Four tips to help you thrive as a freelancer

The most successful freelancers navigate challenges by developing connections to places, routines, purpose and people

The UAE made significant changes to its labour laws on February 2, making it easier for freelancers and gig workers to take on multiple jobs simultaneously.

The Emirates is also known as a “paradise for digital nomads” after introducing a one-year residency permit for foreign remote workers in March last year, as well as new freelance visa categories. The new laws and visas will make it easier to practice a career as an independent contractor in the UAE.

The freedom and independence that comes with working as a freelancer is often the main reason why a significant number of people quit their stable, but less exciting, day-to-day jobs and pursue careers as gig workers.

However, as with any job, there are both challenges and advantages. Gig workers struggle with social and economic anxieties as they operate without the assurance and support of a traditional employer, studies show. These anxieties co-exist with the desired benefits of independence and self-sufficiency.

Our studies have shown that successful gig workers have learnt to manage their financial and existential worries and enjoy experiencing much higher ownership of their work and achievements. But this doesn’t happen without effort on their behalf.

Based on a survey of 65 gig workers, we found four critical connections that help people to excel in a gig economy.

The most successful and thriving independent workers are able to navigate the challenges of this kind of work by developing four different connections: to places, routines, purpose and people.

Places

Successful gig workers create a space exclusively dedicated to their work. It is no surprise that it can be difficult to stay focused in a home environment, but a space specifically designated for work played an essential role in both helping gig workers focus and also inspiring their efforts when work was tough.

A home office — as opposed to a corporate office — can be unique and reflect a person’s personality and needs. Successful gig workers set up their offices to both enable work and remain motivated.

Routines

Many freelancers would argue that one of the primary reasons they left their corporate jobs is because every day in an office can lead to undesired routines and tedious bureaucracy. Gig work, instead, allows them to have a more diverse schedule and create their own practices.

However, research has shown that athletes, scientists, artists and even everyday workers use routines to enhance focus and performance. The professionals we spoke with tend to rely on them in the same way.

Routines, especially for gig workers, are a powerful tool to manage tasks, improve workflow and maintain motivation. They are a conscious tool to enhance people’s sense of order and control in uncertain situations.

Purpose

For most people who participated in our research, being self-employed initially meant doing a job that would allow them to enter the market. However, the most successful talked about their jobs in connection to a deeper purpose.

Through their words, we see that such a purpose both binds and frees gig workers by orienting and elevating their work.

The people we interviewed talked about empowering women through films, exposing harmful marketing practices, keeping folk music traditions alive and helping corporate leaders grow in good faith.

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Successful gig workers found a way to establish and maintain connections with people who both help them to stay focused and elevate their work
Sue Ashford, professor of management and organisations at University of Michigan Ross School of Business

In other words, they saw their job as more than just a means of earning a living. The purpose helped them to see a bridge between their interests and motivations and the world’s needs.

People

Researchers have given warnings about a “loneliness epidemic” and independent workers are naturally at a higher risk.

Successful gig workers found a way to establish and maintain connections with people who both help them to stay focused and elevate their work.

Gig workers from our study said that when they reach out to friends, it helps with anxiety and works as a support system.

Circumstantially, there are family members, friends or contacts in similar fields who can’t always offer specific work advice but, nevertheless, help gig workers push through challenging times and encourage them to take the risks their work entails.

How to thrive as an independent worker

Professionals must think carefully about whether, when and how to go independent.

One survey respondent said: “Independent consulting requires not only the right level of experience to become a credible and trusted adviser, but also the right mindset to deal with the challenges of uncertainty, lack of financial security and the ups and downs of the workload.”

A traditional workspace wouldn’t fully satisfy many of the gig workers we surveyed as it wouldn’t give them the same freedom and mental space as when they work as freelancers.

Most respondents agreed that going back to a corporate and traditional workplace was not an option after they became independent workers.

Being a gig worker is not an automatic recipe for success. However, when done right, it’s a guarantee for a fulfilling and vital work life.

Sue Ashford is a professor of management and organisations at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business

Updated: April 08, 2022, 4:00 AM
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