Shaping the future: The role of freelance platforms in the Middle East

Significant transformations are happening in the Middle East; gone are the days of the region playing catch up to the West’s business dominance. A marked shift towards digitalisation, massive investments and infrastructure development all point towards rapid growth in the region. Smart cities, telcos and IT infrastructure developments are reshaping the business landscape. The flip side of this rapid growth is immediate recruitment challenges that we believe can only be fixed by the potential of freelance platforms. How is the Middle East's digital transformation reshaping business? Understand the changing Middle East business landscape and freelance platforms' impact on recruitment in this article.

Our recent webinar with Dr Dani Abu Ghaida, Chief Digital Officer – MEA at Crayon, Elena Barrio, who works with a large Middle Eastern telecoms company and Glen Hodgson, a prominent freelance rights advocate, covered the issues around freelance work in the Middle East. 

The discussion began around the dynamism of the Middle East talent market and how the projected growth for 2030 has been propelled by the telecom industry. This, subsequently, produces a need for diverse talent solutions driven by technology. 

We then talked about some of the major obstacles both for freelancers and businesses in the region, including legal, compliance and onboarding challenges. The webinar then moved on to the consequences of these challenges and how businesses are overcoming them. Finally, we talked about the role of freelance platforms in the region now and in the future. This article offers a summary of the discussion which can be viewed in its entirety here.


Understanding the Middle East landscape

The ambition behind the Middle East’s growth is unprecedented. Digital transformation and leadership projects such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 are driving the need for diverse skill sets. Despite these dynamic opportunities, the Middle East faces challenges in filling the gap in skill sets and capabilities. Along with the rest of the world, the region also contributes to a gap of over 85 million tech-based positions that cannot be filled which forces organisations to rethink ways of finding talent, nurturing it and creating the spaces for it to exist. 

However, the demand is real. Saudi Arabia is currently seeing very low inflation rates in comparison to other countries in the region and across the world. This increases investor confidence and propels further ambitions and strategies with moves towards AI and digital transformation. Digital transformation and the growth of smart cities have meant the need for massive investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure cannot be created without people, though, without experts driving these changes and utilising their talent to realise plans. Unfortunately, there is a gap in skill sets and capabilities that means governments and organisations need to think creatively about how to attract new talent, more quickly, cheaply, faster and better. 

One of the areas that governments are focusing on is telecoms. This is particularly the case as leaders are beginning to realise the reliability of oil as a primary source of income is diminishing. Now, governments are concentrating their efforts on attracting the world’s biggest tech companies, creating opportunities in telecom and IT systems. 

Nowadays, every country has its own data centre. Microsoft, Google and AWS are fully set up in Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and more. This comes in contrast to Europe, where tech hubs are more focused on key nations instead of enjoying an even spread across the region. Furthering this drive towards the telecoms industry is the increase of smart cities. Every major city in Saudi Arabia is now considered smart, with Riyadh being dubbed in a recent survey on smart cities as “a unique model in the world”. Smart cities require top-of-the-range communication technology to function.

Beyond just the technical infrastructure and the expertise it requires, these initiatives require consultancy, business growth experts, digital transformation experts and more. While filling these positions will continue to be a challenge for the next few years, it presents an unparalleled opportunity to realise exciting and complex projects that will become the standard bearer for other cities and countries to follow. As Elena Barrio mentioned, this level of complexity will be difficult to replicate, owing to the specific conditions that exist around the procurement of talent in the Middle East.

What initiatives and approaches are there to sourcing talent?

As our contributor Glen Hodges maintains, the region needs to move beyond looking at sourcing talent through a 9-5 lens. The labour market currently demands more flexibility and choice, and with the talent gap being what it is, it can get it. The conception of a freelancer is changing, the freelancer can now be anyone across the labour market, encompassing highly skilled individuals and top talent in all industries from engineering to law, over to those just starting at the beginning of their careers. 

These individuals no longer want to sell themselves to a company that requires their talent from Monday to Friday but can offer the best of themselves on a project basis. These experts understand that there are ways to provide their talent more flexibly and with greater earning potential. Furthermore, they can build on their talents with each coming project, learning and picking up new skills with each new company and team they work with. 

Companies need to start thinking differently about the value that a hire brings to their project. After leveraging the power of freelance platforms, employers no longer need to champion those who are just in the office for the sake of it, expending precious resources. Instead, embracing new ways of onboarding talent places the focus on what particular skills an individual can bring to a project, meeting its needs and timescales more efficiently. 

freelance contract
In the Middle East, addressing skill gaps requires innovative strategies to attract new talent, more quickly, cheaply, faster and better through freelance platforms.

Facing the complex challenges of the Middle East

The skills gap is a worldwide issue, but it has become hyper-focused and exacerbated in the Middle East due to the massive investments being made. Dr Dani asserts that there is a great willingness among governments and organisations to pay for top talent, but there are often “administrative” challenges that get in the way of making it happen as smoothly as it needs to. Each country in the region has its own set of complex labour laws and regulations. While there has been progressive thinking among government entities making positive steps in the right direction, policies have not been so forthcoming and the transformation is not going as smoothly as expected. 

One of the biggest barriers is getting people past security clearances on government projects. It remains a challenge to employ someone from abroad and give them the proper clearance to access sensitive data remotely. Therefore the challenge becomes about drawing the candidate into the country to work on-site, a proposition which fewer and fewer are willing to accept. 

Furthermore, there are cultural and language-based barriers to getting diverse talent onto projects from abroad. Particularly in government projects, documentation and communication often remain in Arabic, which reduces the amount of people that can work on projects. Tax and residencies also become an issue, with the obtaining of visas on a short-term basis being difficult and expensive with different response times that can affect project deliverables. 

However, by introducing freelance platforms to the recruitment workflow, organisations can mitigate some of these issues. Outvise has the expertise and dedication to clients to be able to deal with each country’s compliance needs, with significant success in the Middle East. Compliance can mean many things, including accommodation, insurance, payroll and tax. Freelance platforms like Outvise are becoming a one-stop shop where everything from recruitment to onboarding is taken care of. 

What role do freelance platforms play in the future of the Middle East?

There are future opportunity areas for freelance platforms to fulfil, namely, there could be greater support for onboarding that is fully integrated into the platform. The Middle East region could be the perfect sandbox for these kinds of features due to the particular issues around attracting talent that have become apparent over recent years. 

Another potential feature that Dr Dani proposed during the webinar was further screening of the hires, offering ways to assess potential hires and increasing the use of feedback and rating systems. This would increase confidence among organisations in the Middle East to be able to take the risk of hiring talent from abroad and taking on risks that they could avoid by another layer of “pre-vetting” through the freelance platform

The platforms themselves have everything to gain from being between the organisations and the freelancers, bridging that talent gap and becoming a mediator for providing expertise on these hugely important and lucrative public infrastructure projects. 

A new wave of optimism is spreading across the region, with young entrepreneurs keen to embrace new technologies and find the most efficient ways of working. People in the region are excited to have the best talent on board and create new standards of technology and infrastructure that serve both its people well and grow business. 

Where is the best place to find independent contractors in the UAE?

Freelance platforms are now emerging as a potential solution to many of these roadblocks to success in the Middle East. Outvise has a long track record of serving the region well by tooling telecom organisations up with top talent, from a PMO manager in Saudi Arabia to top-level consultancy in the streaming OTT market. Outvise can take care of recruitment, drawing up a freelance contract, compliance, legal and onboarding, through to monitoring the progress of the project and maintaining regular feedback sessions. 

The benefit of finding talent on freelance platforms like ours is the ability to be connected to anyone across the world. Accessing a talent pool without borders gives organisations the flexibility to hire experts based on their skills and the value they can offer a project, rather than being limited to the talent already based in the country. Freelance platforms provide freelance workers with the flexibility they require to be able to learn as much as possible on each particular project while making the best use of their time to work from wherever they are. If needed, however, the platform can help organise residencies, accommodation and other compliance needs the organisation or freelancer might have. 

Is online freelancing legal in Saudi Arabia?

The short answer is yes. There are no legal barriers to stop anybody from doing online freelancing either for a company based in Saudi Arabia or from inside the country itself. In line with its Vision 2030 initiative recently launched a “freelancer document”, which enables the freelancer to enter the country, open a bank account associated with the earnings from their work, receive payment and pay tax. If a freelancer has found a project through one of the many freelance platforms out there like Outvise, then there are experts on hand to help with these processes. 

Freelance platforms are perfectly suited to deal with the Middle East’s obstacles

The proliferation of the freelance platform means that organisations, whether private or public can access the world’s top talent at the click of a button. The huge investments in infrastructure that are happening in the region demand skilled workers to fulfil project aims. 
The talent is out there, but by leveraging technology, reaching them in their own country has now become much easier. Sign up to Outvise today to find out how easily the world’s top experts on telecoms, infrastructure and more can be working on your project.




 Fujairah FZ Fujairah 4442 ,Dubai

     United Arab Emirates

[email protected]


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