With the pandemic entering its second wave, it can be hard to remain optimistic about the future. However, for small business owners and freelancers across all sectors and industries, the future is bright.
Surveying the current state of small business and freelancing, I am often asked what the future holds. Many people will take a conscious step into self-employment and enter the world of freelancing or become involuntary freelancers as fellow Forbes contributor Elaine Pofeldt calls the many that will be forced to consider this employment path because of the fallout from Covid-19. Whichever is driving you, taking more control of your income and future is one of the core pillars that supports why millions have entered the self-employed space. And why businesses are now paying attention to the massive source of skills the freelance community can deliver to their enterprises.
According to DDIY: 75% of freelancers say that they wouldn’t trade their freelancing job for other types of work. The site also categorically states: “The pandemic has changed the way businesses, companies, and other organizations view remote work. Freelancers are ahead of the curve, as many are able to do their work from home. And, 75% of freelancers claim that their wages remain stable during the pandemic despite the proliferation of remote work and a presumed decreased demand in freelancing.”
Every business is rapidly evaluating how they organize their infrastructures, process, and their people. Indeed, a recent report from Owl Labs that considered how U.S. workers feel about remote working revealed 1 in 2 people won’t return to jobs that don’t offer remote work after Covid-19 and, 81% of respondents think their employer will support remote work after Covid-19.
The report concludes: “Employers and HR teams, take note: If working from home was no longer an option after Covid-19, almost 70% of respondents would be less happy and almost half would look for another role that allowed remote work.”
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I think this change in attitude regarding working from home, flexible working hours, and how the pandemic has forced onto businesses and their workforces are telling. The traditional employed/self-employed divide is blurring.
The new freelance normal
The shift to mass remote working will also mean business leaders will re-evaluate the structure of their workforces. The current report from Upwork is telling as it concludes: “Of the companies that can hire, many are putting it off. The sobering reality is that as the economy continues trending downward, today’s open positions may no longer be needed in six months. However, there’s still work to be done now, so companies are looking to independent talent for help.
“These independent professionals are cost-effective, provide specialized skills, and are adept at working remotely. Companies gain help without risking employee safety, and teams gain experts who can jump into projects and be productive almost immediately. The very nature of how they work is designed for how companies must move quickly and gain flexible access to skills.”
It’s clear that businesses are moving towards new hybrid models for their staffing needs. More outsourcing to smaller enterprises that can be agile and cost-effective is being joined by legions of freelancers ready and waiting with the skills business need right now. Covid has been somewhat of a wake-up call for enterprises that shunned contingent workers yet now see their value.
I think the chart below speaks volumes about how small business freelancers are now vital to how all business will develop their Covid recovery plans.
These findings are also reinforced by the new report from 99designs ‘Design Without Borders: The Freelance Revolution.’ It’s a massive report covering 11,362 freelance creators across 147 countries focusing on creative freelancers. As the UpWork graphic clearly shows, freelancers in the creative sectors are critical for business growth.
Amidst the pandemic and significant social upheaval of 2020, freelancing remains aspirational: just 6% of designers freelance because they can’t find work elsewhere. Flexibility and freedom remain the top motivations for freelancers worldwide, and 98% are optimistic about where the design industry is headed in the next ten years.
Remote work went mainstream, promising profound long-term impacts on the industry:
- As the global workforce got to grips with remote work, 30% of freelancers report that clients’ collaboration and communication skills have improved during the pandemic.
- More than three quarters (77%) of designers expect businesses to be more open to hiring remote talent as a result of working from home themselves during the pandemic.
- While half of the freelance designers expect to earn more in 2020 than they did in 2019, 24% expect a significant increase in their income this year.
- Only 2% of freelance designers aren’t optimistic about their future in the industry, while 63% are extremely confident about their personal success.
- 47% of freelance designers are ready to hit the road and embrace the digital nomad lifestyle once global travel restrictions are lifted after the pandemic. An incredible 98% are optimistic about where the design industry is headed in the next ten years.
99designs CEO Patrick Llewellyn comments, “The radical shift in how the world works together online will be the lasting legacy of 2020, and while freelancers themselves haven’t changed, the world around them has. As the global workforce adapts – and adopts many of the traits that freelancers have nurtured for years – it has become clear that out of the chaos of this year, significant opportunities have emerged for remote creative connections and the freelance design community at large.”
How work is defined, its location, and the mix of skills need to complete a task is going through revolutionary change. The Owl Labs report concluded: “Remote work has been a preferable choice by many when offered by their companies prior to COVID-19. When it was an option versus a necessity, many remote workers reported feeling happier, more productive and more trusted by their managers. Now that working from home became an overnight reality for most, people are realizing they do prefer this way of working. So much that 1 in 4 said they would take a pay cut of over 10% to stay working from home.”
As many small businesses and freelancers were able to hit the ground running when the pandemic hit early in the year, the fact their enterprises were already set-up to offer the agile services businesses suddenly needed is a testament to the contribution small business freelancers can make to all companies as they navigate the post-Covid landscape. What’s more, the conclusion to the recent Dinghy insurance study, I think, is why once you move into small business freelancing, you never want to move back to traditional work:
“Perhaps most importantly, the overwhelming majority of respondents (a mighty 91%) stated that going freelance had improved the quality of their life. And ultimately, isn’t that what any of us want the most? Money is great (and necessary). A good roster of clients certainly helps. But none of that is important if we’re not happy.”
What’s the future look like? From where I am sitting, it’s business as usual, but business through the lens of Covid. Work has probably changed forever. As enterprises create their new hybrid workforces, freelancers, contingent workers, contractors are all in the mix.
Any business that isn’t evaluating the mass of freelance talent that is literally on-tap will miss commercial, operational and structural opportunities that are rapidly coming into focus.