A while back we reported on the quantitative data generated by the Take 2 COVID-19 survey conducted by FIT Europe. If you recall 1,419 participants from 36 European countries and 13 other countries took part in the Take 2 survey.
The main points identified in the initial blog were that we had begun to see a drop in the numbers of freelancers reporting business being off a cliff, and an increase in the number reporting business was slow, though the overall decline in work levels was still massive. This was also coupled with a rise in the number relying on government support packages, given their drop in income. So the picture was slightly improved compared to the Take 1 survey but not by much.
This blog examines the responses we got to open-ended questions in the Take 2 survey.
Respondents indicated a rise in the level of interaction with clients between the Take 1 and Take 2 surveys. While fewer respondents to the Take 2 survey reported that clients were offering them reassurance about the situation (down from 53.3% to 30.7% of respondents who reported clients had been in contact), the number of clients simply checking that freelancers were ok was roughly the same in both surveys. An encouraging note is that the number of respondents who reported clients were settling invoices ahead of schedule was up from 9.9% to 14.3%.
Respondents also reported a significant drop in clients “requiring” them to reduce rates (down from 16.2% to 7.6%), so while it appears to still be practised by some clients, recent outcries about the imposition of unilateral changes in payment terms/rates may have reduced the frequency of recourse to this approach, though respondents did still express their concerns about it. Instead of such unilateral approaches, the Take 2 survey saw a rise in the number of requests for rate renegotiation or requests for changes to payment terms (8.3% of respondents in the Take 2 survey mentioned it, so it cannot be regarded as widespread), though again respondents did express concerns and fears that the practice could spread.
Also, in the open-ended question at the end of the survey where respondents were free to make comments about how COVID-19 has been impacting the profession, some respondents said that their clients are postponing payment or clients are not responding to calls/emails/requests for information about when they will be paid.
Another reason why clients and freelancers were in contact was to check for availability/request quotes (though significant numbers of respondents reported that quotes did not actually transform into work). Respondents also frequently mentioned that the orders that did materialise were small, though 26.1% also mentioned that the reason clients were contacting them was to cancel long-term/on-going projects. Many of the respondents interpreted the sort of contacts they were having with clients as a “slow re-opening” of the economy as clients were gradually beginning to re-explore their translation needs. Others said it is not clear whether the drop in the volume of work is due to COVID-19 or a rise in MT usage.
Generally, though, there appears to be acceptance of the fact that clients will need a bit of time to adjust to the new situation but that things will get back to “normal” or a “new normal” in the near future. Respondents also expressed varying opinions as to how long this crisis is going to endure. Some said it could last for years while others said it would be short term, lasting about six months, though it is impossible to know.
One of the other common reasons why clients/freelancers had been in contact was LSCs exploring whether interpreters could provide remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) or conversely, interpreters informing LSCs that they had done training on it and could work using RSI platforms.
Weathering the storm
In the Take 1 survey we asked, in the absence of government support, how long respondents would be able to weather the storm. The majority said no more than 3 months (most said 1-2 months only), which ties into the situation of precarity among freelancers identified in the main 2020 survey. We asked the same question in the Take 2 survey. The results are by and large the same, with most respondents reporting they could not survive more than 3 months without support, and again the majority said the figure was more likely to be 1-2 months. This data must, of course, be read in conjunction with the marked increase in usage of government support packages, where available.
We also asked respondents for any other comments about COVID-19 and its impact on the profession or feedback relevant to this survey. While 96-97% of respondents in both surveys indicated they would like to remain in the profession, a number of respondents stated in the Take 2 survey that they wish to combine working freelancer with salaried employment in the future. This was a trend already identified in the 2019 and 2020 European Language Industry Surveys and COVID-19 could very well reinforce it. The reasons given varied from the need for more financial security, to general stability, and to not being willing to accept continually dropping rates. Some areas they are considering expanding into are: technical writing, coding, financial markets, private tutoring, temping, something in IT that doesn’t depend on people. These positions could be in the private or public sector.
The general concerns expressed by respondents relate to:
- not getting paid for projects at all
- whether the delayed decrease in work will be deemed COVID-related or not and therefore whether the person will be eligible for COVID-related financial support or not
- general unilateral rates cut
- price dumping
- ongoing instability
- an increase in the number of unqualified dabblers coming into the profession
- a drop in standards
- simply not being enough work to go around once things get back to “normal”.
There were also complaints from specific countries that the financial support available is simply not sufficient (Austria, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia to mention a few) or that the criteria unfairly exclude some freelancers. The approach to financial support in countries where it is necessary for 100% drop in business / business to close, fully misunderstands the freelance model. T&I should not have to turn away / lose clients in order to claim financial support, especially if the project rejected is small one and not very lucrative.
To end on a more positive note, respondents also highlighted the need to see COVID-19 as an opportunity to think strategically, be inspired and remain optimistic.