Osama Al-Zoubi

By Osama Al-Zoubi, Cisco CTO for Middle East and Africa
The Future of Work: What about non-office jobs?

COVID-19 had an immediate and profound impact on people working in offices. Cisco’s Workforce of the Future survey shows that the resulting strategic and cultural shifts – often referred to as the “next normal” – are here to stay.

Across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia (EMEAR) while only 5% of respondents worked from home most of the time before the lockdown, now, 87% want greater ownership in defining how and when they use the office space.  This builds the case for greater investments in digital transformation, such as unified communications tools. But what about those who do not work in an office environment – who still represent a significant portion of the working population?

From the conveyor belt to the first computers, technology advances enabled industrialization and the emergence of the service industry. These technologies typically required people to gather in large places – factory halls, hospitals or department stores to do their work. Today, digitization creates whole new industries and roles. It also gives people more choice as to where they work.  Work becomes, once again, an activity, rather than a place.


As schools around the world were forced to close and 1.5 billion children found themselves removed from the physical classroom, education was dramatically transformed via the help of connected classrooms, with e-learning and digital whiteboard solutions. 

Saudi Arabia has long understood and invested in smart learning initiatives, with The Ministry of Education keen to ensure access to quality education remains accessible to all. As the pandemic took hold, national leadership worked with leading collaboration technology providers to ensure access to education remained possible and recently, the Kingdom was identified as ‘one of the fastest countries’ to respond to educational emergencies set forth by COVID-19.

While countries are striving to keep schools open and Saudi Arabia in particular shows great resilience, we must also be prepared for long-term distance and hybrid learning – as parents and children demand greater choice. With a global shortage of teachers in STEM, the future may see teachers delivering lecturers to multiple classes at the same time, with video technologies essential to tackling this. 


Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda aims to accelerate the digital transformation of healthcare systems by encouraging new partnerships between the public and private sector. As part of our Country Digital Acceleration program, Cisco is collaborating with leading healthcare bodies in the Kingdom to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the sector through the use of digital services. 

Saudi Arabia continues to make fast progress in the digital hospitals and e-health sphere. Back in 2019, the Ministry of Health unveiled the free e-health platform, MAWID – reimagining access to quality healthcare. Recent reports note that more than 14 million users have registered to the app and more than 60 million appointments have been made through it. 

Health and social development are key sectors for the Kingdom, accounting for the third-largest share of the country’s budget expenditure in 2020. Nations the world over are also recognizing the importance to adapt and invest in digital business transformation. In the US, the percentage of consumers using telehealth increased from 11 to 46 percent, in less than a year. Sweden’s KRY International, one of Europe’s biggest telehealth providers, reported that registrations were up more than 200 percent. France and Korea have changed regulations to ease access to telemedicine. 

The future of healthcare must leverage technology to take this a step further. As far back as 2001, surgeons in New York removed the gallbladder of a patient in France utilizing a remote-controlled robotic system. With technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality becoming more mature, the promise of remote surgery could finally become a reality.


During the crisis, manufacturing plants had to close and send people home. After introducing strict hygienic measures, many of them reopened. As factory workers return to operate production lines, digital transformation technology is helping them re-adjust to a new work environment. Our developers at Cisco Meraki, together with our partners, have quickly come up with new use cases for Wi-Fi-connected smart security cameras. These are no longer used for surveillance only, but also to monitor that people are wearing personal protective equipment and abiding by social distancing regulations.

Increasing levels of automation and the use of IoT sensors and robots are also leading to ongoing shifts in manufacturing job profiles. Preventive and predictive maintenance, for instance, is becoming a widespread practice in production plants and the oil and gas industry, with tasks that can be fulfilled also remotely. 

Entertainment and Culture

As arenas, cinemas and museums closed, many started to connect with their audiences via digital experiences. Theatres offered recordings of former performances via video streaming free of charge or for a small subscription fee, museums offered virtual tours and musicians played for fans via social media. Given all the virtual performances, we have now even added Music Mode to Webex – ensuring those all-important sounds are captured in all their glory. While we all hope to be able to enjoy the arts we love in the traditional places, new forms to connect with audiences, and the funding models that evolved, will be here to stay.


There is no doubt that even prior to the pandemic, we were seeing signification shifts in the retail sector. However, the trend from offline to online digital experiences has certainly been accelerated during this time. For the future, businesses that want to remain competitive will  continue to seek new ways of delivering online services, even if they maintain a brick-and mortar stores, and there will be further enhancements to logistics and delivery systems to accommodate newfound and continuous surges in demand.

For those working in retail, this may require a change in skillset, as online retail demands more administrative staff to process orders, work in customer care, or warehouses delivery. 

Looking Ahead

Whichever industry one considers, it is clear that all have been transformed by the pandemic – at varying degrees. For some, the situation merely caused a slight acceleration in an already ongoing process. For others, it became a real wake-up call and caused decisionmakers to reimagine their business models. As we continue to explore the future of work, it remains crucial to embrace digitization and understand its true impact and implications, which stem far beyond the home office.

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