Author: Basil Moftah, General Partner at Global Ventures
Published on MAGNiTT.
The lasting impact of COVID-19 is not yet clear, but some interesting trends and ideas on how work will be conducted in the future have already started to emerge.
Working from home is here to stay
The rise in home working has been welcomed by many employees. There are no more crowded buses or trains, no more traffic jams and more time to spend with your family. Many workers have become more productive and are welcoming an increase in trust and autonomy. However, there are downsides to this ‘new normal’ as well. Collaboration and innovation can suffer, employees may feel isolated, and managers often feel a lack of control. Potential distractions are everywhere when you work from home. It takes a lot of discipline to focus on a job with your family in the house, which can impact productivity as well as business performance.
However, in spite of any home-working challenges, the trend is set to rise. Google and Facebook have announced that their staff can work from home until the end of the year, while Twitter have gone a step further and told their workforce that they can work from home "forever" as the company looks towards the future. In MENA, the Dubai Future Foundation predicts that remote working will be “the new norm” in the UAE in the long-term and that company policies will adapt to reflect the change.
Eventually, when we look back on how businesses survived during this pandemic, one of the standout enablers will be technology. Distributed teams have become possible thanks to tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom that let people collaborate wherever their location. They provide organizations with the opportunity to find the best employees from a global pool. During an investor call at the end of April, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed that Teams has grown to more than 75 million daily active users.
A shift in the workforce
COVID-19 has also accelerated the trend towards a changing workforce. In 2018, the global gig economy generated US$204 billion in gross volume and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17% to reach a gross volume of US$455 billion by 2021. For workers, this means that they are increasingly using their skills with several different employers to make a living. For business owners, it presents a compelling alternative to full-time staff, allowing them to efficiently manage their manpower needs through seasonal business cycles. The future is likely to be a mixture of full-time employees and on-demand contractors, as well as part-time and other contingent workers.
With this in mind, at Global Ventures, we were pleased to recently complete a US$870,000 Pre-Series A equity round with Ogram, a UAE-based ‘human-cloud’ platform. Ogram offers on-demand temporary staffing solutions for on-site manpower, acting as a freelance marketplace connecting temporary workers to jobs in food & beverage, hospitality, retail, e-commerce, and logistics sectors, amongst others. The company solves staffing challenges such as limited access to reliable employees, lengthy and costly onboarding processes for temporary workers, and a lack of availability of staff at short notice.
“Our mission is to push the global labor market towards a more flexible modus operandi, shaping the future of the gig economy - with no better place to start than our home in the UAE.” Shafiq Khartabil, Co-Founder and CEO of Ogram.
It's time to pivot
Beyond work, COVID-19 is presenting many opportunities as businesses are starting to pivot so that they can continue to serve their customers, or contribute in an entirely different way. Across the world, we are witnessing fitness studios being transformed into virtual classes and carmakers such as Ford, General Motors, and Tesla working to manufacture medical equipment.
Closer to home, the crisis seems to have brought out the entrepreneurial spirit in the MENA startup ecosystem. Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) is a good example of this; when demand for their cinemas collapsed because of the crisis, the company moved quickly. In two days, it reskilled and redeployed more than 1,000 employees from its cinema and shopping malls to the grocery-retailing business where demand was growing.
Alongside this, technology is changing the nature of jobs. In Dubai, the first ‘Hydroponic’ in-store farms have recently opened at Carrefour, operated by MAF. The idea enables locally grown agricultural products to be sold in Carrefour stores in the UAE using innovative farming methods. The farms use 90% less water and less space than traditional farms to deliver around 25kg of fresh herbs and microgreens a day.
Embracing cloud technology
Cloud will continue to revolutionize the way businesses operate, especially when it comes to startups. Last year, Microsoft and Oracle launched data centers in the UAE, adding to existing UAE centers offered by SAP and Alibaba Cloud. Amazon Web Services (AWS) also unveiled its first Middle Eastern data center in Bahrain. Government initiatives such as Smart Dubai, Smart Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain’s Cloud First Policy of 2019 has also bolstered cloud adoption. Public cloud services revenue in MENA will total nearly $3 billion in 2020, an increase of 21% year over year, according to Gartner, Inc.
By embracing cloud technology, startups can scale quickly, supporting the increasingly rapid pace of product development and the need to swiftly bring products to market. Businesses across the Middle East, such as Careem, Anghami, Boutiqaat, and Mrsool have been able to grow and innovate quickly and seamlessly underpinned by their secure and flexible cloud infrastructure.
The American fiction author William Gibson said, “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” COVID-19 may have made the business environment less certain, but there is a lot that entrepreneurs and startups can do to build on current trends and create a successful future. At Global Ventures, we back founders creating innovative and disruptive companies. The entrepreneur’s success is our success.