With one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Qatar is in the midst of a huge development push. Turbo-charged by massive gas riches and a development frenzy ahead of the 2022 World Cup football tournament, the country has been booming for a decade. And with expats making up 85% of the population, Qatar is a very attractive option when it comes to starting a business or relocating for work.
If you are considering moving to Qatar, understanding the local business culture is essential if you want to capitalize on opportunities in this vibrant Gulf nation. And while the way business is conducted varies depending on the people and culture of the organization you are dealing with, there is certain etiquette that is important to know as an expat.
For starters, you should be mindful that working hours in Qatar may be vastly different to what you are used to. Unlike in western countries, most public and private sector offices work from Sunday to Thursday and private companies normally operate from 08.00 to 18.00. Furthermore, the maximum work week is 48 hours, or 60 hours if overtime is paid. But during Ramadan, Muslims work a maximum of 36 hours a week. It is also worth noting that flexible hours or remote working is not common practice in Qatar. All of these factors may take some adjusting to if you come from a country with a stronger work-life balance.
Despite the strong work ethic, business networking in Qatar remains a sociable affair. As a result, the lines between business and pleasure can often feel blurred in the expat community. In the business-minded capital of Doha, for instance, luxury hotel lobbies are often awash with suited businesspeople chatting over a cup of qahwa. Similarly, it is not unheard of for companies in Qatar to organize team-building exercises outside of the office to create opportunities for colleagues to socialize. Meanwhile, entertaining clients can often involve playing a round of golf, enjoying an afternoon brunch, or visiting to a social club.
This level of conviviality extends to business meeting, too, which tend to be fairly relaxed and informal. There might not be an agenda, for example, or someone taking minutes. They might also start later than scheduled, which could be down to people arriving late or for time to exchange friendly small talk. There may also be several interruptions, such as phone calls, along the way. While this may appear rude to a newly-arrived expat, it’s important to remember that this is merely cultural. Therefore, try to remain calm and hide any frustrations. Essentially, it is best to just go with the flow when it comes to meetings.
This is particularly important to remember within the office environment where an ‘us and them’ culture can often exist between locals and expats. For instance, it is becoming increasingly common that Qataris are prioritized for promotions and training budgets are weighed in favor of nationals. This is not necessarily down to prejudice, however, but rather to the pressures placed on organizations by the government to recruit and develop local talent over expats (as part of Qatar National Vision 2030). In the office itself, expats can be treated differently too, according to their nationality. Western expats, for example, typically command higher salaries than their Asian colleagues. Again, this can take some getting used to as an expat entering the world of work in Qatar.