The pandemic has accelerated many behavioural shifts in the way we work. Organisations that had been slowly moving to digital are hurtling along the virtual pathway now and overnight employees have had to embrace digital tools and technology.
Covid-19 is also expected to lead to a strengthening of the gig economy and rise in freelance projects. For some years now there have been several projections on how the future of work is moving towards gig. But so far the gig economy was thriving only in the semi-skilled space (think of outfits such as Uber, Urban Co.). However, the pandemic may lead to a shift in the knowledge economy and white collar jobs into gig mode too.
In the near short term of course, freelancers and self-employed are hurting but projections are that they are going to be the big gainers a year from now. All through April, May and June the headlines have been dominated by news of mass layoffs. When the economy revives and the wheels of enterprise start spinning, the first set of fresh talent needs may be met by freelancers. That is because a lot of the barriers inhibiting ‘gigification’ in the knowledge economy have now vanished. Companies are no longer averse to remote work.
Moreover, the bad press that companies have got for sacking employees will force them to look for ways in which to prevent such situations in the future. If 50 per cent of your employees are project-based hires, the burden of responsibility shifts. The cost savings accrued by hiring experts for a project rather than have full-time workers is undeniable.
In a survey on state of freelancing in nearly 100 countries by financial services company Payoneer done in May, 32 per cent respondents said demand had decreased. However 53 per cent felt that demand would surge once the outbreak was under control. Significantly, during the pandemic there was no decline in rates.
For Dubai and Bengaluru-based Lancify, which connects students to start ups and SMEs for freelancing jobs, the shift is evident in the sudden growth in its membership numbers. “We got way more applications during the lockdown than normal,” says Gowtham Sundaresan, co-founder ,Lancify.
However, the start-up set up by Sundaresan with his BITS Pilani classmate Azan Barodawala, which has been pushing companies to hire student freelancers rather than get interns, has paused applications temporarily. That’s because it is in the midst of building more components to its offerings to both enterprises as well as students, including a Learning Management System, before it scales further.
Sundaresan says the shift towards gig work was bound to happen in a couple of years and Covid has been an accelerant. Young people love the gig economy, he says. The pain points, however for them, are finding consistent work and money. Also, unlike experienced professionals who can get projects on word of mouth, students and early career professionals don’t have much of a portfolio to show.
That’s where Lancify enters. It helps students build a portfolio and create a strong personal brand and market themselves as well as connect them to projects. Most of the projects on the platform are in the creative, marketing and tech space, especially digital marketiong. “Currently we are highly focused on new skills like email automation, UX design, retargeting of ecommerce leads,” says Sundaresan.
Traits of successful freelancers
Not everybody is cut out for freelancing. So is there a particular trait that helps a person succeed in independent projects? Sundaresan feels that among the three qualities that a freelancer needs, number one would be perseverance, second is hunger and third is a willingness to follow through.
The other challenge with freelancing is that payments are often not commensurate with the output and you end up feeling shortchanged. Sundaresan says that Lancify is trying to catalogue rates for tasks.
“We are trying to productise the whole thing by setting fixed rates,” he says.
There are also instances of freelancers having to chase payments endlessly. The balance of power tends to be firmly with the company. That’s where a marketplace like Lancify would help freelancers, says Sundaresan, as it plays the part of mediators and helps in negotiations. “We ask companies engaging freelancers from our platform to put the money 100 per cent upfront. We hold it in escrow till the work is delivered,” he says.
Going forward, the platform will also put in place an assessment mechanism to rate the work of the freelancers on the platform, while to ensure that the client gets the task done to satisfaction, a clear list of deliverables would be laid out. “The product map is still a work in progress. We have understood the pain points and are now working on it,” he says.