As concerns rise about whether or not a no-deal Brexit will happen, every sector of the UK economy is preparing for the worst. A no-deal Brexit would mean that the UK would leave the European Union (EU) abruptly, without any agreements surrounding trade relations between the UK and the rest of the EU’s 27 countries. In the face of this worst-case scenario, one sector may be most at risk: the UK’s booming freelancer economy.

Currently, the freelance market thrives on the conveniences and interconnectedness that a EU membership has provided. With Eurostat reporting that 10% or 25 million people across the EU28 identify as remote workers, the potential damage to this sector could be catastrophic – not just for freelance workers and contractors, but for various European economies as well. On the other hand, freelancing could also present the solution. Digital roles can still let companies tap into global talent without the costs of an office. So this article will examine which is the case: is the freelance economy at greater risk, or can it solve or at least cushion the economic blows of a worst-case scenario Brexit?

Brexit’s impact on freelance work

One of the biggest impacts Brexit will have on the freelance sector is the ease at which a worker from the UK can accept contracts abroad or vice versa. Following a no-deal Brexit, accepting work in Europe on short notice may be more difficult, and new EU administrative costs may negatively impact freelancers’ bottom lines. On the bright side, remote workers for EU clients are better protected compared to in-office workers – however Brexit plays out, work visas may still be unnecessary for remote work.

Furthermore, the loss of frictionless movement isn’t the only problem. Industry standards are currently at a European level, which means that anyone accredited to do work in the UK can do work anywhere within the EU. However, in the event of a no-deal or difficult Brexit, freelancers and businesses may have to gain new qualifications to do business with EU companies. For businesses alone, this comes at a high cost and for self-employed workers this could be disastrous.

In addition, Full Fact explain that Brexit will see a significant change in employment laws given that much of the UK’s current laws are adopted from the EU. One example is the Working Time Directive, which limits the hours per week that an employee can work — British citizens should be prepared for an adjustment in working hours or pay conditions post-Brexit. Ongoing agreements will also shift, with the untangling of remote workers’ various contracts being costly and time-consuming to all involved.

Remote work could be the key

While some business are considering relocating their headquarters to the EU, some experts view remote workers as the key to an unpredictable Brexit. Researchers at Labour Market Outlook found a decrease in the amount of EU candidates applying for low-skilled jobs, making the incoming shortage of talent post-Brexit worrying. However, hiring remotely allows UK-based companies to still gain access to global talent, minus the costs of offices or relocation. In fact, Yoss claims that managing remote workers is now easier than ever, given the presence of multiple collaboration apps and the ever-changing technological landscape. Companies can make use of applications such as Trello, Slack, and Google Drive to manage and maintain engagement with employees.

Of course, fully remote teams won’t work for every business model. Companies who require on-site employees such as research and development centres or production/manufacturing companies can instead make use of distributed teams. A distributed team is a hybrid of a remote and in-office workers, which suits most business models and industries. Thus, UK companies can delegate digital tasks to hires abroad, while ensuring top quality products and services in their UK headquarters.

Although freelance workers are sure to be impacted by a no-deal Brexit, the benefits of remote workers for UK-based businesses are clear. As work conditions post-Brexit remain uncertain, there is a greater need for companies to secure the best talent to remain competitive – something that the freelance economy can definitely help with.