In the Spotlight: The Middle East

The Middle East represents one of the most diversified economies. Its fast-paced transformation over the last decade has been earning the area attention and increasing the opportunities for business. According to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ADTCA), the business travel market is expected to double in value by 2020, reaching nearly $1.4 billion. Olivier Warmerdam, Manager, Client Services, in BGRS’s Dubai office shares his expertise and experience living and working in the Middle East.

What are some of the key business considerations for companies moving talent into or across the Middle East?

Olivier Warmerdam: The Middle East is still an emerging market. Many are surprised to learn that 15 years ago there wasn’t much of an international business presence here. It’s an exciting time with tremendous growth in this region, but learning to understand their culture and business practices is critical.

In the Middle East building relationships based on mutual respect is essential for successful business partnerships. A large part of the culture is a person’s reputation. As a result, saving face is an important element and ensuring that individuals do not feel blamed or at fault is important. Many clients from other regions, who come to work in this region must learn a new level of compromise and patience; solutions take longer to determine and decision making takes time. Ensuring no one feels like their reputation is comprised is paramount, while directness is common in other areas of the world.

Another consideration is setting accurate expectations. For example, the UAE is perceived as a wealthy region with great opulence. When most people picture the UAE, they envision the city centers or the tallest structure in the world – the Burj Khalifa; however, the surrounding areas are more diverse. So, managing employees’ expectations about living and working outside of the city centers is important.

With more than 10 years’ experience, working around the world, in the Netherlands and China, what are the greatest differences in managing talent mobility in the Middle East compared to other regions?

Olivier: I have had the opportunity to work in countries with very different cultures and traditions. I think the most important aspect of the Middle Eastern region is respecting the balance they have between Sharia (religious) law and general (western) practices.

Customs and appropriate behavior here can vary from what is considered common practices in other regions. In this region, clients and their relocating employees must understand what is acceptable and what might be offensive or inappropriate; something as simple as clothing or a handshake can be disrespectful. For example, trailing spouses and partners can encounter unexpected challenges including communication styles and cultural differences. According to Sharia law, unmarried couple are prohibited from living together and public displays of affection, such as holding hands or hugging, are not well-tolerated. Ultimately, up-front education is key so assignees and clients working here can have positive experiences and be successful.

How would you describe the business culture there?

Olivier: The business culture in the Middle East is still considered to be in its infancy; however, it’s growing at a rapid pace and increasing in diversity. This region has a large expat population. Here in Dubai around 85% of the population is not local. So, respect describes the business culture best; respecting each other’s diversity and learning how to work together whether you are native or an expat.

Building relationships is key to successful business in this region and there are three important elements that I would suggest being mindful of:

  • Work face-to-face whenever possible – in-person interactions are advisable as they build trust more effectively.
  • Understand how to communicate effectively – develop a personal foundation from which the business partnership can continue to grow.
  • Be patient – It will take time and patience to build quality relationship.

Living and working in Dubai for a few years now, what are some sites you might recommend to relocating employees?

Olivier: I will admit it seems that I’ve focused on many challenges, but this country, and this city, is beautiful. I’ve found the people to be warm, interesting and easy to work with. There are so many landmarks I would recommend employees visit while they are here, but two are the Dubai Marina and the desert.

The man-made marina, established in 2003, is most impressive because it used to be desert-land. Built along the Persian Gulf shoreline, it is a canal city. It’s a beautiful place to walk around and see Dubai’s beauty. On the other hand, when coming to the middle east, anyone would be remiss if they didn’t experience the desert. Driving through the endless sand dunes is unique to this region and is unforgettable.

Learn more about business practices in the middle east, here.