Freelancers or independent professionals have turned out to be cost-effective options for businesses as they provide specialised skills and are adept at working remotely The Covid-19 pandemic has caused economic disruption in varying degrees since the outset. It has chocked industries across the globe with businesses bearing the brunt as they continue to downsize and stall expansion plans. Slowdown in activity have necessitated a shift in survival strategies for many smaller companies, especially through adopting hybrid business models for managing infrastructure, process and their staffing needs. Businesses have started leveraging outsourcing services, while collaborating with independent consultants and freelancers to remain competitive and maintain operational efficiency. The shift to mass remote working have led to companies re-evaluating the structure of their workforces and gain flexible access to skills. As such, the current crisis has brought in a host of exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs to ideate across new verticals, and offer freelance solutions to meet the pent-up demand from corporates and industries alike. Cost-effective options Freelancers or independent professionals have turned out to be cost-effective options for businesses as they provide specialised skills and are adept at working remotely. Amidst the pandemic, freelancing remains aspirational as working remotely is going mainstream. Companies stand to gain experts who can be productive almost immediately while maximising value through their specialised skillset. The GCC stands as a prototype to this business model, with high levels of entrepreneurial activity witnessed across the region. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are fast becoming hubs for analytics and tech-driven businesses, and have been encouraging more individuals to engage in entrepreneurial activity to spur the economy. With the onset of Covid-19, such activity received heightened impetus as lockdowns forced the closures of physical facilities, making large companies willing to facilitate remote shifts and explore collaborations with independent workers. Accordingly, remote working and working from home has taken centerstage, paving the way for new business models and bringing along a host of freelancing opportunities. Importance of entrepreneurial freelancing A June 2020 poll conducted in the Mena region showed 79 per cent of respondents favouring virtual communication prospects, while 89 per cent were confident in companies’ preference for independent and remote work by employees, strongly reiterating the significance of freelancers in the region. The diminishing need for large physical offices and workspaces has also lowered cost burdens for people looking to start their businesses. This, in turn, is driving the trend of remote working, while also presenting freelancing as an attractive prospect for future growth. The UAE has been especially privy to the importance of entrepreneurial freelancing, and has accordingly introduced policies that promote the importance of such individuals towards the economy. The nation’s conducive business climate is accentuated by a framework of targeted incentives such as exemptions from corporate and personal income taxation, low trade import duties across the board, legal safety, currency stability, limited government intervention and more, offered by local governments. Its focus on investing into infrastructure and technology, along with its aim to attract foreign investment also makes it an incredible launch pad for entrepreneurial activity. The UAE has appointed a minister for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, while its incubators and accelerators are offering the required skills, strategies and strengths to commercialise innovative ideas by transforming them into a viable business. Attracting global freelancing talent In addition to a flurry of initiatives over the last few years, the UAE has eased multiple regulations in a bid to attract global freelancing talent. The government has amended rules to make freelance work visas more affordable, while new laws have emerged to extend long-term residency visas to suitable candidates and allow 100 per cent foreign owner-ship across a host of sectors. In terms of funding, the Abu Dhabi government took a landmark step in April 2020, setting 15 per cent of procurement spending and annual contracts aside for micro and SMEs from 2020 to fuel their growth and safeguard them as the ‘backbone of the economy’. The government further implemented measures for small businesses such as suspending bid bonds and waiving performance guarantees for projects worth up to Dh50 million, which have been introduced from 2020 onwards for MSMEs and Emirati entrepreneurs. Licensing initiatives have also been underway, with Abu Dhabi announcing the issuance of freelancer licenses for 48 business activities within legal consultancy, property, human resources, architecture, and fashion design among others, which are poised to keep the jobs market agile. Growing freelancers market in the UAE A freelancer in the UAE may now apply for and receive a permit online, reducing the paperwork and legalities required to register for a license, and avail various subsidies and schemes to conduct business in the country. This is facilitating individuals to explore alternate income sources and contribute to the broader economic recovery. As a direct result of these efforts, the freelancers market in the UAE is witnessing a surge, mirroring the trend in global markets. The nation is seeing more freelancers in the software development, websites, mobile phones, de-sign, media and architecture domains. With a male to female ratio of 1.63 recorded in the UAE’s freelance workforce, a wide majority remain in the young age bracket of 21 to 30 years, which is indicative of the large potential within the space. Communities and platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork, TopTal, Freelancing.com, Xpertin, Marketplace.ae and Bawabba are bridging the gap between freelance talent and businesses requiring the expertise, with some platforms enabling freelancers to post their portfolio and bid for projects. Dubai encouraging entrepreneurship Dubai, which fosters many economic and creative free zones to encourage entrepreneurship, has remained the most preferred freelancing spot, housing over 65 per cent of the UAE’s freelancers, followed by Abu Dhabi with about 16 per cent and Sharjah with 13 per cent. The growing demand for creative roles such as graphic designing, web designing, content writing, editing, photography and videography or even functions such as social media management, marketing and accounting, are likely to boost its growth prospects further. Post the pandemic, companies across the GCC and broader Mena region will continue to witness a transformational shift from traditional methods of working, and adjust to the new normal with improved and evolved business models. Consequently, the attractiveness of freelancing is poised for growth over the next few years, in line with the growing trends of evolving skill-sets and expertise requirements, remote working, and the growing demand for outsourcing and consulting services. The confluence of these factors, coupled with the region’s exciting incentives and thriving business climate, will continue to attract freelancers who can contribute to the overall economic growth. At the same time, investors are increasingly becoming interested in investing in freelance startups as the segment turns main-frame.