How 15 UAE Executives Are Managing The Covid-19 Crisis From Home

Society is facing unprecedented times. Here is what 15 leaders in the United Arab Emirates are doing to support their teams and ensure business continuity beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

What do these leaders believe the future of work, business and society holds?

Harj Dhaliwal
Managing Director Middle East & India, Hyperloop One

Firstly, leadership is about communication, communication, communication… this doesn’t always have to be just work related! We at Virgin Hyperloop One have introduced “Virtual Coffee Sessions” to mimic informal office banter which is so important to the office culture. Secondly, don’t lose focus. Whilst we are in precedented times we will come out the other end. We need to be prepared and clear on goals and strategy going forward in a post-Covid world. Thirdly, show empathy. We need to remember we all behave differently. Ensure the well-being and mental health of staff. Be aware of the risks of anxiety as a consequence of being isolated or distant from your colleagues.  

Embrace remote working. Use the video function whenever possible; it makes a big difference. Whilst I don’t think remote working is the end of the office, I do think that it will become a more accepted way of doing business!

As a business, we are spread out between Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dubai, Mumbai, and Riyadh, so remote working and use of virtual technology has not been anything new. Like every other business we have had to review our spend projections and budgets, and prioritise on our core R&D activities essential for us to maintain progress and investor confidence.

The upside is the speed at which we have all adapted to a new way of working… it’s remarkable! Not as painful as one would have thought!

Business travel will be in the spotlight going forward as the realization of not needing to travel hits home, providing cost savings, decreasing carbon footprint, and giving back time. Before Covid-19 remote video calls and meetings were not popular or culturally accepted. I see that changing and becoming more acceptable. But I will caveat by saying VC remote calls will never replace face-to-face meetings in the Middle East or India.

Irfan Tansel
CEO, Al Masaood Automobiles

In every difficult situation, leaders often have to put aside their personal concerns and work towards the greater good. The first priority in this pandemic should be employees’ health and safety, customer protection and adherence to relevant laws and restrictions. People look up to leaders to do the right thing, and it’s a fair expectation. In my experience, stakeholders look to leaders for reassurance and direction. Providing these is the most important task facing a leader at this point.

Al Masaood Automobiles has been taking strides towards digitizing its offerings over the past few years. This has helped us prepare well for the demands and changes that were brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have imposed stringent health and safety standards for our employees, rolled out remote working wherever possible, and moved our services online – including our car dealerships! So with us you can now book a car online, buy a car online, book a servicing appointment through the internet, M-Auto App or phone and follow up the repairs on your car through the app, even have your car picked up front our doorstep so you can stay home. Our newest innovation is Interactive Life Sales Experience, what is that? Visit our website.

Digitization is old news for many forward-thinking companies. For everyone else, it is the new normal. With remote working and more online services, society has discovered that many things we were reluctant to change weren’t so bad after all. Here, I must also say that many people will look up to the visionary leadership of the UAE for the way they protect their citizens and residents with courage, compassion and care. I also believe that this lockdown has helped us as a society prioritize what’s important – health, family and freedom.

Stephen Valentino
Founder & CEO, The London Project

Apart from the genuine fear that most people have for their health and wellbeing, it’s the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic that is causing so much anxiety. I am experiencing a wide range of fears and concerns from people at different levels within the organization, many of whom are far away from their families. At the moment , it is important to try to keep the team positive and engaged whilst we steer the company through very challenging and uncertain times. We are having regular Zoom meetings with our personnel, stakeholders and supply chain and keeping abreast of the regulatory restrictions. The security and safety of our team is our ongoing priority.

Our industry has been hard hit. During the initial Covid-19 outbreak we were very proactive in ensuring the safety of our guests and adhered to all social distancing and sanitisation measures. As the pandemic worsened, we were forced to close our venues. This has made us reassess our position and we are currently using this downtime to refocus on key marketing initiatives, training and development, and some exciting new surprises in the coming months.

I am a firm believer that people crave social interaction and I hope that once this is all over people will flood back to their favorite restaurants and bars, probably with a great deal more appreciation of the service, food and surroundings that they provide. I do believe that there will be a shift in awareness as people appreciate the importance of downtime and spending quality time with family and friends. I am not the most tech savvy person and I have quickly adapted to online conference calls/meetings, shopping, food delivery etc, and whilst I still love meeting people face to face, I think the online world will see a massive growth across all sectors and demographics.

I hope that we see innovation and creativity like never before that through this time of shutdown a new wave of entrepreneurs will be born.

Richard Fitzgerald
CEO & Founder, Augustus Media, Lovin’ Dubai

Before you start to lead in this Covid-19 pandemic, you need to get your strategy in place. What is your business view of this situation? Some are putting health above all, some are treating it as war footing, so being as resourceful as possible, and others are going into hibernation. Each of those have impacts on what it means for your business and your teams.

Whatever way you position this, and what your strategy is, you need to deliver on it. Leading by example is important. Being frank and honest with people. Pep talks and motivation are important, but it can’t be without substance.

Action is needed, but also if your business was doing well before this, you need to retain the belief that it will again be well one day. Transfer that belief to the teams at all times. That is enough to get you through it and keep morale up.

We concluded early on that this was going to be a global recession. Although our performance in February was excellent, that wasn’t going to be the same in March. So, we did the following:

  • Reduced all unnecessary costs (including the fruit delivery)
  • Spoke to all suppliers and asked for payment deferral
  • Worked with our core teams to ensure that our product and content output was excellent during this time, to retain our audience
  • Implement a WFH process for 80% of our staff
  • Devised commercial areas to focus on
  • Made redundancies to 15% of our headcount and the remaining took 15% pay cut

Fundamentally, the world will evolve from the Covid-19 pandemic, but it won’t change completely. Globalisation and capitalism will still exist. There may be bankruptcies, redundancies, company value depreciation and countries may get into difficulty with dept.

Certain trends are accelerating, such as new areas of digital, cloud computing, remote working and the various companies who are supplying services in this space are thriving. This is part of the advancement and the future capability in 5G, which should see advancements in IOT, blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

In the media sector, we are seeing an increase in consumption for news and entertainment, and perhaps a drive towards directing consumer business, as opposed to the heavy reliance on advertising.

Much like other significant global events, there will be many books written, theories suggested, and movies made, some will win awards and people will get recognition. Narratives will be simplified and Covid-19 will become a chapter. It’s never that simple though, but life does go on. We’ve been here before.

Thea C. Myhrvold
Founder & CEO, TeachMeNow & GetBee

My advice for leading teams during this time is to stay personal. Connect on a human level. Everyone might be going through something different. Be kind. Always.

Our businesses have grown super-fast and we are in a fortunate position to grow. We have been hyper scaling in the immediate need of digital transformation. We are proud to help clients and their users in over 250 cities and time zones!

Digital transformation trends were strong before. However, now more than ever, we will see how digital will disrupt the future or how we work, learn and interact be it in retail, healthcare, education and beyond. How can we use technology as a force for good? This is the question I am asking and trying to solve.

Justin McGuire
Founder & CEO, MCG Group

My advice for other leaders during this time is to be honest with your staff, explain the rationale behind the decisions you make and run through the strategy you have based on differing scenarios and outcomes the Covid-19 situation is creating. When the pandemic started, all of our teams went “WFH” pretty quickly. This was easy to implement as all have laptops, mobiles and cloud-based systems. We had to reduce costs and negotiate new deals with suppliers, most of this was done in a compassionate and sensitive manner. We view this is as a temporary measure and aiming to have the business back on track after summer.

Once the job market recovers, I believe new-age employees and decision makers may prefer virtual jobs over physical jobs. The office won’t need to be the centre of connection anymore, but in fact part of the puzzle of how we connect at work. We will recognise that technology, if used right, allows almost everyone in support functions or services roles, to work virtually.

Leila Almaeena
Founder, Leila Almaeena Coaching & Consulting

My advice for leaders during these times are to, first off, understand and accept that there needs to be a period of adaptability. What we are facing is new to all of us and there are not only company logistics at play, but our emotional and physical health also. Be patient and lead with compassion at this time.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, I have shifted all sessions and workshops online (using web conference tools) and I have started evolving the way I connect. In fact, I will be moderating a digital forum with amazing speakers next month which is proof that we can still stay in the game so long as we evolve and look for alternatives and solutions.

Business, society and the future of work depends on many factors, but the long-term impact will be in the digital realm. We are seeing now how we can connect to each other remotely and that will be seen across many industries. In the more human sense, I am certain that most if not all of us will learn to appreciate and honor the blessings at hand. This period has shown that when a society is aligned and has leadership that truly cares such as the UAE, we can get through anything together.

Diala J. Daoud
Co-Founder & Partner, Launch DXB

Amidst this global turbulence and uncertainty, we all face moments of frustration and a sense of being lost. You are not alone in this. Millions of entrepreneurs across the globe share this feeling with you. Unfortunately, we are the people who can ‘t afford freezing their operations or losing their startups. And my advice for you is:

1. Think of this pandemic as one of the many obstacles you will face in your journey as an entrepreneur.

2. Be fierce enough to defeat, not only overcome, this challenge.

3. Reassess your startup standing and borrow new legs, a new business model revenue stream, to run this marathon! 

It is no secret that Covid-19 disrupted the way we do things and challenged our “normal” lifestyle and approach to things. This all reflected on our operations at Launch DXB, which at its core lies our #LaunchDays activations. To give our community the support and resources they need to keep moving forward, we started a #LaunchDXBConnect campaign that virtually brings the community together around support, encouragement, and advice on how to mitigate this trialing period, both professionally and personally. 

What is post-COVID19 will be so different than what was pre-COVID19. Businesses had to learn it the hard way to optimize its digital presence and activations. Society had to know to keep a safety distance to curb any future pandemics. Work had to be done remotely, and due to its efficiency, I see it being done more remotely in the future. 

Ziad Matar
President, TiE Dubai

My advice for leaders during these times are to turn this situation into an opportunity to rally the team around a focused objective where all efforts contribute to reaching the goal, and mindfully setup communication forums to keep information naturally flowing among team members and yourself.

This is not ‘Business As Usual’, don’t try to normalize the situation or downplay what is happening, but keep a positive optimistic outlook.

When the Covid-19 pandemic started we quickly setup an action plan to adapt our product and services to the new needs of our clients and the challenges they are facing.

For the future of business, I believe that there will be a whole re-thinking of sustainable business practices in the face of such an global disruption like Covid-19. New technologies will emerge to help safeguard from similar situation in the future, whether in the ICT, Healthcare or other sectors.

For the future of work, the current Covid-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the “Present of Work” particularly in smaller less tech-savvy organizations. Collaboration technologies, virtual teams and co-working will move from the realm of large global corporations and early adopters to the mainstream.

For society, what we are witnessing is an opportunity for a global reset, which society as a whole can take advantage off to reconsider priorities and practices.

Overall, I believe the Covid-19 pandemic will lead into a Great Leap Forward for humanity, hopefully enabling us to work more intently on undoing some of the mistakes of the past years (centuries?) and putting us back on a more harmonious evolution trajectory.

Ayman Alashkar
Founder & CEO, OVERWRITE.ai & OBOTEO Venture Hub

I’ve got four leadership hacks during this period of global uncertainty:

  1. Time management. Your daily productivity is going to depend on how well you manage your time. Find a formula that works for you given your daily needs and responsibilities. Incorporate healthy exercise into it.

2. Communication channels. Keep them open, with your colleagues, customers and suppliers.

3. Be respectful. Don’t leave people hanging if you can avoid to.

4. Lead with love. We’re all in this together. We’re all worried. It’s a simple calculus. Show empathy now, you’ll sail later.

We’ve had remote working baked into our company’s operational DNA from the start, so we’ve been quite unphased during this period. In fact, as an online platform we’re seeing an uptick in user activity. That’s possibly because at the start of this we moved swiftly to show empathy towards our users, all of whom face uncertainties during this time. We made a raft of promises, among which we committed to keeping the use of our platform free during Covid-19 and continuing to add features and improve users online experience.

I believe that we have allowed ourselves to be defined by our work far too long and it’s time we reevaluated that. I look forward to the flourishing of a new normal. One where we refocus social and commercial priorities on what’s actually important, rather than the pure pursuit of profit and the normalization of anything that enables it. Many hope for, or expect a return to the normal we knew. But I read a recent article in The Guardian by Josh Cohen discussing how Corona has exposed us now to a world without work. We’re on the path to a new normal. I see instead an emergence of brilliant, inspiring individuals who’ll shape the future of business and society for the better. But I could be a hopeless optimist!

Marianna Bulbuc
Founder & CEO, Bizzmosis Business Services

During this time of uncertainty and fear of change, my best advice is to be transparent and forthcoming. Communicate clearly and emphatically, set the course for how your company will weather the challenges, stay focused and plan ahead. Showing trust and support to the employees brings value to their work and increases loyalty. I find my team working around the clock now, more than ever before, and am very proud of them!

Given the nature of our business, visas, company formation and government relation services have been moved to be fully operational online. We have acquired access to most online government portals and now despite all my team working remotely, government centres closed, we are able to operate smoothly and continue our services uninterrupted. 

We have increased our social media budgets and attention to all our social media content, now that we have the grand increase in consumer’s presence, it’s a time not to be missed. Businesses need to keep up their game online now, so they don’t go unnoticed and recover easier once things start getting back to the new normal.

I think that current pandemic will act as a catalyst of change and accelerate the automatisation process in many industries. Remote work would definitely be the most important change to be observed, bringing lesser costs for commercial spaces and more flexibility to employee performance evaluation. Subsequently, telecommuting work systems, networks and data platform requests would know a major increase. Data protection and remote access policies would have to be reinvented and adjusted to current needs, example is the Zoom platform, that became the hype of the year and had known beyond 8 times increase in its users over the quarantine period, but has been scrutinised because of its lack of security and privacy systems in place. 

Last, but not the least, businesses will learn to have in place a continuity plan and be ready for disaster recoveries, regardless of the nature of the interruption.

Rohit Jaggi
Managing Partner, Equinoxx Design

Acknowledgement and recognition are important to motivate and give direction to the team, especially at times of uncertainty. During the WFH period it can be really beneficial to write thank you email acknowledging individual effort of your team members, one on one calls to get to know members better. All this can help comfort them at times of uncertainty. Important to lead with empathy!

When the Covid-19 pandemic started we minimized heavy spending on marketing to test new campaigns to avoid wasting money on things that don’t have any data. Survival of business is more important than growth while riding out the wave of uncertainty. Run discount campaigns for products and look for temporary alternate sources of revenue that aren’t part of the original business model. Be OK with pivoting.
 
I believe that Covid-19 will force governments to make systematic upgrades and contingency plans in advance for similar issues in the future, in the same way as learning lessons from past pandemics taught us to go on lockdowns early to limit the spread.

Work from home is here to stay, at least partially. Lockdowns have forced most businesses to give remote working a try that in the past might have completed rejected the idea of it. If the employees show a trend of being in favor of it. It may encourage the management to give it a try for some teams or for some days of the week. Employees may even be willing to negotiate work from home with a slight reduction in wage.

Haifa Addas
Founder & CEO, Instaglam

My advice for leading teams during the Covid-19 pandemic is to stay motivated, keep moving, exercise daily and create. We started a series of tutorials for do-it-at-home masks and beauty tips and tricks that people can do themselves, and how to create certain looks, such as how to do winged eyeliners and perfect red lipstick. It is always good to stay healthy and take hygienic measures. I believe that after the Covid-19 pandemic we will be more conscious about viruses.

Fadi Hindi
Founder & Sr. Partner, DigitAI                                                                                        Founder & CEO, Algofy.ai

This is a stressful time. As a leader you have to adapt quickly, reassure your team and evolve according to their changing needs. Times like these are the definitive test for great leadership. Leadership that identifies resources for their team, equips them with an incisive strategy and helps them meet the demands of a new style of working. If leaders don’t accept the situation the world is in and help their workplace go digital, both them and their businesses risk becoming obsolete. Everyone has to come to terms with the fact that COVID-19 has changed the future business environment for ever and it will not be a simple passing hiccup.

The first change we made to business when the pandemic hit was that we went ‘remote’. Our entire team started working from home using tools like Slack, Zoom and others. Then, we helped our clients make the best of this digital opportunity, as well as reached out to other businesses, helping them digitize their business models. Additionally, we helped some clients, at our own cost, examine their data for machine learning & artificial intelligence to address customer needs and changing behaviors.  

Personally, I think Covid-19 just hastened the imminent digitization of workplaces and businesses. This change was definitely something we were working towards with a lot of our clients. The remote working model used to face a lot of resistance, but now companies and leaders are realizing that’s it’s a practical and efficient way to work. I’m sure this will have lasting effects on how we work. The pandemic has also made us, as a society, realize the importance of technology and digitization and how important services are still available only because of them. Organizations have to also be aware of the importance of Innovation and paying close attention to their innovation capability as it will be critical in the way they recalibrate their path forward.

David Stockton
CEO, Dulsco

My advice for leading teams during this time is empathy, resilience, transparency, and determination are critical for successful leadership during this period. I would start with empathy with individuals, and how being considerate and understanding of their position, that we all share, goes a long way. All it takes is listening to your people and try to make their lives as normal as possible during this period. Nurturing resilience is key to help motivating teams to adapt to the new norms of life and adopt new methods and technologies in business to maintain its continuity. It is also important to be transparent, visible, and frequently communicate to keep everyone informed with updates and strategy as you go. But most importantly being prepared and determined to make the tough choices for the best interest of the people and the business.

At Duslco, we have formed a high-level action group to deal with potential emergencies, installed new digital platforms to facilitate working from home for all office staff, while we implemented strict health and safety regimes and supervision to all operational staff. We have, as well, established special Isolation facilities as to enable quarantine arrangements. On new a business level, we have resourcefully implemented our know-how to battle the threat of this virus on our communities. Repurposing our tankers and utilizing our trained crew, we have recently introduced our Sanitization solutions, and biohazardous waste handling.

This Covid-19 pandemic has shed the light on a number of gaps and shortages in business, social and medical systems around the world, and will certainly redefine how humans will operate in the future. Prevention and preparedness of crisis will form the basis of any business moving forward, focusing first and foremost on fulfilling essential human needs. While on the social level we are expected to become more appreciative of human connections and less distracted by online entertainment. This crisis has been a test for humanity solidarity and we hope we will pass the test and the world will come to the realization that our similarities are greater than our differences. Perhaps there will be less of “want” and more focus on the “need”. The ‘want’ becomes the need of now and next.

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