There is a systematic shift under way right now within the world of work, both from a global and regional standpoint. The once unshakeable “job for life” mentality has changed to accommodate a more flexible reality — one in line with our expectations and lifestyle today.

The emergence of more entrepreneurs, freelancers, and gig workers throughout the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is surely a reflection of this, powered by a younger, more dynamic labour force. In a region so highly dependent and invested in expats, it’s worth understanding the possibility that over time, the profile of those who relocate here will be different and the impact that will have on the country’s future.


By 2020, the UAE is on course to have the second youngest population — in the GCC, 28 per cent of the population is of the millennial age — disrupting the current ecosystem as we know it. A place once flooded with families settling in for the long-term could be replaced by young professionals, which from an employer perspective would be more economical, eliminating the costs associated with spousal visas, schooling, and relocation fees.

It would appear that flexibility is an appealing proposition to both sides of business; yet, this comes with its own set of complications.

Need for flexibility is rewriting rules for businesses 2
Image Credit: Hugo Sanchez/©Gulf News

Working independence

Retaining millennial talent is an increasingly tough ask for corporates, as this generation job hops more than any other before it — 75 per cent of those under 34 consider it more favourable to advancing their career. And they have a different set of expectations to that of their predecessors, proving costly for organisations.

The US has an annual $30 billion (Dh110 billion) black hole in lost employees every year, as millennials climb the ranks. While the UAE has long been considered an attractive proposition for talent, it’s not immune to meeting that need of providing additional incentives to make them stay. A study by the Bureau of Labour Statistics predicts that gig workers will represent 43 per cent of the workforce by 2020, which makes it abundantly clear what this generation want from their working lives isn’t the hefty paycheck as it was before — it’s independence.


of those under 34 consider job hopping more favourable to advancing their career

Moves by the UAE government in answer to this have been swift and impactful, from cheaper freelance visas, reduced fees for local business partnerships, and extended tourist and student visas, all deployed to ease the bureaucratic red-tape of working and living as an expatriate. Although it’s still early days, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded in a recent report that these measures of reform in the country are a welcome addition to the improvement of medium-term growth and job prospects.

Flexipreneur culture

The benefits of flexible working have long been enjoyed by the employee, but the pendulum is now swinging the other way. Organisations are looking to shrink their permanent staff and outsource the work to avoid financial responsibilities, while still benefiting from the innovation, expertise and fresh perspective that expats bring to the table.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in particular prefer to hire flexible workers, and considering they make up 95 per cent of all enterprises in the UAE — according to recent Ministry of Economy figures — it’s clear that we cannot afford to disregard the emergence and benefits of this “flexipreneur” culture.

Naturally, given this increasing regional dominance, the rise in co-working and flexible spaces has rocketed to meet this demand, and is only set to grow further in the coming years. Large, established corporates now want a piece of the action and these providers are more than happy to offer the space. It’s a trend we see replicated globally, thanks to the likes of WeWork Cos. changing the corporate narrative about how and where a business operates.

Independence trip

This all comes back to the way in which we go about business today with that eye on independence. As we live in constant connectivity, it’s almost laughable to think of a modern entrepreneur as detached from the company it’s working with, when this couldn’t be any further from the truth. We’re just a click of a button, a plane ride or co-working space away from new experiences and opportunities.

In fact, an entirely new business sector built on this reality — entrepreneurial retreats — are facilitating this movement by bringing together a community of free thinkers to explore and inspire innovation, as well as making the best case for change.

The definition of entrepreneurship is not as rigid as it was in the past, following a set structure with an idea, investment and growth. The flexiprenuers of today are creating a world without borders, a trend the region is primed to reap the rewards from.

Carla Saliba is founder of, which joins entrepreneurs into a remote co-working experience — Unsettled.