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N.L. sharing in growing gig economy

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Contract employees have different perceptions on working life

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The “gig economy” in Canada continues to grow, and individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador are riding its ups and downs, with some common lessons for anyone thinking about diving in.

In the gig economy, as BMO has described it, workers “may be called contingent workers, virtual or remote workers, independent contractors, consultants or freelance workers,” and are offering their skills to companies in need of them, in supplement to permanent staff.   

Some “gig” workers describe feeling run down by demands, the “grind,” working multiple jobs out of need versus choice. Others have told The Telegram about choosing the option to pursue non-traditional contract work, appreciating the level of autonomy.   

“There’s pros and cons,” says Jenn Deon, a marketing and communications consultant based in St. John’s, when asked about the topic.

She gave up working for anyone else in a more traditional nine-to-five office job about nine years ago now. So far, she said, her chosen work life is working for her.

She’s been able to structure work days with more flexibility than before — something that became a particular boon about four years ago, when she needed to be more available for parental assistance and care. On the other hand, she said she has faced regular demands on evenings and weekends as part of the package, with an expectation she’ll be available as needed during contracts.

It takes discipline and some focused scheduling to hit on the right work-life balance.

Technology helps there, she said.

“Let’s put it this way, I don’t think I could have done this job 10 or 15 years ago, before we had smartphones,” she said.

As for the idea of it being more precarious than the alternative, Deon suggested the feeling of uncertainty and financial reality can differ by individual. She shared that she is in a two-income household, benefitting from her husband’s pension and medical plans. “But because of where I am, it’s a good thing for our family,” she said.

When it comes to determining a right fit, she said it’s worth thinking about what you’re interested in investing and to what degree. In her own case, she was working multiple contracts in a focused area, reaching a point where clients were asking her to incorporate. There were new taxation requirements and other requirements around workplace insurance. She began Jenn Deon Consulting Inc. but that road, of incorporation, had its challenges.

“As an individual contractor, there’s a sweet spot that — if you can maintain yourself as what’s in taxes called sole proprietorship — it’s a beautiful sweet spot,” she said, saying it’s a lower income threshold that may not work for solo contractors in the long run.

Kailey Bryan is a cultural producer. Trained in visual arts, she would refer to herself as a visual artist, but her work life and professional network have also extended beyond solely the area of visual arts.

She works in the gig economy in a way that differs from Deon. In addition to being a practicing artist, she has a handful of different lines of work that pay the bills. There is her year-round contract with varying hours as administrator of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival, contract work with the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, contract video work for other visual artists, writing, and appearances as a drag performer and aerial circus atop it all.        

When it comes to success in the gig economy, Bryan also swears by the value of organization, careful scheduling and careful tracking of the hours put in on each contract.

She will also schedule blocks of personal time, including time for social and family obligations. She said she’s found clear communication with her clients, including on when she will be working and when she won’t, has been welcomed.

She has also made a point not to book herself into too many roles at one time, keeping it to four or fewer roles in a week where she can. It’s about allowing yourself to focus on a job, without things nagging in the back of your mind. 

Besides, it takes some effort to settle mentally into the basic idea of work from home, she said.

“Probably at least a couple of years ago now I was plagued — as I still am — but plagued by that sensation you get as a studio freelancer… that there’s a perception you work from home, so your life is really chill, that you have to contend with,” she said.

“If I’m home I have that constant nagging feeling that I should be working,” she said, reiterating it’s important to acknowledge that taking care of yourself on a personal level is necessary, alongside your work life.

On security — in a complex area she says is worthy of greater discussion — Bryan said she thinks investments could be made in the cultural sector to offer greater stability for professionals. 

“One of the things that I think is that it may not be as structurally necessary, potentially, as it’s sort of branded to be (in the Arts) — that level of precariousness and insecurity,” she said.

She highlighted the significance of cultural production to tourism, suggesting first recognizing the significance of different types of work is a first step into the deeper discussion.

As for moving into a single, standard, office job, she is willing to gig. Right now, the timing draws her in. She appreciates being able to opt for work morning, noon or night.

“For me that’s an asset. It might not be considered an asset by other freelancers,” she said.

ashley.fitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

RELATED COLUMNS

WANGERSKY: Gig economy puts workers on shaky ground (2018)

PAYNE: Our young people deserve more than precarious work (2017)

RELATED LINKS

Jenn Deon (Marketing and communications consultant)

Kailey Bryan (Interdisciplinary artist)

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