As the employment landscape evolves, it is important to consider the challenges and opportunities for freelance workers, to ensure they are able to contribute and thrive, writes Annika Fagerstrom.
Today’s workplace is undergoing an invisible revolution, with the number of freelance workers rapidly increasing as business needs continue to change. The solo self-employed are now a vital element of the UK economy, contributing a massive £271 billion to the government’s coffers in 2017; some predict that, by 2020, half of the workforce will be freelance.
It is therefore becoming evermore important to take an objective look at the world of self-employment and tackle its challenges head-on, giving freelancers the tools and skills they need to work effectively – and happily.
‘Some workers go so far as becoming self-employed to avoid the stresses that come with an in-house role’
While people choose to freelance or work remotely for a variety of reasons, some of the most common motives include achieving a better work/life balance and greater flexibility and simply avoiding working in an office altogether. It probably comes as no surprise that sitting at a desk in an office all day, every day, isn’t for everyone; some workers go so far as becoming self-employed to avoid the stresses that come with an in-house role.
Going solo definitely has its highs, but it also has its inevitable lows. New research from Epson reveals that 48% of freelancers find solo working ‘lonely’, and 46% find it ‘isolating’. The absence of an office social life is often keenly felt by freelancers, who admit to missing office banter and being part of a team.
It’s very clear that the leap into self-employment brings many changes, most of them beneficial. However, for those lacking structure or support, solo working can be tough. This could be why the study also uncovered some worrying revelations around freelancers' mental health. A quarter of respondents said they had experienced frequent periods of depression, and around a fifth claimed that the loneliness of remote working had caused them to have suicidal thoughts.
While the impact of isolation and loneliness on mental health is widely recognised by organisations such as the charity Mind, it should definitely not be ignored by others. According to Mind, at least one in six workers experience common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
‘For those lacking structure or support, solo working can be tough’
There are small, simple steps that individuals can take to look after themselves and make their workplace mentality healthier. The following actions, as trivial as they may seem, could help return some all-important camaraderie back into the working life of any independent, flexible worker who is feeling the isolation of working as a team of one:
- Meet up with somebody during the day. This could be a former colleague, friend, business contact or fellow freelancer. The important thing is to punctuate the working day with some good company.
- Join local networking groups. Many towns and regions have business networking groups, which can be found through local and industry press or on LinkedIn. Although many have a web presence, they often hold in-person meetings and events, too. This is also a great way to find a peer with whom to collaborate.
- Get mobile. With the right technologies and apps, which are quite easy to come by now, it is possible to work more or less anywhere, including areas where people congregate such as cafés and libraries. Getting out of the house can be good motivation to be productive and, in turn, may have a great impact on mental health.
- Make friends online. There are many freelancer forums and industry-specific networking groups and forums online, the trick is to find the right one. Once a good forum has been identified, there will always be a place to go for a chat.
- Remember you are not alone. There are literally millions of solo workers in the UK and many millions more worldwide. It is important to remember never to feel alone.
With the upsurge in solo workers in recent years, it may certainly feel like one can be the loneliest number as many freelancers make the leap to self-employment. With effective measures in place, individuals can combat these negative feelings and embrace all the perks that self-employed work can offer.
It is more important now than ever to help the UK's hard-working community of independent, flexible workers to thrive. Freelancers are at the frontline of the new working world — all they need are the tools to make the most of it.
‘Freelancers are at the frontline of the new working world’