ADCB's work from home set up is empowering Emirati women

Shamma Ahmed Almansoori is a mother of six who lives near Ruwais, about 240 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi city.

Job opportunities there for Emirati women with family obligations are few and far between.

Ms Almansoori, 35, has a degree, communicates well in Arabic and English, and wants to contribute to her family’s financial well-being.

So in 2014, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) devised a solution for Emirati women, like Ms Almansoori, which allows her to put in a 20-hour working week for the bank from a small office she has set up in her own home – and when it suits her best.

“I feel comfortable working from home, and I feel I can juggle everything,” she says. “My family is also happy because I can still be there when my children need me.”

ADCB’s journey to becoming the first Emirati company to pioneer a part-time, flexible and home-based working culture began in 2008, when it opened the country’s first contact centre fully staffed by Emirati women in Al Ain.

The centre, which began with 25 women and now has 60, enabled women from more traditional families to join the workforce. Its success has led to three other large organisations subsequently open their own all female-Emirati contact centres in the city.

But the women at those centres work full-time shift patterns and ADCB’s chief executive, Ala’a Eraiqat, wanted to go a step further.

“I myself felt, through my wife and sisters, when they had children, that there are plenty of ladies who want to work and who are qualified to work but the only jobs available are full-time jobs,” he says. “We fantasised about creating an opportunity where we could get flexibility around work.”

Mr Eraiqat tasked a team to research work models that could solve the issue. They came up with an all-female centre where women could work part time, and could also choose to do so from their own homes. “It was a big challenge to make this project commercially viable,” he says. “We didn’t want it to be like charity work.”

More importantly, Mr Eraiqat says, a “substantial investment” was made to fully ensure that secured technology was in place to allow the project to happen.

The software made the process paperless and remote, with the women handed laptops they could work on at any time as long as they put in 20 hours a week. But there were legal challenges to overcome before the project went live.

“We were restricted in the contractual legal laws,” he says. “We were constantly asking ourselves ‘will this be perceived correctly’, and ‘will this actually achieve our aims’ – the tension was genuinely felt.”

The Tamoorah Centre opened in Al Ain’s Remal mall in June 2014 with an initial staff of 100 women. It has since grown to 134 women – 40 of them work from home. There is also a micro-centre in Ruwais for 10 women workers.

Nora Alkatheeri, 25, from Al Ain, works from home, allowing her to care for her one-year-old.

“I work when my child is asleep,” she says.

“If this job didn’t exist, then I would not work at all because I don’t want to be dependent on a maid to take care of my family. It makes me feel more valued, because I can contribute to my family.”

Fellow working mother Amna Mubarak Al Badi, 31, has five children, one with special needs. “I can get my children ready for school in the mornings,” she says. “Sometimes a specialist medical team comes to my home to see my son, and I can be with him at those times.”

Ms Albadi concedes that her children can also be a distraction: “But I always tell them that I am working now, so don’t interrupt me.”

Voice team supervisor Mariam Al Muhairi can monitor the productivity of her employees remotely.

“If someone has logged in but is not taking calls, you can see,” she says. “It shows if there was a system error, and if they are on breaks, they have to specify why – for coffee, lunch, or meetings, for example. The system also shows all the ladies who are the top performers each week, to keep them motivated.”

Although the home workers are not required to work in the centre unless they have training or meetings, many pop in to catch up with colleagues in the centre’s majlis-styled social area.

Ms Almuhairi says the atmosphere in the centre is very caring compared to a mixed workplace. “If somebody is down we will help them,” she says. “We have a range of ages and the older females tend to care for the younger ones.”

Mr Eraiqat also praises the positive energy at the centre. But, he adds with a smile: “Like any place with over 100 ladies working there, it can never be heaven all the time.”

On a more serious note though, he says no ADCB initiative can happen unless it is commercially viable within the first 36 months.

“We were happy to relax this rule on this occasion,” he says. “In the long term, when you add both the social returns and the commercial returns, this is something we will be proud of for the rest of our lives.”

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