Today I’ve been invited to speak as a guest with Sue Smith for a show on the gig economy that will air on the national broadcaster in Canada (CBC), and as I prepared my notes for the show I started thinking about the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 will have on freelance work – and work in general.
The normalization of working from home
While the stigma of working from home has greatly diminished since I began my career as a freelancer more than fifteen years ago, a lingering sense of low-ambition still attaches to the idea.
For those who’ve had a place to go to do their work, it’s been difficult to comprehend how anyone even can make a living without a commute. (Setting aside the climate-friendly aspects of a reduced carbon footprint) working from home has always been about making a choice about the kind of lifestyle you want and the kind of work you want to do. Even though most people not working in a skilled, hands-on, trade like plumbing, do the vast majority of their work sitting down, on a screen, punctuated by meetings (which rarely add value or productivity to the real work of the individual), the idea that doing so from a remote location was somehow going to negatively impact productivity has been hard to shake.
Many organizations – and cultures – still cling to the outmoded, ill-conceived belief that facetime matters (while conversely disparaging the benefits that Apple’s FaceTime enables as one of many video chat services that enables human interaction without risk of actual human contact in times of viral contagion gone wild). COVID-19 is changing that on a daily, if not, hourly basis with headlines appearing the BBC and The New York Times and other word-renown media organizations heralding companies and the remote-working enabling technologies they produce. In fact, according to this article on CNBC published yesterday companies like Smartsheet (a work-management software), Zoom (videoconferencing), Slack (team-work, collaboration software), RingCentral (company providing cloud-based phone, video and messaging services), Citrix (virtual desktop technology company), as well as Microsoft Teams are seeing an uptake and will likely benefit from the upsurge on remote work.
More outsourced work
In tandem with sending their workers home, companies who still need to engage and interact with their customers on a daily basis may see the need to outsource more of their operations as parts of their supply chain are impacted by factory, city or even country-wide shutdowns, and workers within their staff networks fall ill or need to care for family members who do. For freelancers already established and online, this presents an opportunity as more potential clients will be looking for support. Thinking about which companies are likely to be most affected, and developing custom strategies for approaching them may result in not only a new gig now, but could develop into a business relationship with lasting value for both parties involved.
Fewer live events and gatherings but more virtual connections
While there will of course be a fall off in live events and conferences as noted here in this article, and wide scale cancellations like the mayor of Austin cancelling SXSW (not great for the event and conference photography business), over time there could be an increase in the virtualization of such gatherings. This could be the push that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) enthusiasts need to finally unlock the potential those technologies can bring one a massive and much wider scale than their current still rather limited applications.
Whatever your line of work, COVID-19 is going to have an impact. While it certainly is changing how we live and work in the short-term, the longer-term changes may be even more profound – and perhaps not entirely negative. While I do not in any way wish to diminish the emotional, physical and psychological effects for people directly affected by this virus, there may be some positive changes and lessons we can take from this experience that affects us all globally. For one thing, we can certainly expect to see lower emissions, helping countries everywhere achieve their climate-change targets. And for those of us who make our livings creating content, making things and sharing the fruits of our labour, now may be the time that your efforts begin to pay off.