How can the Middle Eastern workplace create a great experience for all to drive innovation?

Research Project Name

Middle East Workplace Survey 2020

What We Did

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of the Middle East are diversifying — economically, culturally, and demographically — and changes in the workplace are underway. Organisations are forecasting institutional changes, proactively creating the balance between tradition, local identities, and global shifts in values. Labor participation rates for women and young workers are on the rise. Expats not only comprise a large share of an organisation’s employees, but hold the technological knowledge the region needs to evolve.

Market challenges loom in the Middle East. Rising real estate costs are driving conversations around the efficient use of office space. Alternative work environments, such as coworking spaces and hotels, are increasingly used by a large cohort of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and boutique-style businesses. To streamline operations, many large organisations are consolidating their workplaces into one location.

The region is positioning to overcome challenges. From Dubai to Abu Dhabi, massive developments are building next-generation workplaces, establishing the benchmarks for technology, amenities, and the overall experience that workers may come to expect in the region.

The Middle Eastern workplace is performing well, but only for locals. The Middle East leads its global peers in workplace performance, as measured by Gensler’s Workplace Performance Index (WPI) — or a tool that measures and aggregates behavioural, spatial, interactive, and cultural variables. However, each global region has its unique challenges to overcome. The United States lacks private workspace; the shared office in Germany is prevalent, but low-performing; the work-life imbalance in Japan is pressing employers to reconsider how the work environment impacts traditional norms. Workplaces in the Middle East are no different. In this region, key opportunities arise at the integration of distinct expat and local communities. But it comes with the pressures of efficiency and global standards that may shift the workplace paradigm away from its current reliance on high-performing workplace typologies and features that may soon be inefficient and outdated.

Rolling changes through the GCC mean a new focus on knowledge sharing. Pressure is mounting for the GCC to build a diversified economy. Market indicators show signs of progress, as a growing share of the region’s performance is represented by non-oil businesses. In our workplace survey, we included a mix representative of the growing industry diversity in the region. Further, we acknowledged the increasing diversity of the individuals at the workplace. The GCC relies heavily on workers emigrating from other countries — and these workers experience their environments differently than their local counterparts. The implications for the workplace are developing. Not only must organisations recognize a diverse workforce, they must also accommodate new vehicles for collaboration in a global economy through concepts such as desk sharing, hoteling, and other flexible work type options. The region has a strong social infrastructure based on privacy, hierarchy, and transparency, which must accompany any change to more open, connected environments.

Workplace performance is built on balance, and it is a key driver of innovation. By Gensler’s topline metrics, Middle East workplaces are succeeding. The region has the highest WPI score among global regions we’ve studied. From the effectiveness and functionality of workspaces to creating a culture of transparency and autonomy, the Middle East is rivaling — if not outperforming — its global peers. One driver of this success is balance, or the prioritisation of both focus and collaborative work. Currently, the Middle East leads other global regions in creating this type of workplace versatility workers need.

Innovation and performance tend to operate in concert. The Middle East workplaces that have high performance and effectiveness also score highly on our innovation index, or a composite of six critical questions that measure how a workplace supports, encourages, and creates strategies for new ideas and thought leadership.

Learn More


Christine Barber, Diane Thoreson, Tim Martin, Michelle DeCurtis, Isabel Kraut, Tim Pittman, Kyle Sellers, Laura Latham, Minjung Lee