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Athens lockdown: opportunities and challenges for freelancers

Meet Ambre, our coworker from the French city of Bayonne in the Basque country! She is a copywriter and translator (English and Spanish to French) for e-shops and commercial websites. She got her first job offers through the translation and copywriting agency Textmaster and she now works for a network of regular clients and agencies that offers her a steady workflow.  We had a chance to speak with Ambre about the pros of online work and how did she cope with the spring and winter lockdowns in Athens. We also asked her how did she end up in Athens in the first place, and how did she experience the lockdowns as a freelance worker.

This is her story.  

The pros and cons of freelance work

After obtaining a Master’s degree in international purchases and logistics Ambre worked for five years, until 2017, for different companies in Paris. After evaluating the experience she gained from this kind of fixed work she decided that she needed a fresh start. She left Paris and started a small business in the fashion industry that seemed hard to succeed. So she looked for something different driven by her other passions, languages, communication, and reading. Copywriting and translation services proved a field where she felt truly comfortable.

Working as a freelancer gives Ambre the freedom she looked for. She remembers that during her previous 9 to 5 work scheme she felt stuck in a structured and hierarchical workplace. When talking about the pros of freelancing she mentions the ability to organize her free time and to write about different fields that appeal to a curious personality. When it comes to the cons she adds that in a globalized market there is competition for the same job and fewer quality offers. Before forming personal links with her clients she used to grab every opportunity. 

Ambre freelance work at Stone Soup

Picking Athens for remote work: before and during the lockdown

Ambre works remotely and she agrees with the concept of nomadic work. When she left Paris she went to Seville, Lisbon, and Bayonne before choosing Athens with her partner. She laughs remembering that she didn’t know anything about the modern city, just that it was an affordable place! They first came in January 2019 and started exploring different places in Greece. 

In March 2020 everything changed! At the beginning of the first lockdown, she was working as a content creator for a tourist journal. It was shocking when the company told the copywriters that they could not work anymore. At first, she was feeling a lot of insecurity and uncertainty. Her (already remote) work did not change but she was really bored because she had no other choice but to work! Her narration of the life during spring lockdown is revealing: “waking up, yoga, working, working, working, yoga!” Work was an escape from the fear but in a depressing way that made her feel stuck. Athens was in a cocooning phase too and Stone Soup was closed. So it was her home that was both a workplace and a safe space.

Ambre freelance work

Remote work after a calm summer: and another lockdown in autumn!

Summer was a calm and relaxing time for Ambre. Traveling to Santorini and meeting with friends was an escape from the numbness of spring. But in autumn restrictions were re-imposed again and freelance workers like her had to deal with another Athens lockdown in November. But this time both coworking and online work emerged stronger than before. She clarifies that the digitalization of small businesses drove up the demand for online content creators. As a result, autumn began with hopes up. She gets the chance to walk to Stone Soup and see friendly faces. She walks from her home in Petralona to her coworking space early in the morning and enjoys the sun rising and the quiet ambiance (fewer people and more cats on the streets!). Athens feels cozier in this controlled freedom state now.

Coworking seems like an excuse, a way to get out, take coffee breaks and feel like we are all in this together, she adds. The feeling that comes up first in her mind when she thinks about coworking is socialization!

Looking forward to a post-lockdown Athens

“PARTY HARD!” That is what Ambre misses the most! She is not a fan of the digital social life of the pandemic world and wants to see people again. Discovering more of Greece (“what about a road trip to the Peloponnese?”) is another goal along with climbing Mt Olympus! The Athenian cultural sites like the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the small bookstores are the places she cannot wait to visit again. Physical activities she used to do like yoga and volunteer teaching of English to refugees in a real classroom for the Za’atar NGO will also be more than welcome in her everyday life again. Her online work for companies like Sweet Small Pea, MonPlanCBD, and Agence Boca will feel even more exciting then. Athens will feel authentically charming again and the real-life small neighborhoods can be explored after some evening drinks with her Stone Soup friends such as Jelia! At the end of the day, we saw the limits of the digital way of living, she concludes, and it is time to re-appreciate what we miss and hope for.

Lockdown & Remote Work: How to Adjust to Working From Home.

COVID-19 lockdown has forced the majority of the workforce worldwide to work from home. Lyda Michopoulou is a freelancer and a member of Stone Soup coworking space. She has worked remotely since January of 2017, and she has long experience in distributed work. One could argue that being a remote worker, Lyda would have an advantage over other workers who were abruptly forced to change their routines. But let’s see to what extent this is true. 

Lyda will help us answer the question, whether working from home is the same as working remotely. She will also share her own experience.

Stone Soup Coworking Member

Adopting a work from home routine and how is that different?

Lyda considers herself lucky as she didn’t struggle much during this transition. Her life as a freelancer requires her to travel around Europe and work from different countries. One of Lyda’s consulting gigs is to an American startup in the travel industry called NextVacay. She is working on US time, following a specific time frame and specific online tools. For that reason, the processes and dynamics within the organization haven’t changed much with the lockdown. 

Because of the corona crisis, Lyda is telecommuting from home and she spends most of her time hosting or participating in online meetings. This has decreased her actual working time and disrupted her usual working routine from Stone Soup.

Lyda had a functional working routine for herself, allowing her to work from anywhere as long as the WiFi connection was strong.

Fast WiFi

 

However, working from home is completely different from working from “anywhere in the world”. Social distancing, the new norm that has been given to all of us, is hardly a gift. Being able to keep a working pace, your motivation high and your productivity under control can be compromised especially when you are forced to work without a suitable working environment. 
It is quite easy to fall into traps such as working all day long, without proper breaks or even realizing that your working time is up and you should relax. Lyda sees the value of participating in virtual coworking spaces such as Stone Soup’s and Digital Nomad Girls’ Inner Circle, in finding a sense of belonging and support. 

Online Meetups

How to do your best during the COVID-19 era?

Instead of isolating yourself at home binge watching TV-series and movies, you have the opportunity to do something to better your skills and develop yourself. You can host or join online meetings with friends (networking), figure out how to support others with the skills you already possess or participate in activities that are valuable for the community.

During the previous weekend, Lyda participated in an online hackathon, called: “Hack the Crisis Austria”. She mentored a team who was tackling a challenge: “How can we support the mental health of people”. Lyda has only positive feedback to give about it. It made her more eager to participate in a bigger scale and even think about organizing something similar in Greece.

Stone Soup Coworking Member

Shaping the future of remote work after coronavirus

The corona crisis has unprecedentedly escalated the need to work remotely. The situation might be temporary but it pushes the gears of change and those won’t come back. Companies keeping previously a negative pose to the idea, are forced tο consider continuing with remote work after the lockdown.

Having a global network of contacts, Lyda has heard discussions about the struggles of friends and partners and has acquired some interesting insights. Many companies don’t understand how to use the online world to better support their work. There was no time for guidelines and transitioning. A new culture and priorities need to be set on the go. And of course, this changes the balances and threatens the up to now acquired stability. Companies and teams are being troubled by basic aspects of functionality such as what would be the best way, time, frequency, and means to conduct online meetings.

The discussion moved from online meetings to how people handle the grief that comes with being locked inside their houses. Lyda’s perspective of the situation was altered due to an article on Harvard Business Review. If individuals and companies go through the stages of grief we will be ready to accept what lies ahead and work with that.

After the lockdown is over a changed situation and land of opportunities for digital nomads and remote work is to be expected. The ground will be paved for the companies to keep workers distributed. And they would most probably like to shape their businesses in a way they could cope with similar future situations.

Creative Innovation