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Without a doubt, the way we work has changed and continues to change rapidly due to technological advancements, societal shifts, and environmental concerns. The Middle East, known for its rich cultural and economic diversity, is no different, and is subsequently undergoing significant changes on its own that are reshaping traditional work methods across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

From digital transformation to more sustainable business practices, evolving workplace trends in the Middle East are what keep organisations successful. While these trends are still developing, however, it is important to keep an eye on them to identify potential opportunities for growth, innovation, and improvement.

To provide you with more insight, we review the workplace trends to monitor in the Middle East this year.


1. The Remote Work Revolution

The Middle East is witnessing a significant shift in attitudes towards remote work, according to Forbes. Remote work has made a lasting impression and has triggered changes in the way people approach work in the Middle East, with hybrid models gaining popularity.

Remote work typically refers to working entirely from home or any other location outside the traditional office, while hybrid work involves a combination of remote work and in-office work. In the Middle East, both models have gained traction, reflecting a diversity of approaches to accommodate different preferences and business requirements. The positive aspects of remote work include:

  • increased flexibility
  • improved work-life balance
  • the potential for cost savings

On the other hand, hybrid models provide a middle ground, this approach recognizes the value of face-to-face interactions for team building, creativity, and maintaining company culture.

According to a Middle East survey by Michael Page , about 81% of respondents feel they can do their job well from home, and observe that more job roles are being offered with remote work options now than in recent years.

Additionally, the shift towards remote work has allowed individuals to calculate the potential impact on their compensation and benefits. Surprisingly, a significant portion of the workforce, around 64%, perceives the transition to remote work as a positive factor for their overall remuneration. Indeed, remote work often comes with cost savings for both employees and employers. Without the need for a daily commute, employees can save on transportation expenses, such as fuel or public transportation costs.

The adoption of remote work post-Covid proved its viability and popularized working from home (WFH) in the Middle East. Thus, despite a surge in demand for office space in regions like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a hybrid work model is emerging, offering more flexibility in high-traffic cities such as Dubai or Riyadh.

Furthermore, studies have shown a rise in productivity and well-being due to remote work. For instance, Melissa Whitehead, a Dubai resident working remotely in public relations, has mentioned that remote work has helped improve her productivity and her overall wellbeing.

2. Wellbeing as a Priority is Evolving

UAE companies are prioritizing employee wellbeing, but in a more significant way than in previous years. By adhering to the Ministry of Human Resources & Emiratization guidelines, organisations are offering more comprehensive mental health support, and offering flexible working hours while also implementing new regulations such as:

  • A new voluntary End-of-Service Gratuity Scheme, allowing employers to invest in licensed funds for employees' benefits, aiming to protect against inflation, insolvency, and bankruptcy.

  • The Anti-Discrimination Law prohibits contempt of religions, discrimination, and extremism, including hate speech.

Companies are strategically adapting to these regulations, prioritizing employee wellbeing, and reshaping workspaces for a balanced mix of both physical and remote collaboration.

Chalhoub Group, for instance, the largest retail operator in the Middle East, prioritizes employee well-being by creating a supportive community through their app, MyChalhoub. This app, with over 2,000 active members, encourages communication and collaboration among employees. The company also offers benefits such as enhanced familial leave, upgraded medical insurance, and conducts surveys for continuous improvement as part of the employees' journey.

Chalhoub Group’s 'people-first' approach is all about empowering employees. Recognised as a "Great Place to Work®" across 5 GCC countries, its initiatives such as community events and well-being programs highlights their commitment to employee wellness, work-life balance and engagement.

Moreover, Chalhoub Group maintains its dedication to a hybrid flexible working culture, allowing employees one month of working from abroad and introducing two days off for frontliners, which would previously work six days a week. The group has launched a Wellbeing Academy and established a full-time wellness clinic in its offices in KSA as part of a larger wellbeing strategy to improve mental, physical, social, and financial health.


3. Upskilling Initiatives in Line With Technological Investments

Digital transformation is integrating the finest and latest technology into business operations and streamlining processes. In 2024, a main priority for organisations will be training and upskilling their employees to improve the critical digital skills necessary to remain marketable in this fast-changing digital landscape.    

In Bernard Ma’s video about eight future of work trends for 2024, for example, the speaker emphasizes AI being the number one trend in digital transformation, however, he mentions certain limitations that remain challenging within the AI landscape, including : a lack of human sentiments (e.g. empathy and common sense), skill loss in humans, lack of creativity and innovation, and AI’s limited understanding of context That said, human beings will need to learn to adapt and collaborate with AI, making an effort to understand its capabilities while also leveraging the opportunity to enhance their own skills and productivity.

 In fact, Middle eastern businesses and governments are investing in upskilling in the region to provide more products and services to cater to the working population in the inevitably changing world of work. These investments include:

  • Personalized AI learning platforms tailored to different employee needs
  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) training experiences
  • AI chatbots that provide support for upskilling queries
  • Predictive analytics that allow employers to preview the results of proactive upskilling initiatives
  • AI recommendation systems that suggest relevant learning resources

This strategic focus on upskilling and technological advancements in the Middle East not only caters to the evolving demographics of the workforce but also manifests in transformative projects and initiatives across various sectors. Some examples include:

  • 5G networks to develop a smart city
  • Internet of Things (IoT) implementation in retail for personalized shopping experiences
  • Data analytics in retail and e-commerce for consumer behaviour insights
  • AI and machine learning adoption, especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with a focus on automation
  • AR and VR particularly in healthcare and real estate
  • Facial recognition for a passport-free travel
  • Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) recent investment of Dhs350m to upgrade its Nol card-based transportation ticketing system
  • Initiating the first cross-border payment using the UAE Central Bank's digital currency, 'Digital Dirham,' amounting to Dh50 million

4. A Focus on Continuous Learning

The rise of AI and automation is endangering many traditional jobs. It is also shifting employers’ outlooks and expectations. Employers are now looking for a purpose-driven and diverse, workforce who can combine their soft skills with more technical digital skills to keep up with market demands and close the skills gap.  To achieve this, the Middle East is first turning inward to their existing employees to create opportunities for them to develop by exposing individuals to a variety of skill sets within their organization.

However, where internal development falls short, employees are also taking their learning and development into their own hands by utilizing distance learning providers, for example, who will provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a competitive market. These qualification range from prestigious HR courses with the Chartered institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), for example, to more IT-focused courses like cybersecurity.

The benefits of a professional qualification are vast, including increased confidence and adaptability, however, their ability to drive your career forward is impressive, often helping people not only advance in their current career, but giving them the leverage they need to start a new one, should they be looking to do so.

Fearn’s story is an example of how qualifications can open new career paths but also contribute to professional development. Since enrolling on the CIPD Level 3 Foundation Certificate in People Practice, Fearn’s aim was to change her career from finance to human resources. The flexibility of her course, supportive tutors, and a community of fellow students made her learning experience positive, even during a period of surgery.


5. Sustainable Business Practices

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are becoming essentials for 2024’s business strategies. Apart from diversifying workforce, supporting the employees training and development, closing the pay gap between different nationalities and genders, organisations must manage the environmental impact by establishing a new code of ethics.

Organisations within all industries should integrate a culture of sustainability into their business model. Points of focus should be reducing their carbon footprint, sourcing from ethical suppliers, and more substantial energy conservation. Organisations owners and stakeholders are required to shift their values and mindset to stay ahead of competition, through:

  • Core Sustainability: by innovating and transforming the overall organisation, operations, and supply chain for sustainability.

  • Sustainable Growth: by developing new offerings as well as collaboration with green suppliers and partners for sustainable growth.

Considering the global emphasis on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, global leaders gathered in Dubai for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in November 2023, discussing the urgent actions in the fight against climate change. Businesses were encouraged to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and supply chains. Moreover, partnerships were brought out to inspire innovation as well as accelerate the implementation of green technologies. Within the collaboration, COP28 partnered with small and medium sized (SME) Climate Hub and We Mean Business Coalition to launch a program. This program helps SMEs in the Middle East and North Africa implement strategies to achieve net-zero emissions. It offers free tools and resources for businesses to commit to climate goals, reduce emissions, report progress, and aim for net-zero by 2050.


Following Trends for Sustainable Success

Adapting to change is crucial for long-term success in the Middle Eastern workplace. In the future, workplaces will use new technology, and how we work will keep on changing due to rapid changing economic trends. As we move forward, the integration of new technologies will continue to reshape the way we work, making it important for businesses and employees to stay agile and adaptable to change. The future workplace in the Middle East is expected to be influenced by artificial intelligence, automation, and digital tools. Embracing these technological innovations can lead to increased efficiency, streamlined processes, and enhanced productivity. Indeed, companies that proactively adopt and integrate such tools into their operations are likely to stay ahead of the competition in an evolving business environment.

Elevate your career by enrolling in a professional qualification with Acacia Learning today.