Has the Coronavirus impacted freelance business and, if so, is business up, down or changing? I spent much of the day yesterday and today speaking and emailing with the leaders of freelance marketplaces, platforms for independent consultants and experts, gigsters who helped my partner Carolyn and I over the course of the day (traveling from NYC to Florida), and some of the best observers of what’s happening in the space.
There is, of course, lots of commentary on the presumed impact of Covid 19 on independent professionals and gigsters, but not a lot of up to date data. For example, Kia Kokalitcheva of Axios wrote about the gigsters:
“While a growing number of white collar companies are asking employees to work from home, gig economy companies seem to be doing little to protect workers in the face of coronavirus — though pressure is mounting for them to do more. While engineers and business managers at companies like Uber and Lyft can bring their laptops home and access corporate health resources, the independent contractors who ferry passengers, hot meals and groceries, cannot…”
Axios also mentioned that demand for gig delivery services is growing as the virus spreads. Instacart said Thursday that its sales this past week were 10 times higher than the prior week — and 20 times higher where the largest numbers of cases have been reported.
Destiny, a wait staffer who served us breakfast at Laguardia, said that fewer people at the airport means fewer tips, but also reports that people who are traveling have been more generous.
Phil delivers packages as a side gig. His business is picking up as more people choose to stay home.
What about independent professionals working with talent platforms?
Michael Kearns, VP Enterprise for Toptal puts it this way, “Clients are very focused on learning how to do remote right, and work is still getting done so there is still a need for freelance expertise. This plus the sudden openness to remote will drive more freelance work as well as more enablement work for suddenly remote teams to learn how to do it right. So, freelancers will help the work transition.”
Chris Dwyer, VP R&D for Ardent Partners said, “Freelance business is up; businesses are facing a “mini-crunch” not unlike a recession. But, work still needs to get done, and agile talent is replacing some percentage of permanent staffing in the short-term.”
Niclas Thelander, CEO of Outsized, a platform for independent management consultants, in London reports, “We are super busy at the moment across Singapore, India and South Africa — no negative impact so far, in fact having to prioritize among the requirements.”
James Sandoval, CEO of MeasureMatch, also in London, tells us, “The first 6 weeks of the year were way up vs same time last year, but the last few weeks have been less robust. Coronavirus is no doubt an influence, but bills are getting paid, repeat customers are healthy and supply side sign-ups remain very positive.”
Emma El Karout, CEO of One CircleHR, a HR focused startup platform serving Africa and the Middle East noted, “Though still in soft launch, the number of enquires that we received from consultants as well as clients is way more than expected. Over the last 2 weeks, the trend has been substantially higher. We are getting many queries from clients on how to move towards remote work and leverage the use of freelance consultants.”
Stephanie Nadi Olsen, CEO of We Are Rosie, a marketing talent platform serving both end clients and agencies, put it very succinctly, “Up. Had our best week ever.”
Lizzie Penny, co-CEO of Hoxby, reports: “Our business is unchanged thus far, probably because the model is inherently remote and flexible. That said, we have seen a lot more interest from clients and contacts generally in how we operate and how we might be able to help them to move to a model more like ours in the short term in order to maintain business continuity as well as the health of their workforce during the Coronavirus epidemic.”
Alp Sezginsoy, CEO of Expertera in Istanbul Turkey, said, “Ours is neutral on that front, it had no negative or positive effect so far. Yet, we are seeing increased demand particularly for remote work arrangements from companies in the region. Coronavirus impacts will only add to the current wave.”
Chandrika Pasricha, CEO of India’s Flexing It, reports: “For us business is actually up – we continue to see strong growth in demand for our consultants, both in India and from our international clients who leverage us for remote consulting/research support. Happy to share more details if helpful.”
Ben Levi, COO of InCloudCounsel, a freelance legal services company mentioned, “No real impact yet but obviously monitoring.”
Max Friberg, CEO of Inex One, an expert network aggregator based in Stockholm, notes, “We haven’t yet seen any direct Covid-19 effect. Usage is growing, but mostly thanks to a strong inflow of new clients.”
Alok Alström, CEO of AppJobs, also in Sweden, tells me, “It looks like some clients are increasing spend and others are pausing to see where things are headed. We don’t see too much geographical difference between countries just yet except for Italy where activity has sharply decreased during last 7 days.”
Mathias Linnemann, co-founder of Worksome headquartered in Copenhagen describes their situation this way: “Our platform is growing rapidly and our growth keeps accelerating. It’s hard to see the impact of Corona vs. general growth, but we see a small indication in our data of higher demand for remote workers. This corresponds well with this worldwide trend.”
One common message is that the cancelation of conferences could have an impact on near future growth (Note. A conference I was speaking at, HR Festival in Zurich, initially expecting 5000 participants, warned today that it might cancel shortly).
Harpreet Singh, co-CEO of Experfy, an AI and Machine Learning focused platform, mentioned the conference issue, “No impact so far to business. But, one conference I am attending as a speaker may be cancelled later this month.”
Scott Cole, marketing director of AceUp, a mentoring platform in Boston told me, “At the moment I would say neutral. Current customers use our product remotely, so that is good. However we’ve invested a good amount this year in attending conferences (starting as soon as next week) to meet new prospective customers, and the near future of those seems in doubt which could certainly have affects for us.”
Leslie Garçon, co-Founder of Weem, a Paris based platform for independent management consultants, reported, “No impact yet but I think it will have a negative impact in the coming weeks with risks of clients budget reduction / external support shut down.”
Charles Thomas, CEO of Comet, another Paris based consulting marketplace, tells us: “Some key clients are submitting less missions than expected or are now canceled because of an investment decrease in Tech/Digital.”
And Abby Forman, a Fiverr executive, tells us, “As of yet, we haven’t seen any impact of the coronavirus on our business.”
But, uncertainties abound. As Steve King of Emergent Research put it: “We’ve been told by several corporate clients that they are watching the impact of Covid-19 for a couple of more weeks and, if it looks bad, start a 2020 re-planning process assuming a recession or near recession. That would cut growth projections and costs and would ripple down to projects. If so, you’d start to see cuts that would likely impact B2B freelancers and the related platforms.”
Let’s give the last word to Rishon Blumberg, co-CEO of 10x Management, an early boutique freelance marketplace in the US, and an HBR co-author of mine: “Way too early to know anything but last week felt like everyone just stopped doing everything to see where this is all going.”
I promise to keep you up to date on the impact of Coronavirus on the freelance revolution, and will regularly report on what the marketplaces and client companies are telling me. But the big message seems to be this: remote has truly arrived along with Coronavirus.
Viva la revolution.