Matt Barrie, Chief Executive of Freelancer.com, the world's largest freelancing marketplace, is an award winning technology entrepreneur and the co-author of over 20 US patent applications, Matt has also been Adjunct Associate Professor in Electrical and Information Engineering at a leading university in Australia where he taught Cryptography and Technology Venture Creation.
In conversation with People Matters, Matt spoke about how 2020 changed the game for hiring gig workers, the increasing interests from NASA as well as corporates in hiring freelancers, the changing perception of gig work as a well-accepted alternate source of income and shared some advice to kickstart 2021 on the right foot.
Here are excerpts from the interaction.
Can you share some of the 2020 trends that you believe are likely to continue in 2021?
In the first quarter of 2020, Freelancer.com saw the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world began a global “work online” experiment. Data from Freelancer.com clearly showed the disruption as businesses transitioned to work from home, followed by a marked uptick in activity as the global workforce settled into a new way of doing things and was forced to work online.
Based on Freelancer.com’s last coronavirus survey (May 2020 - sent to 44+ million users worldwide), in terms of business, 44% said their business has experienced a significant impact from COVID-19. In terms of income, job market in general, and the economy, 72% said their personal income has fallen as a result of COVID-19.
In terms of remote work, the freelance economy, and future of work, 71% said they will be increasing their use of freelancers rather than hiring full time staff.
Of those respondents who previously had employees working in an office, 71% said they will continue to allow some or all of their employees to work from home, even after the pandemic is over.
We think these will continue in 2021.
In your view, how has COVID impacted the perception towards the gig working model?
The freelance online job market continues to flourish in spite of global challenges. Towards the very end of Q1 2020 was the start of a deluge of demand and in Q2 2020 and Q3 2020, the number of users that joined our platform, including freelancers and employers looking for freelancers, surged enormously. While COVID-19 has been the trigger of the already upward trending freelancer movement, this exponential growth can also be attributed to the strong desire for individuals to finally start their own freelance enterprise, work on their own terms and supplement their income. These are promising times and positive signs for the gig economy.
I think the increase of people joining the freelancing movement both for freelancers and businesses looking for independent workers recently, shows that the perception towards the gig working model has changed for the better.
How will the broader global economic state impact the labor market for the gig workforce?
With mandatory lockdowns at the onset of the pandemic and now further impending restrictions, we have seen how COVID-19 has affected peoples’ jobs and livelihoods. In the midst of this turmoil, hiring freelancers opens up an alternative resource and has proven to be a great opportunity for employers. Businesses looking to cut costs can hire on demand through the cloud instead of through traditional means.
Freelancer.com has seen an upsurge in users on the platform since early March 2020. Many people are either looking for jobs or looking to transition out of jobs. Budding entrepreneurs who have found themselves out of their full-time gigs are setting up their startup or side hustle before they go back (if) into a serious job.
In this COVID-era, the whole world has been forced to work online - we completely rely on the internet; hence we are seeing a lot more online projects.
With businesses including entrepreneurs and their new startups, we are seeing more of new employers posting jobs on the site - there has been an uptick of around 50% over 1st and 2nd quarter of 2020.
As HR leaders dive into workforce strategy for a hybrid workplace, what are some norms that can foster a more productive experience for the gig workforce?
For HR leaders diving into workforce strategy for a hybrid workplace, here are some norms that can foster a more productive experience for the gig workforce:
- They can work with skilled freelancers locally or from around the world online.
- They can work with freelancers of their choosing. They can post projects for freelancers to bid on. Shortlist bidders, and award who can best deliver their project’s needs. If they need to get the work done offline, they can also post projects, and work offline with them.
- Take advantage of Recruiter Service provided by freelancing online marketplaces if they need help in selecting the right freelancer. The Recruiter Services from the platforms can help connect them to the best freelancer for their project, and invite bids from more qualified freelancers.
- Directly hire freelancers. Instead of inviting bids by posting projects, they can directly hire freelancers if they are looking for something more specific to be delivered.
- After choosing a freelancer to work with, alternatively they can also hire a Project Manager who can help with monitoring their project’s progress. Their Project Manager will keep in touch with their freelancer regularly on their behalf, ensuring that the tasks are clear and there are no delays in the delivery.
- They can also start contests. Receive ideas from several freelancers right away by starting a contest. Crowdsource what they need to be done from competing freelancers, and pay only for the winning entry or entries. This is ideal for design-related work.
- Project success is dependent on effective collaboration. What needs to be done has to be clear to both parties. Consider asking questions (similar with offline interviews with candidates) to their freelancers to help ensure their project’s completion.
As organizations revamp their operating models, sustainability is a key factor in bringing in new changes. Do you see employers addressing sustainability for gig workers as well?
Based on our experiences, Freelancer.com have teamed up to help crowdsource solutions to big clients. One of them is NASA.
Freelancer.com and NASA have teamed up to crowdsource the most complex problems being faced by astronauts on the cutting edge of space exploration since 2015.
NASA even reported to us that they had the experience of extraordinary cost-savings (80-99%) when compared to traditional methods, 97% across a wide range of federal space programs.
In June 2020, Freelancer.com jointly won the US$25Mn NASA Open Innovations Series 2 tender. In 2020, The US Department of Energy (DOE) and Freelancer.com teamed up to help crowdsource solutions to increase manufacturing energy productivity in the US. Other clients in 2020 that have teamed up with Freelancer.com in finding freelancers are Airbus, Novo Nordisk, Deloitte, Arrow Electronics, IBM Technology, Facebook, and many more.
Hence, yes, we have seen that clients or businesses have started to see sustainability for gig workers compared to the previous belief where the concern businesses had in dealing with gig workers was that they didn’t see the sustainability in hiring gig workers. But since they keep partnering with us, we believe they have more trust in hiring freelancers now.
How has digital acceleration and disruptions to the world of work impacted your working model? Did you feel prepared or did you encounter surprises along the way?
COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world of work and working models worldwide. For us internally, it impacted the working model for our employees. Although we have policies that support working from home or remote work for our employees, still there have been some adjustments needed as we have 7 offices worldwide and most of our employees worked from our offices. Since COVID-19, most of our employees have been working from home. As we provide a freelancing platform, tools and services that encourage remote working, the adjustments we had to make were not many internally.
While for our users worldwide, digital disruption has impacted them positively as we have spread the idea of remote work since the beginning. Businesses have started to believe in hiring digitally and using gig workers to get their projects done. They have started seeing the cost-effectiveness in doing this.
With global trends changing the way we conceptualize work, workplace, and workforce, what are some changes you look forward to in the coming year?
We expect a permanent step change from COVID-19 era as people increasingly work from home and experience the disruptive benefit of working online.
From March 2020 onwards, Freelancer.com received a large growth in new traffic to the website as freelancers looked for work online, businesses increasingly moved to work remotely and clients looked to hire more cost effectively.
Since January 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic has unfolded in stages. Whilst the impact on the macro economy is significant, the company is seeing a positive impact on revenue and Gross Payment Volume due to increased adoption of its marketplace by organizations transitioning to remote work environments.
While the world is starting to experience a slow recovery, the recession is far from over. The overall trend for jobless claims in the US remains high, reported to still be over 800,000. With stimulus benefits expiring and the unemployment rate at an all-time high, Freelancer.com continues to see an increase in users joining the platform to boost their personal income.
Entrepreneurs make the most of the lockdowns by starting eCommerce businesses. The bright side of being locked down is that some budding entrepreneurs made the best of it in Q2 2020 by starting new eCommerce businesses. More people at home has sparked a major increase in online shopping. On Freelancer.com in Q2 2020, projects related to Shopify, Shopify Templates, Shopping Carts, eCommerce and WooCommerce took off in the quarter (up 54%).
What can global leaders do to ensure they start 2021 on the right foot?
There will be a permanent step-change in both working from home and the use of freelancers by businesses.
Global leaders need to start utilizing the digital disruption for their business growth and expansion by hiring freelancers.