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Breaking new ground – Flexible Working as a catalyst for entrepreneurship

Among the recent raft of progressive changes to its regulatory environment, the UAE is also set to lead the region in its approach to Flexible Working – favouring measures that not only supercharge key areas of the economy but also make business start-up and entrepreneurship a good deal simpler.

This aligns with leading international practice, which increasingly recognises the tremendous interest in Flexible Working and its undoubted commercial benefits. Worldwide, Flexible Working is a key factor in the working practices favoured by a new generation of millennials, start-ups and innovative/creative entrepreneurs. In fact, the vibrant growth of the Flexible Working phenomenon is a headline success story of global business: by 2018, the number of flexible workspaces internationally had reached 18,900 – a staggering rise from the 2011 figure of just over 1,100. By the end of 2019, the figure looks set to rise to 27,000. Currently, there are estimated to be approximately 1.3 million people working in flexible workspaces globally. According to property and investment titan Jones Lang Lasalle, by 2030, up to 30% of all office space will be, in some form, flexible, or have an open layout design.

There’s also more evidence that Flexible Working offers a dynamic future: globally, 85% of flexible workspace providers expect more members and 78% expect more income. Moreover, the motivational and entrepreneur-friendly aspects of Flexible Working are very much aligned with the vision and purpose of Dubai government – initiatives such as Dubai 2021, Smart Dubai, UAE Innovates and Area 2071 have direct links with Flexible Workspaces and their ability to foster collaboration, innovative, adaptive mindsets, networking, and – ultimately – happiness. In fact, recent studies show that Flexible Workspaces really do encourage an altogether new spirit of co-operation. For example –

* 89% of members believe they convey a higher degree of happiness

* 84% believe they increase innovation

* 68% said they showed an improvement in skills

Innovation that cuts costs

For many entrepreneurs, the cost of setting up a business can be a key challenge – and it’s one that the UAE Government is seeking to address via a raft of recent initiatives designed to make set-up, registration and recruitment a good deal simpler and more affordable. For example, 12 months ago, the UAE Cabinet adopted a series of changes which the Federal Government estimates will release AED14 billion into the economy. Flexible Workspaces can play a critical role in this streamlining process, too, giving SMEs and start-ups more options for setting up.

There is also another area where forthcoming changes will hugely benefit Dubai’s entrepreneurs. Whereas internationally, about 35% of workers using Flexible Working environments have had an independent status, this trend has been somewhat restricted locally due to the traditional regulatory environment. This has required statutory factors such as a minimum office space of 200 sq. ft., but we are now starting to see changes, which again are being led by the growth of Flexible Working – with its hot-desking and open-plan, shared workspace agenda.

For example, the Department of Economic Development (DED) took a critical step by reducing the minimum office space required from 200 sq. feet to 100 sq. feet – and then reduced it still further to 50 sq. feet. This move now sets the precedent for licensing specifically linked to the scale and cost-effectiveness of Flexible Workspaces.

The views of the DED

Mohammed Shael Al Saadi, CEO of Business Development & Strategy, Department of Economic Development (DED), comments that:“We aim to be at the vanguard of compliance through gathering feedback on trends and innovations from the international Community. We see that while the world is changing, the framework of regulation is changing, too, and we believe implicitly in policies that contribute to the ease of doing business. We are primarily facilitators – and reducing the minimum space requirements encourages key trends such as Flexible Working to create a powerful and solid platform for entrepreneurs looking for practical and affordable workspaces.”

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