- Company sees a shift to more remote & short-term work in this period
- Freelance marketplace platform expanded from Latin America to SEA last year
“We probably got the worst version of remote work.” Tomas O’Farrell (pic), cofounder of freelance and gig economy marketplace platform Workana, is talking about the impact that Covid-19 has had on companies, and how workers now have to balance the distractions of family, social and work from home. “But surprisingly, even that worst version works!”
“You get most employees now saying, I really like this and I don’t really want to go back to our office,” he explains. “And then you’ve got many companies saying, remote (working) actually does work, maybe I don’t need to spend all this money on the office.”
With lockdown restrictions in place, the obvious question was whether companies were more likely to hire freelancers, and whether workers were more likely to look for gig jobs?
“We saw it on both sides,” says O’Farrell. “We’ve got more clients now coming to Workana than before, (and) we’ve got way more freelancers coming on to the platform than before.”
It is clear that Covid-19 is changing how employers and employees are looking at work. For a start, companies now accept remote work, whereas before employers would worry if people could work unsupervised at home. “(They would think) maybe they’re watching Netflix all day, I don’t know.”
The benefit of accepting talent far from you is that companies now have a larger pool to choose from.
“Maybe I don’t need to restrict myself to the candidates that live five kilometres around my office, and maybe if I go further, I can get better talent at a better price,” says O’Farrell. “Maybe I can go and see if there are talented people in, say, Terengganu or in Penang, or in East Malaysia.”
The other push is that companies that desperately needed to digitalise because of Covid-19 turned to Workana. O’Farrell shares that the most popular freelancing projects offered on Workana have been to do with IT and Programming (29%), Content Marketing & Sales (27%) and Design & Multimedia (24%). “They’re coming to find talent to boost and improve their ecommerce and online channels.”
From Latin America to Malaysia
Workana was started in Argentina in 2012 and built up their reputation as a (if not ‘the’) leading gig economy platform in Latin America. Then in April 2019, they decided to springboard to Malaysia, families in tow, to establish a presence in a completely different part of the world.
O’Farrell describes it as a deliberate decision to go all-in. “We said, okay, we can sort of toy with the idea – or we can be really committed and go for it.”
So far, things have been going well for Workana with 100,000 users in Asia to date. “I think the level of talent that we’re getting here in Malaysia is very good. The level of language here is amazing for somebody coming from Latin America, the fact that everybody here speaks three languages, just like that. Still surprising to me,” says O’Farrell.
Given that Malaysia was meant to be a springboard for the rest of Asia, O’Farrell already has a list of markets that look active off the top of his head: Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam are the more obvious ones.
“Even further away like Australia and Japan, that weren’t really on our radar at first. Those are looking very promising as well.”
As for adapting to a new work culture, O’Farrell says that it has been easier than expected. “People in Malaysia and in Latin America, we’re not that different. I saw that Malaysians are very friendly, very open.”
While Workana’s open culture adapted quickly to the Malaysian and Southeast Asian style, being half a world away means things get “very complicated”. “You’ve got time zones, you’ve got language issues. But then again, the magic of being able to talk face to face with somebody, even though they’re 5,000 kilometres away, really helps out a lot.”
In fact, having offices around the globe unexpectedly gave Workana an advantage during the recent Covid-19 lockdown. “We’ve been doing remote work pretty much since we started eight years ago,” he says. “We’re able to continue our day to day pretty much the way we we’ve done it before, because we’ve been doing remote work for so long.”
Remote-working and freelancers valuable now
Although nobody really knows what the future will bring Covid-wise, perhaps the worst is over in Malaysia. “Now we’re facing a period of reconstruction,” says O’Farrell. “For companies, and for people, investing and looking into remote and freelance work can be a way to help countries towards a speedy recovery.”
Specifically, he agrees that in the near future, there will be a greater need for short-term hires based on project work. “This is not a new trend. But post-Covid, it has been really boosted,” he says. “Companies are a bit worried about increasing their fixed costs. Maybe I really (only) need this person for this particular project, instead of hiring somebody full time, which was the old model.”
This shift to source on-demand talent will have its own set of issues to address. “How do I actually recruit a remote workforce? How do I ensure that we have the same culture? How do I make sure that I don’t treat my remote workers as second-class citizens and that everybody’s part of the same company?”
These are all familiar problems to O’Farrell, having experienced both at his company, and with clients. “Since we’ve been doing this for so long, we’re very happy to help out and guide them in how to walk this path.”