Expats make up 85% of Qatar’s population, therefore, there is no single business culture. The way business is conducted varies depending on the people and culture of the organization you are dealing with. Therefore, you will need to be flexible, adaptable, and open-minded when doing business there.
That said, there are some important things you should know as an expat working in Qatar.
1. The working week runs from Sunday to Thursday
Working hours in Qatar are quite different to western countries, which may take some adjusting to as an expat. Most public and private sector offices work from Sunday to Thursday and private companies normally operate from 08.00 to 18.00.
The maximum work week is 48 hours, or 60 hours if overtime is paid. During Ramadan, Muslims work a maximum of 36 hours a week. It is also important to know that flexible hours or remote working is not common practice in Qatar.
2. Locals and expats are often treated differently
In some organizations in Qatar, an ‘us and them’ culture exists between locals and expats. For instance, Qataris are often prioritized for promotions and training budgets will be weighed in favour of nationals. This is largely due to the government’s Qatarization policy (part of Qatar National Vision 2030) where companies must recruit and develop local talent over expats.
In the office itself, expats are generally treated differently, according to their nationality. Western expats, for example, typically command higher salaries than their Asian colleagues.
3. Business meetings are generally informal
One important cultural things to be aware of is that meetings and office environments in Qatar tend to be fairly relaxed and informal. For instance, meetings might not have an agenda, or someone taking minutes. They might also start later than scheduled and there may be several interruptions along the way, such as phone calls.
While this might feel somewhat frustrating as an expat, it is best to just go with the flow when it comes to business meetings in Qatar.
4. Politics, religion, and the Royal Family are taboo subjects
While locals enjoy small talk and a good chat, discussing local politics, religion, or the Royal Family are definite no no’s unless you are invited to comment, which is rare. That said, locals are used to dealing with expats and you are unlikely to cause any offense if it is clearly unintended.
However, there are faux pas to be avoided. For instance, you should never show the soles of your feet, openly argue a sensitive point with your host (especially in the presence of others), or raise your voice.
5. Business networking is a sociable affair
The lines between business and pleasure are often blurred in the Qatar expat community. Entertaining might extend to a round of golf, a Friday brunch, a bar, or a social club.
Companies in Qatar might also organize team-building exercises outside the office to create opportunities to socialize. Doha, in particular, is a business-minded city, and therefore a lot of networking happens there. Luxury hotel lobbies are awash with suited businesspeople chatting over a cup of qahwa (traditional Arabic coffee).
Interesting related article: “What is Networking?“