How to navigate a freelance career during the COVID-19 crisis
Millions of people around the world have lost their jobs, temporarily or permanently, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freelancers and contract workers have been among those heavily affected by this health and economic crisis. Freelancers often work on a contract basis and for multiple clients. In some industries (such as cosmetics, arts and sports), freelancers have lost many contracts and employment opportunities.
The Canadian government has offered financial support to these gig workers. However, the long-term effects on freelancers might go beyond losing their source of income. It may require them to seek more stable forms of employment, foregoing the flexibility many gig workers enjoy.
This could halt further development of the freelance employment cohort, which was expected to grow significantly in coming years. So it’s important to understand how freelancers can cope with the pandemic and remain positive.
I designed a study to examine how freelancers can stay positive and determined in their job searches and how they can cope with the shock of COVID-19. In my study, I looked into three aspects I call “career resources” that freelancers might use to stay confident and to explore their job opportunities.
These resources are explained in a book titled An Intelligent Career by Suffolk University career expert Michael Arthur and his colleagues. As explained in this book, people use a combination of resources to work and navigate their careers, including the following three:
Passion for career: Internal motivation (or passion) to do the job;
Expertise and skills: A set of skills that helps them perform the job; and
Professional relationships: Colleagues and friends who offer encouragement, help and support.
In short, I wanted to answer these questions: Do these three career resources help freelancers stay confident in times of uncertainty? Which career resources help them remain determined in exploring their job opportunities?
The study’s design
To find out, I asked 87 Canadian freelancers to complete a survey about their job search during the COVID-19 pandemic. I asked questions about their career resources (their passion for their freelance jobs, their level of skills and expertise, and their relationships). I also asked questions about their confidence in finding jobs as well as their proactiveness in exploring job opportunities.
Statistical analysis showed that passion was the most powerful resource for freelancers to stay confident and motivated in job searches. Skills were also related to freelancers’ level of confidence and proactiveness.
However, relationships did not necessarily contribute positively to freelancers’ confidence and proactiveness in their job search. This could possibly be because they’ve heard disheartening news about their friends and colleagues losing jobs during difficult times, such as the pandemic. The larger someone’s network of people is, the more likely that they’ve heard bad news and negative thoughts. As a result, freelancers might lose confidence and drive after hearing that many of their colleagues and friends lost work.
There are many ways governments and employers can help freelancers remain hopeful, confident and proactive in their job searches.
Because passion and skills are key resources for freelancers, governments can provide programs that enable them to develop their skills and enhance their passions. For example, online educational videos can provide freelancers with insightful information on key skills such as leadership. These online videos could be provided to various groups of freelancers, especially those who apply for employment insurance in times of difficulty.
Employers can also assist freelancers by designing interesting jobs with on-the-job learning and growth opportunities. These opportunities not only improve freelancers’ skills, but also heighten their passion by satisfying their desire to feel challenged.
Friends and family members can also help freelancers. In my study, friends and colleagues did not necessarily improve freelancers’ confidence and proactiveness. It might be because so many people share negative thoughts and discouraging news about widespread job losses and potential economic crises.
I suggest people be kinder and spread positive thoughts to the freelancers in their lives. This is central to one of the three career resources that many people rely on in their professional lives — friends and colleagues offering support and encouragement.
Last but not least, freelancers themselves must be proactive. They can take advantage of lockdowns and economic downturns by investing their time in skill development. An inexpensive (or sometimes free) way to do so is to take online courses related to their area of work, leadership or interpersonal skills.
Taking these courses will help them feel more skilled and connected, which will help increase their passion for their work while putting them in a stronger position to find jobs.