It is undeniable that COVID-19 has had a significant effect on the nature of work and the employment environment over the past year. As a response to mandatory lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, we saw international markets retreat, and employees experience a record number of layoffs and cuts. This resulted in many peope finding themselves unemployed or precariously employed as a result of COVID-19.
Despite this presumably grim outlook on employment, this unique situation also provides a silver lining and opportunity for those willing to think outside the box. While full-time positions might be taking a hit, there has been an increase in opportunities for contract and freelance work across the board. Not only has there been an increase in traditional freelance jobs such as writing and marketing, we have also seen an increase in opportunities available for highly technical roles, such as software development, programming, and data analysis.
While companies might be making cuts to full-time employment, this doesn’t mean that they don’t still have a wide range of services that they need skilled professionals for. This is where a contract-based workforce comes into play, and companies are starting to see the value of this kind of hiring practice. Companies can keep expenses lower by paying only for vital tasks, outsourced to expert independent contractors or freelancers, while still having their professional needs met. The fact that a great deal of work has also shifted to online work now also means that companies have a larger pool of professionals to hire from, and therefore have a better chance of finding a contractor who meets their specific needs, regardless of where they are located in the world.
What does this mean for out of work individuals, independent contractors, freelancers and digital nomads? The key is to adapt. Whether you lost your job due to COVID-19, or you were already considering working independently, now is the time to position yourself to take advantage of the changing landscape of the modern employment environment. Here we will review these changing norms and consider how you can best position yourself to come out ahead of the curve in the world of independent, contract-based work.
In-Demand Freelance Skills
One of the first question that many people who are considering moving into a freelance style of work ask themselves is what kind of work should I do? The answer to this question, in short, is that the work that freelancers can do is almost limitless. As so many industries have shifted to working online due to COVID-19, jobs that previously would have been expected to be performed in an office setting have now moved online. This is excellent news for freelancers. This means that the variety of jobs available to freelancers has grown exponentially, and that individuals from a wider range of professional backgrounds can now put their skills to use in remote, contract-based environments.
The needs of specific companies will of course vary, however, and professionals should consider which of their skills are most applicable to the work that they are interested in. Individuals should also consider investing in perfecting and growing the skills that they want to be using in their new online work.
There are certain skills that are expected to become increasingly popular in the near future, as these skills are to be in high demand, they are great options for freelancers to explore when deciding on what kind of freelance work they want to provide. Digital and tech-related professions are particularly in high demand, The Talent Crunch study by Korn Ferry predicted that there could be a shortage of 85.2 million qualified employees in the world by 2030, many of them in digital fields like those listed below.
Blockchain skills are something that many companies are utilizing in the context of B2B transactions, supply chain management and more. This field works in the context of working with cryptocurrency, which is an increasingly popular trend, especially among online companies.
Cybersecurity has become an increasingly important field, as our work is becoming more interconnected by the day, and so many companies work with technology to do business. Hackers and scammers are a constant threat for anyone who does business online, and for this reason companies are investing in cybersecurity professionals to help mitigate risk of cyber-attacks, compromising of information and scams.
The field of cybersecurity is one which is already experiencing a shortage of skilled professionals, making it an ideal option for individuals who are looking for a specialization in which there will be a great deal of work available. Cybersecurity professionals need a broad and in-depth understanding of network systems, problem-solving skills, and an understanding of hacking.
App & Web Development
Almost all companies, regardless of their specialization or sector need to ensure that they have a user-friendly mobile system set up in order to remain competitive. This means that many companies need support in building mobile platforms like apps and functional webpages. App and web development is an ideal field which many freelancers choose to work in because it can be done completely remotely and contacts are often shorter in length.
Specific skills needed include to work in web and app development include knowledge of programming languages such as Java, C++ and Python as well as a familiarity with backend computing, different platforms, and a knowledge of business practices.
Data science is a growing and inter-disciplinary field which uses algorithms, scientific methods and processes to gain insights from large amounts of data. This data then is used to help make businesses more efficient, effective and work smarter. The goals is for decision making in companies to come from a data-driven perspective, so that more growth-oriented choices can be taken. Data scientists receive raw data from clients and decipher and analyse trends and conclusions from it, then results are shared with decision-makers.
Many freelancers with a background in research and analysis, or mathematics and statistics consider this field, as skills needed include data wrangling, data visualization, statistics and machine learning knowledge.
Marketing & Content creation
This may seem like a more traditional choice, compared to the cutting-edge options listed above, but it is a field in which many freelancers find success in. With the rise of e-commerce, the power of social media and digital marketing, and the shift towards online work in general, this field remains growing. Marketing and content creation experts use a combination of creative and analytical skills to help their clients effectively reach potential customers, and grow their following and sales.
This field is popular as there are many online resources and courses available to those who wish to learn the basics of digital marketing, and skills are relatively easy to learn. Many individuals who are strong writers, who enjoy graphic design or working creatively, and who have a knowledge and interest in branding will find success in this field.
How to transition into the field of online work
The world has already experienced a cultural shift in the direction of accepting and even favoring online remote work. Businesses that have previously been moving in the direction of streamlining their workforce have quickened their efforts to do so because of necessity brough forth due to COVID-19. The shift to online work has made companies realise that employees can be equally productive from a home office environment, and thus have become less hesitant to using fully-remote contractors. This is great news for freelancers.
In a recent report by the popular freelancer platform Upwork, 73 percent of hiring managers surveyed are planning on maintaining or increasing their hiring of independent, project-based freelance workers and roughly half say that COVID-19 has made them more likely to use freelancers in general. This means that now is the time for freelancers worldwide to thrive.
For individuals looking to transition into freelance work, fortunately there are a variety of platforms available to help you get started. Some popular platforms include Upwork, Fiverr, Toptal, Skyword and Supersourcing. Many of these platforms allow freelancerse to build their own profiles, showcasing their portfolios of work and skills, and highlighting their specializations. This provides a win-win situation, as freelancers can easily promote themselves and clients can easily find freelancers who are skilled to meet their needs.
It is important to keep in mind that there may be a learning curve when transitioning to freelancer work. Getting your first few clients can be the hard part, and freelancers have to sometimes start with lower than expected rates until they build a solid client database. Eventually, however, as freelancers gain positive reviews on their profiles and complete quality work for clients, they often experience an uptick in project offers.
Freelancers who we spoke to commented that when transitioning to this style of work, they experienced a start-up period of between 2-6 months, where they were still focusing much of their time in promoting their work, finding clients and becoming familiar with the logistics around contract-based work.
What will happen to freelancer and contractors after COVID-19?
For those who are serious about shifting to freelance work, and who are taking the first steps in this direction, one hesitation they might still have is whether after COVID-19 their style of work will still be popular among employers.
Fortunately, the future of online, freelance work looks bright. Many companies have taken long-term actions to move towards fully remote workforces, they have chosen to close physical office locations, strengthen their online networks, and revolutionize the way their teams collaborate and communicate from afar.
Additionally, companies have begun to institutionalize the practice of hiring freelancers and contractors. While in the past contractors might have just been brought in when absolutely needed, or when companies saw a knowledge gap between their staff and upcoming projects, now contractors are becoming a regular occurrence. HR departments have started integrating the hiring of contractors into their regular operations, and have sought ways to simplify the contractor-hiring process internally. With all of these permanent changes being made by businesses, it looks like freelance and contract work is here to stay.
Unexpected learning benefits from being a freelancer
While there are many benefits that freelancers experience in terms of their day-to-day life, such as more freedom to work on their own schedule, freedom to relocate and comfort of working from home, there are also skills that one builds from working as a freelancer.
Freelancers are experts in managing themselves, and with this comes a variety of skills that they can use in future endeavors. Working as a freelancer helps to build your self-discipline and time management skills, planning skills, and organization skills, as working with many clients requires freelancers to manage their time well in order to serve client needs. Additionally, freelancers are experts in self-promotion. There are many soft skills that freelancers must perfect in order to be successful, these include interview skills, networking, sales skills and self-promotion. Freelancers need to act as their own biggest fan, and as a result they gain valuable social skills which will serve them in almost any field in the future.
Ultimately, the choice to transition into online freelance work is one that will never be simple, however it is often one that brings many benefits and lessons. Now more than ever freelance work is becoming popular and widely accepted, however, and as a result many people are taking the leap and trying this new style of work, with many enjoying the benefits that come along with it.