The pandemic is devastating to the global economy and job market. Millions of workers were sent home without further notice. But what about freelancers and independent contractors who mainly work from home on a project-basis — how the downturn will affect their work?
Can the COVID-19 pandemic change the way we perceive freelance work?
I’m a freelance writer working with a diverse client base, and I noticed that while for some businesses in the technology sector, nothing much changed, other companies rushed to reduce extra expenses. Some clients, especially marketing agencies and creatives, are cutting down on freelance work and marketing efforts. They try to retain their in-house employees, and it makes a lot of sense. But the pandemic revealed how fragile the freelance job is.
Besides fewer projects, nothing much changed in my field — I still work remotely. But freelance photographers, artists, drivers, event organizers are losing clients, and their projects are being canceled. Regardless of the country, there’s still a lack of legal rights and financial benefits freelancers have, making it more challenging to claim subsidies and other financial support during the pandemic.
On the other hand, we can already see the growth of remote work, and experts say that with the remote model rising, there will be more opportunities for freelancers. After the pandemic is over, many companies will increase remote work possibilities and try to keep the model, making the workforce more flexible.
Renaissance of the Remote Work
“We are seeing early signs that highly skilled, very experienced, remote freelancers are still in demand and this may ramp up as companies start to come back online but still need to be agile and keep headcount low.” — Rishon Blumberg, Cofounder of 10x Management and 10x Ascend, told Forbes about their perspective on the recent changes in the remote and freelance sector.
While it’s still early to see clear tendencies, there will likely be an increase in remote and freelance job openings. Companies are struggling with resources, employees take more sick leave days, some reduce their workload, but businesses need to keep running. In this case, freelancers can be a strategic move to handle work overload while saving the company’s resources. If a company has one or two projects that need to be done, they can’t waste money on hiring a full-timer, therefore, freelance help could be a solution to saving costs and maintaining workflow.
But that’s for business, what’s for self-employed specialists? They might expect changes in the way the system works. First of all, with more companies employing freelancers, they will need a reliable legal base to enter into the work contract. Freelancers and independent contractors are at a higher risk of losing jobs. The surge in remote working could change that by securing more stable sick pay, health insurance, and other financial benefits.
Second of all, remote work systems will have to be optimized and made more efficient, meaning that freelance work will be as valuable and stable as full-time in-house employment. We can also expect a rise in remote working tools — communication channels and staff management platforms designed to accommodate large remote teams.
Freelance Work Opportunities Depend on the Sector
Millions of people work in a gig economy as freelancers or independent contractors. But they are also the ones struggling the most to get financial support and compensations during the pandemic. While quarantine and self-isolation requirements might increase the need for additional freelance workforce, not everyone will get the fair share.
Restaurants are sending staff home, drivers are losing clients, photographers, artists, and event organizers are canceling their projects months in advance. The ones working in the creative field and marketing are also seeing a sharp decline in orders and payments. Agencies and companies are cutting on extra expenses, which usually includes content creation, graphic design, branding. People in these positions symbolize how weak the system is, and how they and only their efforts are the main factors helping them survive.
Many freelancers are doing all they can to sustain the workflow. Some of them are lowering their rates and diversifying a client base.
It’s difficult to say anything concrete about other industries because most of us will face some sort of financial impact due to the pandemic. The worst part is that many freelance workers have to work even though they are sick, so to keep the income stream. Taking sick leave wouldn’t guarantee to get compensation and might cause losing clients.
Lyft driver, Jaime Maldonado, told The New York Times that after developing a dry cough, he was afraid of having the new virus, but he also admitted that he couldn’t quit, otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to support himself and his family.
Many freelancers are doing all they can to sustain the workflow. Some of them are lowering their rates and diversifying a client base. Another issue is that the rising number of people working from home and losing their jobs are flooding the freelance job market, making the already competitive sector, a cutthroat place.
The world has never experienced what’s happening now, but no matter how daunting it is, we have to keep going. The crisis in the gig economy showed how far we need to go to establish a reliable and secure system to protect freelancers and independent contractors. But as we know, major historical events have always changed the way we do business, the way we secure our workers, and the way we keep the economy growing, perhaps this pandemic could also be a catalyst for change. For change that would prevent millions of people from losing their income within a few weeks, and a change that could lead to making freelancing a more steady and reliable career path.