The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the economy, forcing many businesses to reevaluate their processes and adapt to the new realities of their world. But not all businesses were affected equally by the pandemic. Some were able to leverage tech talent and remote skills to pivot their business operations and thrive in the midst of market disruption.
This was the subject of a recent webinar hosted by Nancy Van Brunt, Sr. Director of Talent & Agency Success at Upwork: “Virtual Talent Showcase: Driving Business Agility with Independent Technical Talent.” Nancy interviewed Brad Martin, founder of Another Reality Studio, and Jason Martin, Managing Partner of AppEvolve to see how their experience with freelancing and technology enabled them to help businesses improve agility and fill critical skills gaps by embracing virtualization and digital transformation during the pandemic.
Brad’s expertise is in architecture, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). He created a profile on Upwork while working at a local architecture firm for two years, and eventually scaled that business into Another Reality Studio, an independent agency that specializes in building AR/VR apps for a wide range of industries.
Jason’s background is in software development and customer relationship management (CRM) software. He was first exposed to concept freelancing from a manager’s perspective as the Director of Software Development at a software startup. His experience managing freelancers allowed him to partner with a software developer friend and launch DjangoForce, an independent software development agency that specializes in integrated software solutions for CRM.
Together, Brad and Jason’s combined expertise give a comprehensive perspective on how freelancing can help both businesses and independent professionals alike.
Whether you’re an independent professional looking for work during the pandemic or a business looking to source remote talent online, here are some of the key insights shared during the discussion:
Which emerging technical skills are growing in demand?
Shelter-in-place orders went into effect across the United States after mid March. As a result, many businesses found their IT infrastructure pushed to the limits as they scrambled to migrate business operations and data to the cloud.
“We have a client who’s in the construction industry and they never would have thought that their employees would be working remotely; it was just unheard of. And I think this is the same story for a lot of companies,” says Jason.
Beyond remote work infrastructure, many services traditionally done in-person (e.g., corporate cooking classes) had to be transformed into virtual experiences through technologies such as video conferencing, augmented reality, and virtual reality (VR).
When asked which skills were trending during this time, Brad replied: “there’s just so many different emerging technology skills, but the ones that I’m seeing currently for demands would be web-based experiences or the standalone experiences for AR and VR where you aren’t tied to a machine, you aren’t tied to controllers, but it’s just, ‘how do I experience this?’”
Jason highlighted progressive web apps (PWAs) as an interesting trend among the in-demand skills his software development agency is seeing. “So, a progressive web application is, it basically turns your web-based application into a native experience on mobile devices without having to download any apps from the App Store. I’ve seen this being an emerging technology, I’ve definitely seen some increases of postings, for clients that are looking for this on Upwork,” says Jason.
How clients can work with remote partners
While the incentive to engage with remote partners during this pandemic is pretty clear, the how can be a bit more complicated. Communication and trust between remote partners is the key to a fruitful relationship.
Once you’ve onboarded a remote freelancer or agency, it’s important to establish a clear system of communication, whether that’s bi-weekly status updates via video conferencing, use of visual project management tools such as Kanban boards, or both.
The idea is to make objectives clear and transparent to all parties involved. “I’ve found that trust is one of the biggest things to a successful relationship, and that goes both ways, for the independent contractor and agency to trust their client and the client to trust their abilities here,” says Brad.
How tech professionals find new remote projects
Both Brad’s VR/AR business and Jason’s software development agency find clients through a combination of word-of-mouth and by applying to jobs posted on job boards and freelancer marketplaces like Upwork.
One approach is to screen Upwork invites and job posts for clients who understand Upwork’s processes well and post longer-term projects. “We like to build relationships with our clients,” says Jason. “We look at it more as a partnership and not so much just like client-based.”
And you don’t even have to be a tech professional to find remote project opportunities. “Everybody has a skill that they do that’s work-related every single day. I think that a lot of people don’t realize that they can do this independently,” says Jason.
Virtualization & digital transformation
Virtualization and digital transformation were the key themes of the remote opportunities that exist during this COVID-19 pandemic. Shelter-in-place orders forced many businesses to ramp up their on-premises and cloud infrastructure to support a remote workforce. Many others had to create virtual versions of in-person experiences such as meetings and events.
This disruption created new opportunities for agile freelancers and agencies who were already equipped with the skills needed to help businesses transition their operations to the digital world, including:
- Machine learning
- Remote work infrastructure
- Apps for custom virtual experiences
While not everyone has these tech skills, traditional administrative roles such as call centers and customer support have also increased with the rise of remote work. Freelancers and agencies who can provide their services remotely have opportunities to thrive in an uncertain economy. Brad and Jason are proof that it’s possible to both source talent and find projects remotely provided trust is used as the cornerstone of a remote partnership.
While businesses today face a number of uncertainties, one thing is for certain: independent talent opportunities are continuing to rise.
According to our Future Workforce Report: 3 in 4 hiring managers plan to maintain or increase their engagement with independent talent. 47% of hiring managers are more likely to engage independent talent in the future due to COVID-19.
To hear more of Brad and Jason’s insights, check out a recording of the webinar here.
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