Over the past two years, the world of work has changed, evolved and shifted — moving from a strict schedule of office cubicles and commutes to flexible working and remote desks at home. The pandemic has also changed the way we think about work and its value in our lives. Being faced with months of isolation with our families, the stress and concern for those we love and the pressures of finding a new normal amongst so much chaos has morphed our priorities and given us a new way to look at the working week.
As a freelancer, in particular, many of the weekly routines so many full-time employees had to adapt to were already part of our lives and so the adjustment period was perhaps a little shorter and easier for us. However, there were definitely some new working styles to get used to, some new mentalities we had to adopt and some challenges we had to face to try and keep our businesses afloat.
The freelance lifestyle is one filled with highs and lows, personal gains and unexpected struggles and without the support of a full-time job or a senior management team, self-employed workers can often face the brunt of external business factors. We’re left alone to deal with the ever-changing digital landscape we work on, handling tech problems and invoice queries and client relationships on a singular basis, without being able to lean on anyone for support. Even without a global pandemic interrupting our schedule, freelancing is not an easy road.
So how did the pandemic change the way freelancers work?
1. Shifting routines
Freelancers, generally, work from home a large percentage of the time. They typically depend on a dedicated home set up, with easy access to everything they need to keep their clients happy — but they also require breaks and a change of pace too. The ‘coffee shop’ lifestyle isn’t just an idyllic Instagram trend, it’s also a safe place for freelancers to break away from their homes and work amongst other people for a while, gaining a much-needed breath of fresh air to help them reset. Before the pandemic, there was even a trend of freelancers booking out lodges and Airbnbs abroad to give themselves a working holiday and a change of scene, great for improving their mental health.
However, when the pandemic struck, these little breaks and mental holidays ended. Our families all came home and we were forced to work alongside people we’d never spent this much time around before. The kitchen, once a quiet space to escape into for a quick coffee and a client call, became publically negotiated territory, with fights over empty mugs and washing up. The wifi became slower, the house became more cramped and there were more distractions than ever. Suddenly, full-time office workers were learning exactly what it meant to work from home every day of the week and were discovering the benefits and challenges of doing so, right in front of our faces.
We had no more ‘little breaks’ and ‘coffee shop dates’. Our work ended and our weekends began in the same room, just with fewer Zoom calls than before. Even now, as the restrictions in the UK are slowly starting to ease, the pressure of all of our time at home has still affected many of our routines. The quiet places we used to love became our prison cells instead.
I’m still trying to figure out my routine and I know that many of my friends and fellow freelancers still aren’t ready to return to weekly coffee shop trips and working lunches quite yet.
2. Client demand
During the pandemic, so many freelancers struggled to gain work, as the clients and businesses we worked for went under or paused their distribution. Personally, I was able to keep a few clients on board for the duration, however, I lost out on some significant pieces of work due to the impact of COVID-19. It was a stressful and frustrating time, as when the world is at its worst, all you want to do is lose yourself in work and know that you’re making a comfortable income for yourself.
The struggle to find client work, however, did ease off as we approached the beginning of 2021 and with each day that the restrictions rise, more companies are beginning to open up again and need the help of their existing freelancers. Many people have even started new businesses during the pandemic and have made use of all of their extra time, meaning that there’s definitely been an increase in client demand, particularly in marketing and branding.
3. Attitudes to work
It’s not always easy to focus on your work when you’re worried about self-isolation, food shortages and long-distance family members. Many of us struggled to stay motivated and upbeat throughout the worst days of the pandemic, particularly with the distraction of our families at home and our new working routines. We spent more time watching the news than paying attention in meetings, and it felt hard to prioritise a company workshop when our loved ones were falling ill or facing time in hospital.
As a freelancer, we only get paid for the work we do, so spending time getting distracted by our own anxieties and worries is a difficult issue to address. It often felt like a challenge to sit down and plug myself into my work when there was so much going on across the world, and in the end, it actually allowed me to re-evaluate my approach to work. I, along with so many other freelancers I’ve spoken to, found that despite loving our work, we found that the downtime we had to focus on our mental health and our emotional wellbeing mattered so much more to us. As families, we’ve realised that time together is better than time spent staring at screens and that the work will always be waiting for us when we return.
4. Our mental health
One of the most important factors to come out of the pandemic was the renewed attention on mental health and mental wellness of those working from home. More and more people have been opening up about their struggles with mental health, particularly during lockdown periods, and that effect has trickled down to the freelance community — one where the discussions of mental health have always been heavily featured. But through the pandemic, the general opinion of mental health and those struggling with it has seemed to change even further.
People who had never faced a struggle with mental health before were suddenly being exposed to their own issues of anxiety, depression and OCD in relation to COVID, and in return, gaining a much deeper understanding of just how much those issues can affect everyday life. Through this, freelancers and those working from home full-time have gained more respect for working through isolation, for working through mental health issues and for maintaining a successful business despite suffering from a mental illness.
Freelancers themselves have also discovered the true benefits of putting your mental health before your work. Forced isolation also forced us to re-examine our working patterns and habits and how they can affect the way we think and feel. It gave us the time to put our mental health first and to adjust the way we live to give ourselves periods of rest, self-care and reflection.
5. Secondary hustles
During these long periods of isolation and lockdown, society as a whole had to learn to entertain itself at home and find new ways to keep our minds and bodies busy from inside our houses. This led to a huge rise in the number of side hustles, hobbies, activities and new crafts that we’ve all learned to enjoy and often monetise!
For many freelancers, our careers typically began as side hustles and secondary grinds so we’re already experienced in turning our passions into full-time jobs and now many of us are learning how to run multiple side hustles again! From crocheting projects on Etsy to gig work and voice acting, the pandemic gave us more time to explore the hobbies we’ve always wanted to try and now that the world is beginning to open up again, the customer base is ready and waiting.
6. Our empathetic working style
If going through the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that being empathetic and kind to each other is the most important thing we can do. For so long, we’ve had to pull together as a community — both digitally and physically, and understand just how many of us are going through the exact same struggle. We’ve all felt lonely, we’ve all felt anxious, we’ve all lost people, opportunities, events and special occasions. We’ve all felt conflicted and lost, and we’re all still recovering at our own gradual pace.
In a professional sense, this has opened up a huge amount of empathy on both the freelancer and the client-side of work. It feels like a wall has been knocked down, and there’s now a shared experience to talk about and relate to. We can be more forgiving with late delivery, more understanding about slow email replies and more open about sharing a more personal side to ourselves. Everyone has been through something and everyone has been touched by the virus in one way or another, and it’s all we can do to accommodate and respect each other now.
7. A bigger community
If you’re new here, then welcome! We have biscuits on the table and juice on the side and all of the coffee and self-assessment forms you could need to get settled in as a new freelancer worker!
Working from home changed a lot of things for many people. For the first time, they were able to understand the benefits of spending more time in their safe space, enjoy the relief of a later start in the morning, focus on the work rather than the workers and let themselves relax at home whilst still being productive. Over the past two years, people worked in gardens, in bedrooms, in kitchens and lounges. They sat in the sunshine with iced coffees and sunglasses, tapping at their laptops and enjoying their day, rather than looking at it longingly through a tower block window. They were there when their children got home from school, they spent more time with their pets than ever before and they found the time to do more of the hobbies and activities they’d always wanted to.
For some people, this new way of living prompted more than just a request to work flexibly throughout the week. It prompted a shift into a fully self-employed lifestyle, free from mandatory Zoom quizzes and passive-aggressive managers and office politics. People found that they could still do the work they loved, but be in control of their own working schedule at the same time, and put the important things in life first for a change.
The freelance community has grown bigger than ever in the aftermath of the pandemic and it’s been fantastic to see so many people joining our little world.
What do you think has been the biggest change in freelancing throughout the pandemic? Have you made any big changes to the way you work after lockdown or made any plans to re-prioritise your working life? The changes in our life can impact our work in strange, weird and wonderful ways and although the past few months haven’t been easy for anyone, it’s important to see some of the good things that came out of it in the end
Thanks for reading