How to Learn from the Office Environment and Become a Better Freelancer

man working at home

If you’re currently doing freelance work or seeking to hop on the bandwagon, you’ve got plenty of company. Statistics show that freelancing is steadily on the rise. Over 56.7 million Americans did freelance work in 2018. That’s over a third of the U.S. workforce. And it doesn’t account for the latest developments. Further advances in technology, along with pandemic-related measures, have driven more work online and into the frontier of freelancing.

Freelancers cite the lifestyle as one of the biggest draws of this manner of working. You enjoy greater control over your work hours. This opens up more opportunities for people who are raising kids, looking after the elderly, or are otherwise unable to commit to traditional full-time employment. It affords you the flexibility to pursue other personal interests, leisure activities, or take on more gigs to increase your income. Over time, as your cash flow stabilizes, you also get to choose the projects and clients you prefer to work with.

Still, not everyone is prepared to handle this sort of flexibility wisely. Poorly managed, it can hurt your productivity and hinder your success. For all its drawbacks, the structured environment of a typical office can offer valuable lessons as you make the transition to full-time freelance work.

Structure has benefits

The rules and routines of a traditional workplace can be stifling. However, they also serve to create and enhance organizational structure. This simplifies the tasks and decisions an employee must deal with, allowing them to focus and be productive.

Today’s employers look to innovate and find ways to make offices more conducive to productivity. They incorporate lounge areas, swaths of color, and art objects into the office to inspire creativity and encourage interactions. Floating stairs, indoor plants, and increased natural lighting are used to offset the worker’s general lack of physical activity and exposure to nature, thus boosting their health and well-being.

Even if you went straight into freelancing after school, you’d be familiar with the benefits of a daily structure. Going to each class in a specific order, taking down notes in separate notebooks for each subject, and staying on top of your schedule of project deadlines and exams are all good practices to prepare you for managing your freelance life.

Woman on her laptop

Don’t go too far

The lessons of structure are simple, and you’ll find many easy ways in which they can be applied to your life. You can start by working on your surroundings. For many people, especially in a pandemic-influenced world, that’s the home. Various improvements can be made to create a home office space that boosts your mood and productivity.

Structural elements can also be worked into your schedule. Many successful people have cited an effective morning routine as the secret to their daily productivity. (You can adjust the time if you’re more of a night owl than a lark.)

Stick to waking up at the same hour each day, and go through a series of micro-habits to build momentum and energy. You can exercise, meditate, write a journal entry, and get started on the day’s most fearsome tasks. Before the day’s half done, you could already have accomplished the bulk of what you needed to do.

However, you need to avoid going overboard in terms of structure. The freelance lifestyle is not only a benefit to be enjoyed, but a tool to be used in your favor. Maintain some schedule flexibility so that you can accommodate clients on short notice. Inject some variety into your routines to avoid boredom. Sometimes, a co-working space lets you meet other people, offsetting feelings of social isolation and potentially growing your network for future collaboration.

Lessons in management

Working in an office also allows you to learn by observing leaders in action. At first, this might not seem particularly relevant to a freelancer. You work alone, so what does leadership matter?

In truth, good leaders demonstrate many skills and qualities that will prove valuable in freelance work. They motivate others, resolve conflicts, encourage discipline, and time management. They tackle administrative and financial tasks, obsessing over how team performance translates into desired business results.

All of these higher-level functions are essential to master when you’re a freelancer because you’re also running a business of one. Good interpersonal skills help you deal with clients and collaborators. Business management skills enable you to be critical of your work and results to maintain profitability.

Maybe you never got the chance to pick up some of these lessons before becoming a freelancer. It’s not too late to do more online research or request an opportunity to shadow some of your clients as they go about their business in a more traditional setting. Learn from the office environment, and you’ll get better at freelancing.

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