogether in the last year, 11 percent have downsized and a further 13 percent intend to do the same by the end of the year.

“These numbers are interesting however, we are seeing that there remains a strong preference for fully equipped office space and setups,” said Fitzgerald. “While remote working has been paramount in enabling organizations to continue operating throughout the pandemic, as well as opening up many new opportunities in the world of work, the human element of our working lives, including face to face interaction is also critical to business success.”

“The pandemic has only reinforced this and therefore we expect the hybrid working model, which combines both remote and in-office working, to be the most common setup for organizations going forward.”

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More than half of Saudi professionals to receive a pay rise in 2021: Report

GCC salary study: Some jobs ‘positively impacted’ in 2020, pay rises forecast in 2021

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