Welcome to the freelance revolution in the era of COVID-19. This is the third report, and invites freelance business and thought leaders to comment on topics of importance as the global economy works through the pandemic.
One of hottest topics among freelancers this week is the future of remote work. That’s my question this week to freelance leaders: How do you see the medium and longer term impact on your business of the current ‘shift to remote’ of your clients because of COVID-19?
Overall, leaders see remote as a game changer and a win/win for freelancers, organizations and employees. But, sustainability needs a firm foundation: the right investment, good operational plumbing, smart HR systems, strong soft skills, and outstanding communication.
Leaders also say that freelance platforms, remote and distributed from day one, are uniquely able to educate, support and partner with organizations turning to remote distributed teams. Companies are learning that remote distributed, teams easily “plug and play” with enterprise freelance platforms. That, in turn, leads to the next step in a tech powered future of work: blurring the distinction between employee and freelancer.
Here are the observations that our freelance revolution leaders shared:
Ben Huffman, CEO of Contra: “There is a fundamental shift to project based employment, tricky at first, but long term will lead to a renaissance in how we work and enable all of us to achieve greater work-life balance. COVID-19 is an accelerant to a trend that has been long overdue. We have seen a 10,000% increase in membership on our platform in the last month alone.”
Taso du Val, CEO of Toptal: “The current pandemic has forced almost all of our clients to very quickly transition to a fully distributed workforce. In many cases, this has created significant disruption in how teams operate and conduct their business. For a company like Toptal, which has always been a fully distributed team, we’re able to offer guidance as to how to do this in a way that helps our clients both manage immediate challenges and sets them up for success in the mid to long term. The lasting impact to our business is acutely correlated to the ability of our clients to manage through this transition.”
Max Friberg, Cofounder of Inex One in Sweden: “I see growth in the medium and longer term. Our platform helps investment teams to collaborate online. I think the Covid crisis sparks an overall shift towards efficient online platforms. I also think this behavioural change will stick, even after the crisis ebbs.”
Leslie Garçon, Cofounder of Weem in France: “Most WEEM projects were done on clients’ premises and we and clients encouraged it. With COVID-19, projects have shifted to remote. Meetings are replaced by conference calls and clients realized that consultants’ commitment was unimpacted. Long term, it might confirm the efficiency of fully remote projects.”
Paul Estes, Editor in Chief of Staffing.com: “An estimated 58% of knowledge workers now work remote. The feeling that work couldn’t be done remotely is largely debunked. The challenge now: many companies invested in large and expensive physical campuses and are incented to drive utilization over the benefits of more progressive remote work programs. We will see a shift in how talent wants to engage. Companies that focus on outcomes and flexibility will attract the best and the brightest.”
Emma El Karout, CEO of One Circle in the Mideast and Africa: “Remote work will be tough to roll back once we beat this pandemic. Companies that resisted remote work are seeing real evidence that it works. Remote work itself is going to improve exponentially as people invest in it as a primary work arrangement, and will require an overhaul of HR practices.”
Rishon Blumberg, Cofounder of 10x Management and 10x Ascend: “We are seeing early signs that highly skilled, very experienced, remote freelancers are still in demand and this may ramp up as companies start to come back online but still need to be agile and keep headcount low.”
Stephanie Nadi Olson, CEO of We Are Rosie: “We serve large brands and agencies, and the normalization of remote work eliminates the need to legitimize how remote work can be successful, which has been a mild barrier. The remote-first nature of our consulting just made a jump from liability to asset column for many of our clients. This will lead to faster adoption of our model, greater success for our clients, and hopefully the marketing industry at large.”
Florent Ogoutchoro, CEO of The Tech Guys in Benin Africa: “The fact of everyone shifting to remote work has two main impacts on a business like ours. First, it is easier to convince new clients about the advantages of our services. Second, companies will develop new processes adapted to remote work, which will make collaboration with us more efficient.”
Jeffrey Moss, CEO of Parker-Dewey: “Companies that have historically not provided remote opportunities are quickly making the adjustments, and seeing how remote can fit into their existing processes. In my view this won’t replace on-site work, but helps companies see where it complements.”
James Sandoval, CEO of MeasureMatch in the U.K.: “This sudden shift to working remotely is a brilliant proving ground for innovation but clients are telling us it’s also enormously disruptive. Many organizations are in shock, exacerbated by unnerving furloughs and firings to preserve cash. We’re expecting the mid-term impact on our business to be similarly disruptive, but it’s also an important opportunity. We’ll see demand for professional services depressed for a period, but we’re converting this into breathing space to double down on platform development. The longer term outlook remains very promising.”
Sam Durand, Founder of Going-Freelance in France: “When the crisis ends it will be time for companies to transform how they work and define their ‘new normal’. Clients will need help to set up their new organization with flexibility, more on-demand talents and more empathy in their culture.”
Alok Alstrom, CEO of AppJobs in Sweden: “For clients in the remote work category, we see a massive increase starting in mid-February and accelerating as the crisis deepens. For the long term, the high number of “home quarantined” will accelerate the adoption and development of “working from home” by companies worldwide. This will prove challenging at first, but with time we will see an increased interest in all remote working platforms.”
Steve King, Cofounder of Emergent Research: “Medium and longer-term, the pandemic induced recession will increase use of non-employee talent. Companies are focusing on flexibility, agility, and resilience and non-employee talent contributes to these objectives. The massive growth in remote work helps business leaders realize workers needn’t be co-located to be productive. They’re also learning freelancers are relatively easy to integrate into distributed work teams. The bad news is that the near-term impact on most independent/gig workers is likely not good.”
Chandrika Pascricha, CEO of Flexing It in India: “We are seeing 3 strong themes, though it’s early days. Existing users of freelance talent are doubling down and expecting to do more. Internal champions see this as an opportunity to use freelancers in a more strategic and structured manner. Our platform has seen growth in incoming inquiries from potential clients and organisations looking to leverage independent talent as a serious strategy. There’s been growing interest in Flexing It’s remote consulting product through which clients around the world efficiently leverage India’s talent pool.”
Alexandre Maximen, Cofounder of Getapy in Canada: “We see a decrease in customer spending as they cope with Q1 losses. Once they financially recover and operational fundamentals are back to pre-COVID levels, we see the market easing up and huge opportunities for innovative solutions in the remote space.”
Chris Dwyer, VP R&D for Ardent Partners: “Some business leaders call this the greatest remote work experiment in history. Many organizations are struggling with infrastructure, technology support, and seamless communications. Longer-term, this will fundamentally shift how business operates and many, many businesses are learning how impactful remote work can be on worker productivity. When this pandemic is behind us, corporate planning will include a laser-like focus on digital transformation, distributed teams, and a more agile culture.”
Ashmita Das, CEO of Kolabtree in the U.K.: “Many traditional businesses are working remotely for the first time and realizing benefits. Science and healthcare organizations were slow to adapt to remote due to the nature and complexities of their work. However, the current situation is forcing them to rapidly adopt new ways of working and collaborating. We expect them to implement better remote working policies within their organizations and be open to hiring location-independent freelancers through platforms like Kolabtree.”
Yoann Lopez, CMO of Comet in France: “The silver lining of this crisis is a greater focus on enterprises’ flexibility, and relationships with suppliers, including freelancers. Remote is part of these changes. For Comet, a platform for IT freelancers, there’s no reason to work on-site besides companies’ policies. If these change, it makes our platform way more liquid, especially in France where most of our tech, and large clients are in Paris, but many freelancers are relocating in smaller, less stressful cities. This greater liquidity thanks to remote work makes Comet’s business stronger in the medium and longer term.”
Joseph Hajjar, Cofounder of Ashghali in Lebanon: “In the short term, shifting to remote will lead to a decline in overall demand in our services sector although remote services can be outsourced and this might be an advantage for global freelance platforms. However, this is all temporary. We believe that there’s going to be a spike for local demand once this pandemic is over because people were abstaining from all activities that involve human interaction.”