However Thin, 2020's Silver Linings Should Be Acknowledged
It can be hard to encapsulate the negative aspects of 2020 in just a few sentences. The positives, on the other hand, can be rattled off easily. However few positives there were, it’s worth taking the time to appreciate them, understand them, and prepare for the future with them in mind. One particular group that got the long end of the stick in 2020 is freelancers. More people started freelancing in 2020 than in any year prior. To be fair, many became freelancers out of necessity. They lost their job and freelancing seemed the only option. But what if freelancing hadn’t been an option? What then? Freelancing became the sole way for many people and many families to make a living last year. This growing freelance marketplace became a safety net of sorts for millions of Americans who needed help. Is freelancing an ideal option? Of course not. But now that millions more people and businesses see its effectiveness, it will soon be more than ideal. It will be normal.
Rather than a catalyst for things brand new, 2020 has really been more of an accelerator. It took trends that had been growing or stagnating for years and injected them with rocket fuel. Remote work, telehealth, vaccine science, automation, virtual experiences, government borrowing, the death of malls, mask wearing (though certainly less in some places), and many more have become all but standard since the pandemic began. Among these trends is the huge uptake in freelancing. Upwork and Fiverr reported huge stock price increases in 2020 with the latter rising 800%. For people who didn’t just start freelancing, but have been at it for years, this is a huge validation. It means that the way those freelancers have been living and working is becoming mainstream, valued, taken seriously. For people who began freelancing in 2020, it’s great timing. It may not feel like it for them, but they became freelancers on the cusp of freelancing’s adoption into the mainstream. There will be more freelance work available than ever once the pandemic is done, something that would have taken much longer to occur. There will certainly be people who resist this, who will want to go back to full-time work once this is all over. The problem is that this shift in the workforce would have happened at some point, the pandemic just sped it up. Many of these trends are an amalgam of one greater trend: a more transient, dynamic, bespoke workforce. Might as well get used to it.
The global upheaval of, not only the pandemic, but the last few decades in general (rapid technological advancement and economic chaos) has moved the global workforce away from the Fordist style of centralized work ubiquitous with the 20th century. We are moving toward a choose your own adventure style workforce. Career ladders and predetermined life paths will soon be a thing of the past. Freelancers are in full control of their careers and lifestyles from the location they work, to their retirement planning, to their vacation days. As fewer people rely on an employer to supply them with work, money, healthcare, and let’s be honest, meaning, more of us are going to need to fill those gaps on our own. This is the deeper trend 2020 has sped up: the full control of one’s own life and career. With that change comes a different world, both personally and globally. So much of how our society functioned was based on the hours, locations, and life periods in which we worked. As that changes, so does everything else. Will restaurants start being as busy on Tuesday as they are on a Saturday? Will rush hour no longer exist? Will people retire in their 30’s and then start working again in their 50’s? These are impossible things to predict. Short of seeing the future, what you can do is what you’ve been doing all of 2020: Adapt.
Not to sound overly opportunistic, but 2020 opened up a lot of doors for new business. The changes brought about by the pandemic, while certainly stifled some business, created tons of room for innovation. As people’s needs change so do the goods and services accommodating those needs. There will certainly be a return to normal, but many if not most of the consumer offerings created during COVID-19 are here to stay, even if only for a niche market. There is no doubt both people and businesses will remain interested in innovations in the worlds of online-education, video-conferencing, at-home workouts, mask-wearing, cooking, and gardening to name a few. This means that any entrepreneurial idea you’ve had over the course of the pandemic, do it! Try it out. Freelancers are very much entrepreneurs, and any idea that comes to them can be turned into an income stream.
Don’t be discouraged by the fact that things will eventually go back to normal. There is more room for new ideas than there has been in recent memory. One of those new ideas is the concept of a contingent workforce (i.e. freelancers), and we’re just beginning to understand its potential.
As 2020 fades away in the rear view, 2021 plows ahead, and with it a potential end to this crisis just beyond the horizon. As freelancing is taken up around the globe, there is more opportunity for freelancers than ever, rivaling and soon surpassing the opportunities available for full-time employment. A period where people freelanced out of necessity will transition into a period where they do it out of opportunity. A wealth of potential work so rich it will be difficult for people to stay away. Perhaps more importantly, it will be easier for people to take advantage of. 2020 has changed us, made us stronger, more prepared, easier to bend and harder to break, more ready for a new world of work than we’ve ever been. “How did I get through his year?” You may ask yourself. You had to. There was no other option. We are built to persevere, to learn, to overcome; to see a silver lining and know that the sun can’t be too far away.