gig economy

How COVID-19 Has Impacted the Gig Economy (and How Freelancers Can Pivot)

It’s hard to see any area of work and life that has been left untouched by COVID-19. This unprecedented pandemic has impacted industries and businesses of all sizes, and that includes the gig economy. In March, media like The New York Times predicted the erosion of the gig economy. However, many months later, the reality is that there has been an adverse impact, but there has also been a positive outcome.

As a freelancer, you have the opportunity to make changes that address this impact and continue to work on your own terms.

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The gig environment

If you are a gig worker, you may only be concerned with your segment of the economy. However, the gig economy is quite diverse, encompassing everything from Airbnb properties, driver gigs, and car rentals to freelance jobs like content writing, photography, graphic design, and developer projects. Also, delivery jobs, dog walking gigs, and errands and task-type roles. While some gig economy jobs require in-person work, many gig workers were already enjoying a remote or virtual environment before the pandemic.

Understanding the impact

Davide Proserpio, USC Marshall Assistant Professor of Marketing and Kenneth King Stonier Assistant Professor of Business Administration, recently undertook research to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic and business shutdown has affected the gig, or sharing, economy.

The research soon revealed noticeable trends in terms of the variance of impact from COVID-19. Those gig economy jobs that involve hospitality and greater contact (like those connected to companies like Airbnb, Lyft and Uber) took an immediate hit. While many tried to make immediate changes that would lower the risk of contact, such as masks, gloves, partitions and increased cleaning and sanitation, customers that regularly used these gig companies stayed away.

A silver lining

Oddly enough, demand for other gig jobs went through the roof.

For example, content writers and developers were suddenly inundated with new projects as more companies had to rely on those experts accustomed to the virtual work environment. Software and content couldn’t be produced fast enough to address the new way companies had to work.

Additionally, with the mandate to shelter in place, other gig companies exploded. Companies like Postmates, GrubHub, Shipt, DoorDash, and Instacart couldn’t hire people fast enough to meet the instant demand.

Pivot to address opportunities

In early June, FlexJobs released a list of the highest growth jobs to date during the pandemic. Some of the jobs on the list require some specialized knowledge, like underwriters, mortgage specialists and real estate agents. Other flex jobs featured on the list, like interactive gaming, have grown by 70 percent between March and May 2020 due to the availability of more players stuck at home. With education moving online, there is also a call for more teachers, tutors and academic writing assistance. Other growing areas include call centers, accounting and finance, and mental health assistance.

Being aware of these trends can shape what you do going forward in terms of shifting your offerings. You may want to consider taking online courses or getting a certification in order to transition into these in-demand jobs, which will likely continue to increase during and after the pandemic.

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Other strategies

Along with working on your professional development and skills-building, there are other approaches to take as a gig worker during this time:

  • First, this is an opportune time to work on existing relationships and cultivate new ones that might eventually develop into revenue opportunities. You can build connections by working on your online networking and re-engaging with your existing contacts.
  • Second, put more effort into your marketing. Use this time to undertake email campaigns, explore social media and website advertisements, and expand your profiles on job marketplace sites.
  • Third, focus on more pitches. Look for different projects and pursue those jobs and clients you might not have approached previously.

Better positioned

In adding skills, cultivating more relationships, and trying new things, you may discover new career pathways that you enjoy. At the same time, you will also be better positioning yourself to be marketable and in-demand during future pandemics or unprecedented events.

Originally published Aug. 24, 2020.

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