Stock - Freelance
Companies require the flexibility to assess talent before making long-term commitments and new comers are exploring the job market through freelance before transitioning into full-time employmentm making it a win-win for both. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Freelance and short-term contract work in the UAE is picking up as it’s offering a win-win opportunity to both employees as well as employers.

And according to HR consultants and recruiters, an increasing number of new arrivals in the UAE, especially those from the tech and business consultancy sectors, are turning to freelance and short-term contract work.

According to Nathan Kearney, Managing Director of Executive Search, companies and employers are adopting a ‘try before you buy’ approach. “Newcomers are exploring the job market through freelance work for a year or two before considering the possibility of transitioning their short-term contracts into full-time employment,” said Kearney.

And companies require the flexibility to assess talent before making long-term commitments.

The freelance visa option provides this flexibility, allowing companies to test potential hires while retaining the option to convert them into full-time employees.

- Nathan Kearney

Freelance visas transform job market

Compared to a year ago, the UAE’s freelance and short-term work visas have transformed the job market, bringing in many benefits for workers and local organisations. Professionals are enticed by the flexibility inherent in freelancing, while companies leverage the cost advantages of hiring short-term workers.

“There has been a noticeable year-on-year increase in the number of freelancers and short-term contracts, as employers are recognising the significance of Asia, Africa, and the MENA region in terms of talent acquisition,” said Kamal Reggad, CEO and Co-Founder of RemotePass.

Many organisations are now considering global talent markets, driven by factors like the global economic slowdown and the affordability of talent in certain countries.

- Kamal Reggad

“These regions boast a pool of approximately 770,000 skilled tech professionals, making them a prime destination for talent acquisition. Many companies are eager to tap into this goldmine of talent,” he added. Companies gain a competitive advantage by leveraging cost-effectiveness by saving on office space, utilities, and facility fees.

Vikram Malhotra, Managing Director, Middle East & North Africa of Outsized, said, “Internationally, the UAE is becoming a magnet for freelance talent. Our portal has seen a massive increase in applications and sign-ups from local professionals, signalling a shift in career preference.”

“The hiring process also becomes more streamlined, as interviews can be conducted remotely, reducing logistical efforts and enabling access to the best talent quicker,” explained Reggad. Overall, there has been a 30 to 40 per cent increase in the number of individuals opting for freelance roles, said Karuna Agarwal, Director of Future Tense HR. Reggad is reporting a 50 per cent increase in this trend.

How much do freelancers get paid?

On-time payments for freelance work, however, continue to remain a challenge for freelance workers. There are no set market rates for the work provided; the payment terms depend on the type and duration of work.

Freelancers typically work on projects with well-defined timelines and have the flexibility to collaborate with multiple companies, provided there are no conflicts of interest.

- Karuna Agarwal

For example, short-term contract workers in graphic design earn between Dh40 and Dh150 per hour, and those in the business consultancy space can take home anything between Dh30,000 and Dh40,000 per month.

Karuna said freelancer payments often align with the regular salary cycle of the company. “Sometimes freelancers expect payments for the work they do almost immediately. However, that’s not always the case,” she said.

Sectors hiring freelancers

Industries and function areas where freelancers are commonly utilised include recruiting for HR projects, accounting and data entry tasks, marketing and communications roles (e.g., copywriters, graphic designers, UI/UX designers), and project-based work for industries such as real estate.

“Freelancers in these domains can earn in the range of Dh15,000 to Dh20,000 per project, depending on their expertise and complexity,” said Karuna.

Freelancers in different time zones can ensure that work continues around the clock, providing a form of operational continuity that might not be possible with a traditional workforce.

- Vikram Malhotra

Business consultants are another category of freelancers in demand. “For example, a manufacturing company that engaged a business consultant on a freelance basis is paying Dh30,000 to Dh40,000 for a three-month project. And freelancers in this role usually come with extensive work experience and expertise,” she added.

According to recruitment firm Outsized’s mid-year demand trends report, there has been a 125 per cent growth in demand for risk professionals and a 200 per cent increase in demand for consulting roles from H1 of last year to H1 of 2023.

Freelancing has been an empowering and a great decision in most ways.

- Rebecca Rees
From full-time to part-time, a freelancer’s journey
Having savings to fall back on is crucial for freelancers as payments can be delayed sometimes. Rebecca Rees, a corporate communications professional, worked with a major developer for over 30 years before deciding to do freelance work 18 months ago. “It has been empowering and a great decision in most ways,” said Rebecca.

She advised aspiring freelancers to have some financial reserves to cushion any unexpected delays in payments, which she noted can and do happen. Instead of receiving a stable paycheck on the 25th of each month, her income now fluctuates, typically in one to two payments.
While she has yet to face payment issues, she emphasised the importance of budgeting, especially for fixed expenses like rent or a car loan, and setting aside money for savings. “I still make the same amount I did while working full-time,” stated Rebecca.

“Moreover, freelancing can be isolating as I miss the water cooler conversations, and from a creative standpoint, I miss bouncing off ideas with my colleagues,” she added.