October 28, 2020

How COVID will shape the future of work – and how freelancers will benefit

Written by Martin Baxter

Earlier this month, the Association for Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), released some worrying statistics about the impact that COVID-19 has had on freelancers. They found that the average quarterly earnings of highly-skilled freelancers fell from £20,821 at the end of 2019 to just £15,709 in Q2 of 2020. That’s a decrease of 25% and the lowest level on record since IPSE started collecting this data back in 2014. They found that freelancers were still managing to achieve their day rates, but that the number of days they were working per quarter had fallen dramatically, making a huge impact on earnings. 

However, there are reasons to remain hopeful – yes, even as we head into higher tier restrictions in some areas of the country. COVID-19 has had far-reaching impacts on the way that we work, especially in professional, management and technical occupations. While much has been made in the press of whether the pandemic means the end of physical office space (and the sandwich shops and overpriced coffee chains that go with that), we’re far more interested in how the changes might present new opportunities for freelancers. 

Built-in flex: contract to expand 

Unemployment rates are high at the moment and the job market is extremely competitive. But firms are still nervous about taking on new staff. A permanent employee presents a significant financial commitment to an organisation. Hiring means having to fund pay, sick pay, holiday pay, a pension, bonuses, maternity or paternity pay, and any other perks that come in the company’s package, as well as equipping an employee with a workspace, remote or otherwise. And it means committing to funding that position long-term. Yes, companies can put workers on probation or make redundancies, but every stage of this process, from recruitment onwards, is a significant investment. And some businesses are worried that they just don’t know enough about their short, medium, or long term situations to make these kinds of commitments right now. 

That’s where freelancers come in. Hiring freelancers will allow companies to bring on board highly-skilled individuals for individual projects or for short-term contracts. It offers them built in flexibility to use their staffing budgets in the smartest way – to bring in expertise, skills and talent (that’s you!), without longer term commitment. Of course, as freelancers we know that once we’ve got a foot in the door, a job well done will often see us called back for more time and again. So, although a freelance gig comes without a commitment to more work, it often leads to a longer-term relationship. Businesses that harness the power of a flexible freelance workforce that they can scale up or down to adapt to changing market conditions are going to be stronger in weathering the COVID storm. Freelancers can use this to attract new clients – perhaps even those who’ve never used freelancers before. 

Remote working: hire the best, wherever they are 

A lot of the discussion on remote working has focused on how it has changed employees’ experience of the working day, affected productivity, and that looming spectre of vacant office space. What fewer people have noticed, however, is the additional opportunities that remote working presents to businesses, particularly in the recruitment process. Shifting to a partly- or fully-remote working set-up increases a company’s chance of being able to hire the very best people for their roles. And by this we mean, literally the best person in the world for that role, rather than “the best person that lives within commutable distance of the office”. 

Again, this presents new opportunities for freelancers. Contracts that previously would have stipulated having to be on-site are now open to remote applicants. You can start to search for freelance gigs more widely – in other regions, in other countries, and even on other continents! There’s the added bonus to businesses that many freelancers are already skilled in remote working practices. We were all on Slack before it was cool. We’re used to cramming in Zoom calls between the school run and the weekly shop. We know the importance of clear, written communication in an asynchronous working environment. We’re experienced at managing ourselves and our workloads without a manager peering over our shoulder to check up on us. 

Cutting costs 

Many businesses have been realising the savings that they can make by not having permanent physical office space. It’s much cheaper for them to provide a decent working from home set-up and virtual office for their employees than it is to rent, furnish, equip, clean, maintain, heat and power a physical workspace. Figures from the US suggest that, per employee, a remote office set up is about 10% of the cost of a physical office space. This is another reason why freelancers – who often use their own equipment – are an attractive proposition right now. If you’re a freelancer, your fee also needs to cover these costs if you’re working remotely. Remember, if you work from home all or some of the time you may also be able to claim the costs of running a home office back against your Self-Assessment tax return.  

Before you set off into the brave new world of post-COVID employment, make sure you have your back covered with Dinghy freelancer insurance. Specially tailored for people working freelance, it offers professional indemnity, public liability and business equipment insurance all in one easy, flexible package charged by the second. Just like the companies with their new freelance workforces, you can scale up or down your cover depending on how business is going. Sign up now at getdinghy.com, so that you’re ready to spring into action when that next opportunity comes your way. 

About Martin Baxter

Read more blog posts by Martin Baxter


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