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2 ½ day workweek – Coping with Weekends in the Middle East

Ali - April 30, 2015 - 0 comments

The Problem

As a part of my work, I’m in direct contact with accounts in Turkey and a number of countries in the Middle East. Being located in Turkey means that I “enjoy” Saturdays and Sundays as my days off, but in UAE, for example, Fridays and Saturdays are holidays. To make the matters more complicated, Iranian weekend is on Thursdays and Fridays, limiting the workable days between these countries to just 3 days, from Monday to Wednesday. Add to it about 2 hours of timezone difference and you’ll end up with almost 2 ½ days of common workweek, especially if you need to work with banks and government offices.

Band-aid Solutions; More Problems

To mitigate this issue people doing business in this part of the world often resort to the following:

  • sacrificing their own downtime to cope with conflicting weekends
  • using alternative channels of communication, such as:
    • personal mobile numbers and email addresses, and
    • messaging apps and social networks such as WhatsApp and Viber.

This organic and uncontrolled way of communication, causes interesting yet predictable dynamics to emerge around the issue of 2 ½ day workweek:

  • People feel the need to respond to emails/calls during weekends based on their organizational hierarchy. To my experience higher ranking staff tend to respond quicker as they often have more at stake. Others usually take the “Not my problem” route and wait until they go to work, which could be a Saturday, Sunday, or a Monday based on where they live.
  • Reciprocity is rare. If a team member feels the need to respond promptly and not stall work, their sacrifice is unlikely to be rewarded with quick response from the peers.
  • Employers hardly appreciate the staff who sacrifice their much deserved downtime and often consider it employees’ duty to be responsive round-the-clock.
  • Families of employees do not appreciate such (often routine) sacrifices.
  • Gradually chronic side-effects come to surface, such as:
    • lower efficiency of directly or indirectly impacted business processes
    • employee burnout and attrition caused by disappearing work-life balance
    • increased information chaos due to widened and unmanaged communication channels, and
    • increased business risk caused by all of the above.

Seeking a Practical Solution

We can’t change the system. We can only hope that those few countries with non Saturday-Sunday weekends change it for the sake of efficiency and sanity. But that itself means years of planning at government level and millions of dollars spent on something that may or may not work.

Given the current state of constraints, our team has adopted a number of easy and practical ways to lower the impacts of the 2 ½ day workweek:

  • Reciprocity – Employees who communicate internationally must respect their counterparts’ extra work. If your peer in the other company is responsive to your communication, return the favour by being responsive to their requests.
  • Timezone Awareness – You can’t expect everybody to respond to your calls and emails outside their working hours. If you send an urgent request at 5:45pm (destination time) chances are you won’t get the response you were hoping for on time.
    An easy way to mitigate this is to add all the timezones you are working with to a world clock app on your smartphone and check the destination time in advance. After some time your brain will work with different timezones effortlessly.
  • Delegation – Plan realistic and rotating shifts for employees who are in constant contact with international offices. Sharing tasks and alternating weekends, even among executives, could prove quite useful.
  • Collaboration – Practical collaboration often seems so unattainable, but with proper time management, right attitude, and the right tools international teams can work seamlessly.
  • Information Management – Have strong information and communication policies in place. You don’t want employees to use personal emails for work-related communications. Provide them with business-only smartphones if necessary and govern every shred of information transmitted.
  • Reward Programs – Make sure your employees know that you appreciate their extra efforts. Occasional time-offs and little promotions go a long way.
  • Balance – Employers should be cognizant of the staff who overwork and are in danger of a burnout. Not paying attention to work-life balance may cause irreversible damages to both business and personal lives.
  • Change Management – Employees are naturally used to 5-day workweeks. You can’t expect to throw a new set of rules at your employees and they get onboard immediately. It takes time for everybody to tweak their routine. Having a plan and being patient and consistent during any transition is the key to achieve goals.

None of the above are new concepts or disruptive ideas. The point is to put these well-known (and less utilized) methods in practice while coaching the team and yourself to overcome the challenges of 2 ½ day workweek.

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