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  • Vinay Nair

Freelancing has taken a new meaning during pandemic

All of us know of people who have been laid off or have lost their jobs, courtesy of the pandemic. With many major economies in the tailspin, the coronavirus pandemic has really changed how we used to go about our life. With social distancing norms and partial or full lockdowns in place, people have found it really hard, almost impossible at times to go and work physically in co-working spaces.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been reported that more than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment and the rate of businesses filing for bankruptcy is expected to rise by 50% this year. Those who are however benefitting from this entire situation seems to be freelancers.

There are two factors that work the most:

Freelancing is project-based: A freelancer is attached to a project a company might have but is not intrinsically attached to the company itself. The association between the employer and the freelancer has little to do beyond the ambits of that project.

There is more independence: Freelancing offers more flexibility, whereby one can choose the project that they’d like to be associated with. There is more autonomy about timing and is more goal-oriented. In most cases, freelancers are regarded as independent contractors.

With the pandemic still not under control, physical offices in many sectors are almost a thing of the past. Employers are also looking for cost-cutting opportunities. We have to keep in mind that permanent employees generally have to be given many additional benefits like health care, leave, retirement, travel allowances and other workplace protections.

With many businesses running on very tight budgets, these are costs that can be avoided by laying off permanent employees and hiring freelancers. Freelancing as an industry works on the basis of marketing one’s best skills.

As a freelancer, you will only apply for jobs that are most suited to you, ones that you are best at. This automatically improves productivity and helps in better management of goals. And in such trying times, as more and more companies are looking towards more efficient ways to meet the needs of their business, freelancers’ skill sets and flexibility may come in handy.

Where do we stand now?

Even in the pre-corona days, 5.8 million freelancers involved with the top 30 US markets contributed approximately 150 billion USD to the economy, and their numbers have gone up by 15% in the years between 2012 and 2017. Given that more and more people are being forced to do their work online, they are getting well acquainted with how it works, and are being able to use the various digital platforms much more effortlessly.

Being able to choose when to work, and schedule your day according to your personal needs and wishes is something that is already appealing to a lot of people.

A research paper by Microsoft, about freelancing during COVID 19 states

“...the global market for online labour has grown approximately 50 per cent over the past three years, with an estimated 56 million online freelancers globally"

So far, while there has been a market for freelancers, people were also apprehensive, and in some ways averse to remote work. But now with the ongoing pandemic situation, the dominant mode of work, wherever possible has had to be shifted to remote work. These workforces who are being forced to work online now are joining those freelancers, who already earned most or all of their income from working on ‘gigs’ found on online labour platforms.

While amidst the initial layoffs, there was a fall in the demand for online labour in March 2020 but that showed signs of rapid recovery.

A survey was recently conducted by Edelman Intelligence with 6000 US respondents from 15th of June to 7th of July, on behalf of Upwork, which is an online freelancing platform. The survey found that 47% of the respondents look at independent work as a long term career choice and that the share of freelancers is up by 8 percentage points from 2019, and currently stands at 36%. Americans have started to favour more flexible jobs and the idea of being one’s own boss, rather looking for one that requires clocking in and clocking out every day. There is also a deluge of younger workers in the freelancing industry. Half of the workforce aged 18-22 had freelanced in the past year, and 36% of that workforce reported to have started since the COVID 19 pandemic.

Adam Ozimek, the chief economist of Upwork said,

"It’s a really tough time to get your first job… A lot of our freelancers are young, educated and looking for something to do. The new freelancers are younger, more educated and doing skilled work"

Payoneer, Freelancing in 2020: An Abundance of Opportunities report, explains how India is the second-fastest market for freelance work and has seen a massive increase in recent numbers. The report was based on a survey of 7000 global freelancers from across 150 countries and looked into their hourly rates, skills and average income. So far as statistics are concerned India currently has a workforce of approximately 15 million freelancers. India witnessed a 46% rise in freelancers from Q1 and Q2 in 2020. The report reiterated that "COVID has brought a short term slowdown in revenue growth but it bounced back even stronger with 28 per cent growth from May to June."

Apart from India, Pakistan and Ukraine are countries where there is a good market for freelancing. The report went on to elaborate on how the future of work has been changed given the increased adoption of technology.

It says,

a permanent change in the global workforce is inevitable…

From a practical standpoint...

The future of freelancing seems to be quite bright, but there are few things to focus on now.

Since it seems that the economic revival in the post-pandemic world is increasing links for the success of these independent workers, it is thus time to accept that freelancers are a part of the workforce and formally include them in safety net programs.

The post-outbreak world will also come with some risks and challenges given that freelancers may see tighter and tougher competition now.

However that being said, freelancing is something that is convenient in the given circumstances, both for a potential employer and a worker. The future of freelancing seems to be very bright. Freelancers have been a consistent driving force on the economy for quite some time now, and their importance and numbers have and will only go up given the COVID 19 situation.




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