TIME TO GIG
Justin Small, Founder of The Future Strategy Club, discusses the importance of the gig economy to keep the UK's private sector moving after lockdown
Over the course of the last three months, the private sector has undergone a seismic shift. Thousands of businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and – despite the Government’s furlough scheme – over 610,000 people have found themselves unemployed since March alone. In fact, new stats show that if a second wave of the Coronavirus occurs, the unemployment rate in the UK could reach a staggering 15%.
Every firm in the UK has undoubtedly been affected by the pandemic – either positively or negatively – and business leaders have had to review what works well and what does not within their firms. Data from The Future Strategy Club shows that 29% of business leaders have already done this. It is clear that in-house talent is to become a luxury for the foreseeable future as businesses – especially in the SME space – begin to rebuild. With overstretched budgets and the streamlining of teams, often it is the most creative members of the private workforce who have suffered as affording high-end, permanent talent is no longer maintainable for many firms.
COVID-19 has demanded UK businesses to rethink, with a time sensitive shift, what they think to be both productive and efficient. Recalibrating team structures to get the most output out of the least resource must not come at a price, especially for clients who have remained loyal to their suppliers. Striking the correct balance in saving talent whilst nurturing your bottom line is a tall order, especially for some of the UK’s youngest businesses. In most cases, only essential workers are kept on as businesses operate with a skeletal staff structure.
For businesses to recover fully and to thrive beyond the impact of Coronavirus, innovation to supplement the new profile of how offices function will be key. Now more than evert, with creative talent being a luxury for most, considering a freelance or contracted worker may provide the very tool to help nail this dynamic of innovation and reduced resource.
Freelancers provide a vital lifeline for those who are in dire need of expertise without the long-term commitment during the most financially uncertain period the UK has seen since the 2008 recession. Lockdown is easing, and this brings the opportunity for the first time in months to begin to resume and trade with some normalcy. With this comes progression; firms will need to start following their business plans once again to evolve and remain profitable. But with a reduced staff – and, perhaps, reduced morale – it may be tricky to get projects off the ground. Many companies that have needed to scale back in order to survive will still need to invest in talent to deliver and complete these projects, even if it is on a part-time or short-term basis.
Furthermore, many skilled workers may well be exploring additional working options, such as the gig economy and contract work. The role of freelancer is likely to shift; historically, part-time contractors have missed out on company benefits and socialisation, but now – as their talents become far more appreciated and in demand – freelancers have the opportunity to become some of the most integral and core members of teams, especially if hired to lead special projects.
The perception of freelancers and gig economy work has been long overdue an overhaul. Historically, freelancers have been excluded from the benefits of the permanent workforce including workplace culture, socialisation and support networks. Now, with the turbulence caused by the lockdown crisis, the private sector’s reliance on flexible workers will not only become apparent but crucial to its survival, delivering a positive step for the gig economy and its importance to the wider economy as we grow out of the COVID-19 period.
Freelancers with experience can lead teams to success and truly take the helm to deliver creative projects that will ensure businesses succeed. The global freelancer community has survived and thrived over the years functioning with a culture where you are only as good as your last job. Furthermore, you are only as good as your last fee. For this very reason, there continued dedication to each project may at times deliver results over and above the output of an individual who is consistently buffered by notice period and contractual safety.
The period through and post-COVID-19 means that the entirety of the UK workforce now functions with a similar degree of uncertainty; yet it will only be the freelance community who will understand how to navigate their output under such circumstances and therefore must be relied on heavily due to their experience in converting this sentiment into amazing results.
Now, business leaders should be exploring every avenue of growth and innovation to survive the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. By treating freelancers as true colleagues and fully embracing short-term contractors into the culture of the workplace, businesses can drive forward with purpose and overcome the challenges presented by lockdown.