Still space for freelancers in our shifting digital economy?

Still space for freelancers in our shifting digital economy?

Since Covid-19 has impacted our world there have, of course, been cascading effects within our digital learning industry. We’ve seen clients tighten their belts and others take the chance to change direction or evolve approaches. As many of you have likely seen, the demand for digitalisation of learning has escalated. But does that mean more work for gig workers, vendors and in-house L&D teams?

Here’s what we’re learning and seeing here at Jam Pan.

Not all elearning is created equal

We’re all working remotely. And many of us still need to develop our skills on the job. Enter elearning. Naturally, you’d think we would see a growing demand in elearning projects as businesses continue to grapple with a fully remote workforce and are making decisions about how to continue to train them.

But that doesn’t mean every business has leapt feet first into online learning. In fact, we’ve seen a decline in requests for foundational elearning creation using standard authoring tools. Surprised? We were too. At first.

Initially, this seemed a bit strange to us. How can businesses not require more digital learning at this time? Perhaps they do, but maybe they don’t want to create it right now. With so much easily available off-the-shelf content and accelerated usage of things like MS Teams, businesses are finding short-term solutions to short-term problems.

Conversely, Jam Pan has seen an increase in requests with enterprise businesses specifically looking for highly skilled individuals with niché skillsets. They’re looking for more bang for their buck; instead of getting an Instructional Designer in to build a templated elearning module, they’re looking for expertise in building learning pathways and learning programmes and consultants who can stand in as influential business partners for L&D.

They’re searching for those with the competencies, abilities and confidence to delivery way beyond the pre-Covid project scope.

This data tells us a story. It tells us that the world of digital learning is shifting and that gig work will continue to accelerate for those with specialised skills in particular.

Freeing us from the ‘fixed worker’ model

One of the more interesting observations we’ve made throughout this ‘new normal’ is how quickly businesses are recognising and capitalising on some of these new ways of working. Twitter recently announced their employees can work from home indefinitely; it’s only a matter of time before others follow suit.

Businesses are beginning to realise that having fixed employees, at fixed addresses, may not always be the most efficient or effective model for them. Having a huge payroll for infrequent or smaller projects just doesn’t make much sense, especially in these changeable times. And if coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that those who are lean are more likely to survive.

So could having short-term skilled workers, when you need them, be a route to action which could further galvanise our freelancers and provide businesses with a more lean business model? Perhaps. There are pros and cons to both workers and organisations when it comes to cashing in on the gig economy – here are some that we are seeing.

Why go freelance?

Before the global lockdown, the perks and benefits of being a freelancer often regularly outweighed those of a permanent engagement employee. Many of those still stand, but for some, the ambiguity and uncertainty can also be overwhelming.

Benefits for the business

Obviously there are savings to be made by using skilled short-term workers instead of hiring permanent staff.

But cost savings are really not the primary value add for incorporating gig workers into your employment mix. The real impact comes from introducing new skills and highly functional individuals into your projects; these people bring a wealth of experience and fresh perspectives which can elevate your approaches.

Benefits for the individual

The perks of being a freelancer are far and wide. Variation of work in tandem with being exposed to a variety of projects, people and businesses ensure your skill sets continuously evolve. As a freelancer, you can flex your work around your lifestyle; something which is not possible in a more structured, fixed role.

Plus, the cost savings are also seen from an individual perspective with reduced tax, commuting costs and more.

Risks of the gig economy

Of course, there are also risks with being a gig worker – and these risks are typically more felt by the individual than the business. Many feel that freelance work is much more uncertain, which to an extent is true. You don’t always get company benefits, paid holiday or even parental leave.

You also have to find your contracts as a gig worker; it doesn’t always come to you. But another lesson from Covid-19 is that even permanent roles aren’t immune to the perils of economic uncertainty. In fact, the freelancers we’ve been speaking to have been grateful for the flexibility to take on short-term work in a world where they may have otherwise been made redundant.

There are risks either way, but the gig economy is a natural partner for a more fluid workforce and we believe these drastic changes will result in a growing gig workforce across organisations as we re-establish ourselves post-lockdown.

What does the future hold?

Back in 2018, research predicted that by 2020 more than half of the workforce would be working in a freelance capacity. Whilst we don’t believe we’re there yet, the benefits to both individuals and business are clear to be seen when it comes to gig work. In spite of the shift in employment with furlough and redundancies, we believe a new market will emerge which seeks to further make use of specialised, skilled workers for short periods of time.

In spite of the challenging times ahead, there are opportunities for us all should we endeavour to make use of them. So, if you’re thinking of going freelance or are an organisation which still has deliverables but need skilled staff to execute, we’d love to help you get to where you need to be. To discuss becoming a freelancer, or utilising our pool of freelance talent, get in touch, we’d love to help!

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