The Covid-19 crisis has given us opportunities to experiment and put our businesses to the test. One of these is to explore how we will navigate future working lives. Team meetings on Zoom and working with suppliers in other parts of the world are aspects some of us may have imagined in the past, but things like that are most likely to be part of the new normal as we emerge out of this pandemic.
It may be the first time that many of us realised how important the role of freelancers are in our lives. The gig economy and working remotely are not unique to current circumstances, but it is an everyday economic reality for millions of people around the world.
Freelancers have filled in the gaps for many business owners who found themselves lost in the pandemic-ridden world. Freelance journalists are now stepping in to help publications bring stories to light from cities under lockdown. Freelance graphic designers and programmers are helping businesses shift their operations digitally and developing mobile apps remotely. Delivery drivers hold some of the most essential roles during the pandemic, ensuring that we receive everything from our mail to food and medications.
But even before the pandemic, the gig economy helped millions of people to earn a living. In China, the gig economy accounts for 15 per cent – about 110 million people – of the total workforce. That figure is expected to quadruple by 2036 as a result of advances in e-payments and mobile technology. Worldwide, the projected gross volume of the gig economy is expected to reach $455.2 billion (Dh1.67 trillion) by 2023, according to Statista.
When I started my entrepreneurship journey 10 years ago, freelance was not a term I heard often in the UAE. Nowadays, it is quite normal to meet someone who holds a nine-to-five job and freelances on the side.
Under the current circumstances, many businesses have worked with freelancers and have directly benefitted from the gig economy. It is time we make a push to boost the informal economy by further developing the online marketplace infrastructure and incorporating freelancers in our organisations.
There are a number of global sites dedicated to hiring and working with freelancers from around the world. One of my favourite success stories from the region is Ureed, an online platform that connects users with editors, translators and writers from the Arab World and beyond. It simplifies the content creation process for many in the region who require Arabic content.
Another successful example from the region is Nabbesh, which has access to over 100,000 registered freelancers across different industries. With the current crisis proving how essential the gig economy is to sustaining our day-to-day lives and our business operations, we should aim to boost the sector by working with freelance marketplaces on specific initiatives.
More micro freelance spaces could also be created, or marketplaces could be added to local microsites, where people can connect with freelancers from their city. This would be a bonus feature for businesses that would like to personally meet the freelancers they work with.
The current crisis has changed the way many of us think about the hiring process. An acquaintance of mine is outsourcing his entire customer service and IT teams after realising how much time and money he can save on rent simply by tweaking his hiring process.
Engaging freelancers is an alternative option that many executives will consider when making hiring decisions. Some areas where freelancers could provide a vital service include social media management, graphic design, web development, customer service, IT management, accounting, personal assistance, writing, editorial and video editing.
A 2017 survey by Toptal, a global company that connects organisations with software engineers, found that 76 per cent of the 1,000-plus interviewed executives would increase their use of freelancers to supplement the skills their workforce lacks.
As we overcome the Covid-19 crisis and re-evaluate our business models, I believe that freelancers will become an integral part of the economy.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi
Updated: June 13, 2020 01:30 PM