Full feature: alhaus.com/alhaus-magazine
As the COVID-19 pandemic rocked Europe and turned our world sideways, two things became very clear: we’re facing the public health crisis of our lifetimes, and a major transformation of the way we live, work and play is now on our doorstep.
In the wake of the inevitable furloughs, layoffs and business closures impacting traditional workers, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under pressure to also support the country’s vulnerable self-employed. Despite the eventual government aid, financial security for freelancers—particularly creatives—is still very much in jeopardy.
So where does that leave the futures of the UK’s roughly five million self-employed people? I spoke to Pip Jamieson, CEO and founder of The Dots, a professional network for creatives rivalling LinkedIn, to find out.
The short-term future for freelancers
“While usually I’m an optimist, sadly I think the worst is yet to come. There will definitely be lots of companies that have teams on furlough but will struggle to bring them back on again, which is heartbreaking,” said Pip.
“In the short-term, it will also be a tough time for freelancers, as companies desperately try to keep their existing staff and not onboard new people.”
There’s no denying that the world of work has forever changed, Pip feels: “Remote working is here to stay. Flexible teams and work are dominating. Professional networking has moved virtual.”
Turning challenge into opportunity
Sometimes the most valuable innovations are borne out of a need to think differently — and The Dots is no exception.
“The whole reason the platform came about is I was surrounded by people who were working in a very different way than the traditional ‘white-collar’ way,” explains Pip.
“What I realised is there was no professional networking home online for me and my peers — so I’m that crazy female founder, who decided to go up against LinkedIn. The rest, as they say, is history!”
Although in the short-term, COVID-19 has indeed endangered the work and income flow of the self-employed, creative freelancers may be well-positioned to thrive — if they can quickly accept the new rules of the game and leverage their flexibility and versatility to their advantage.
With spaces dedicated to connecting makers, creators and creative collaborators like The Dots — more than 500,000 strong — there’s a glimpse of opportunity if you can dust yourself off and adapt to the changed landscape.
“The tech industry is thriving, so while we’ve seen a stagnation of freelance and full-time roles on The Dots, roles in the technology sector continue to boom,” said Pip.
“My advice? If you’re in a position to upskill, now is a wonderful time to learn digital skills. If you’re a graphic designer, pivot to UI, UX and product design. If you’re a copywriter, look to online opportunities. If you’re in marketing, brush up on data and SEO. And if you can face learning to code, do it!”
A whole world works from home
As lockdowns around the world forced both traditional and self-employed workers out of the office, working from home has become the new standard of work — which in itself opens up opportunities for flexible workers.
“We’ve seen a sharp rise in remote roles on The Dots, which is super exciting for the future of work and freelancing more broadly,” said Pip.
“Lots of companies are moving to ‘remote-first’ — Twitter is a great example. The wonderful thing is that you can work for a company anywhere in the world, which means there will be a much wider pool of opportunities in the long run.“
Of course, this means there will be more international competition for roles, but the growth in opportunities will, on a whole, be positive — particularly for parents and people who crave a more flexible way of work.”
Pip maintains that in this new world of work, there is more space in the market for disruptors, entrepreneurs and ideas-driven people: “If you’re in a position to do so, now is the time to start a business or side hustle,” she said.
“We’ve seen a massive rise on The Dots of people doing just that! One of the silver linings at the moment is that there's lots of available talent. So if you have an idea, and need help making that idea happen, you’ll be spoilt for choice.”
Taking care of mental health
Ask any freelancer and they’ll tell you that although they’re free from the shackles of a 9-5 job, working gigs to sustain themselves is a cycle of uncertainty, stability and more uncertainty. Throw in a pandemic and the sudden influx of people looking for work and that uncertainty becomes anxiety.
On a supportive note, Pip shared tips for struggling freelancers: “Firstly, don’t despair. You are not alone. I have experienced firsthand how many industry leaders want to help if they can — you just need to ask.
“It’s really important to look after yourself. There are many pressures to be productive, but if your mental health isn’t ready, don't push yourself. And there is nothing wrong with hunkering down and weathering the storm.”
Pip’s parting words are optimistic. “Just a big virtual hug to anyone who’s struggling right now! You’re not alone, and you’ve got this!”