COVID-19 and the Growing Demand for Freelance Work

Global markets retreated in the wake of mandatory shutdowns and stay-at-home orders intended to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), resulting in record layoffs and cuts to planned expansions across the board. It’s difficult to fully gauge the fallout, but the International Labour Organization estimates that the equivalent of 400 million jobs were lost worldwide during the second quarter of 2020 due to COVID-19. 

However, despite the grim employment outlook, there is a silver lining for those willing to seize the opportunity. As full-time staff positions dwindle, contract and freelance work is actually picking up steam. This includes highly technical roles, including software development, statistical analysis, and big data applications.

Companies still need work to get done and are beginning to get a better sense of what a remote, on-demand workforce can accomplish. If companies pay only for vital tasks as they’re needed and are able to choose from a wider range of geographically dispersed workers, they can better manage the bottom line.

The key to survival in the workplace is to adapt. Whether you were already moving toward a more independent working situation or have been prompted by job loss due to COVID-19, it’s in your best interest to consider your options. We’ll look at these broader trends, how businesses are getting work done, and how you may best position yourself for new opportunities during this period of seismic change. 

The Rise of the Freelancer…Accelerated   

The increasing reliance on freelance workers is not a new trend. The Intuit 2020 Report, published in 2011, predicted that more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce would-be freelancers, contractors, and temp workers by 2020. The Freelancing in America 2019 report by Upwork (which connects freelancers with businesses) and Freelancers Union estimates that 57 million U.S. workers freelanced in 2019, contributing roughly $1 trillion to America’s gross domestic product.  

The COVID-19 crisis injected the global economy with a sense of urgency, however. Upwork CEO Hayden Brown told Fortune reporters that they’ve seen explosive growth in new freelancer registrations and business requests for workers since the COVID-19 crisis began. Even though economic activity has stalled, she attributes this increase to specific, project-related needs and greater confidence in the effectiveness of remote, temporary workers.

Businesses that already were gradually moving toward a leaner workforce have accelerated their efforts due to necessity. Companies that may have been resistant to remote work or using contractors on a project-by-project basis discovered that their workers were just as effective working from home as they were in the office, give or take a few diaper changes or other home-related tasks during quarantine.

The Upwork report estimates that 45 percent of hiring managers expect a hiring freeze for the foreseeable future and 39 percent expect continued layoffs throughout the crisis. However, 73 percent of hiring managers surveyed in the report plan 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.  

Freelancers and Contractors, Beyond COVID-19 

These trends toward a leaner, project-based workforce are expected to continue beyond the current crisis, driven by the larger digital transformation movement and the maturation of online services that match businesses with available professionals. But while COVID-19 has motivated businesses that otherwise wouldn’t have considered using outside help, many experts believe most businesses will consider it a success and continue to use more freelance help in the future.

There are many reasons for this long term outlook, including:

Specialization    

As online platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, and Toptal have become more sophisticated, it’s easier than ever for businesses to find the right person for a particular project. This includes software developers and other highly technical professionals in addition to writers, designers, and other staples of the freelance community.

Cost Savings

When they’re not paying for long-term employment (including benefits and payroll taxes) or office space, companies can save a lot of money by focusing on project-specific, short-term hires. This is especially suitable for companies that expect a certain ebb and flow with their projects.

Flexibility

Successful freelancers are agile by definition, especially if they simultaneously work for multiple clients or take on short-term roles with limited ramp-up times. They may be better at getting started and turning on a dime than in-house employees, although businesses also need to value the institutional knowledge and expertise that comes with long-term employment.   

Better Quality

If you’re a freelancer, then you know how important it is to constantly prove your worth to short-term clients. Employees may be able to skate by here and there, but if you’re always hustling for more projects or new clients, you don’t have that luxury. Companies can benefit from this extra effort; however, high performers within your company are also valuable assets.

Nearly Limitless Talent Reach

Instead of pitching for new hires within a 20 or 30-mile radius, using freelance workers means companies have a potentially global reach. By fielding candidates from virtually anywhere, they're not limited by geography. Of course, this also can present certain challenges, such as cultural barriers or drastic time zone differences.

In-Demand Freelance Skills

The types of work that can be performed by freelancers, contractors, and independent consultants is almost limitless—whether it’s done remotely or in the office—although it’s more practical for freelancers juggling multiple clients to work from home. But since the COVID-19 crisis has closed most offices, while prompting businesses to trim staff, many organizations are just now beginning to realize what’s possible going forward. 

The needs of any given organization will vary, of course. Professionals working as freelancers or planning to make that leap, meanwhile, should take stock of their skills and experience and consider upskilling through distance learning platforms, such as Simplilearn. 

The following freelance skills and roles will likely be in high demand as the global pandemic plays out. We also have included links to online Simplilearn courses that can help you master specific skills (keep in mind that many of these courses have prerequisites). 

Mobile and App Development

Companies across all sectors need to refine their mobile reach if they hope to compete. Many of these initiatives, such as building apps and optimizing web content for mobile users, can be done as short-term projects. 

Specific skills needed include Java, C++, and Python.  

Blockchain

You’re probably familiar with Bitcoin, but blockchain is about much more than just cryptocurrency. Companies are harnessing this technology for supply chain management, secure business-to-business transactions, and other applications that require greater security and accountability. 

Specific skills needed include Node.js and JavaScript.

Cybersecurity

As long as there are bad actors trying to hack into networks, scam people, unleash malware or cause other types of high-tech mayhem, there will be a strong demand for cybersecurity professionals. There’s already a dire shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals, so this is a solid field in which to specialize.

Cybersecurity professionals need a broad understanding of enterprise architecture and networks in general.

Data Science

The growing field of data science is taking nearly all industries by storm, helping businesses make smarter, data-driven decisions that impact the bottom line and drive growth. Data scientists prepare raw data for analysis, visualize the data to convey its conclusions, and communicate to decision-makers. This is a great field for freelance workers with strong mathematical and analytics skills.

Specific skills needed include R, Python, Tableau, Hadoop, and Spark.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

AI has a long way to go before Skynet takes over (and let’s hope it never gets to that), but it’s already being implemented in self-driving cars, chatbots, and digital assistants. While AI is the broader field of emulating human intelligence, ML is a subset of AI focused on making computers “smarter” through learning on their own.

Specific skills needed include TensorFlow, ApacheSpark, and Keras.

Other tech skills and roles often sought out by companies on a contract or freelance work basis include web design and development; search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing; game designers; statistical analysis; graphic design; augmented reality; and various other types of software development. 

Adapt Your Skills and Seize Freelance Work Opportunities  

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that markets are in turmoil, families are struggling to make ends meet, and many people are becoming ill around the globe. It’s a difficult time for everyone. However, we must all take stock of how workplaces and working arrangements are changing and adapt. 

Adding to your skillset and even pursuing an entirely new field is a great way to boost your value on the freelance market. Upskilling is also a great way for businesses to do more with a downsized staff. In any event, Simplilearn’s proven Blended Learning model can help keep the economy moving in the right direction. 

About the Author

SimplilearnSimplilearn

Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

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