Being a lone wolf during lockdown – Implications of the coronavirus for the self-employed
Everyone has their own unique stories of coronavirus and lockdown. In the latest of his series of ‘lone wolf’ articles, Dr Nick Bell reflects on six implications of the crisis for the self-employed.
At the end of February, I was sat in an office in Canary Wharf looking across eerily quiet streets. A couple of days earlier, two companies had sent their staff home as a precautionary measure when a worker reported symptoms consistent with COVID-19. It was my first real inkling that something momentous was on the horizon.
The health and safety manager who I was meeting explained that his working days were now spent assessing the risks of coronavirus, writing guidance and contingency planning.
A few weeks later, on 23 March, the UK went into lockdown. Lockdown exposed stark differences between health and safety professionals who work for organisations and the lone wolves.
- Lone wolves trailblaze new ways of working
Many self-employed worked flexibly before lockdown. This includes working at home (or other locations, such as coffee shops!) or working and relaxing during non-standard hours. Lockdown forced organisations and employees to adopt flexible ways of working for the first time. As this is business-as-usual for the self-employed, people could look to us as role models or for guidance. This could lead to business opportunities, which are discussed later.
- Lone wolves must survive harsh winters
The crisis reminded me how financially vulnerable lone wolves can be. I have, thankfully, so far remained healthy through the pandemic. However, paid work abruptly stopped in mid-March and did not resume for two-and-a-half months. I fell between the gaps of the various government support schemes and my income protection insurance did not include pandemic cover. In my last ‘lone wolf’ article, I discussed the importance of having financial reserves. I thank the stars that I had enough put away to scrape through lockdown.
I mentioned Geoff Burch’s book ‘Go it alone’ and the benefits of taking a ‘make do and mend’ approach in the first article in this series. Geoff argues that the self-employed really benefit from a lean lifestyle with minimal debts and overheads. After all, many people become self-employed to achieve a better quality of life which relies more on how we spend our time, and who we spend it with, rather than how much we own.
- Lone wolves are motivated
Many lone wolves have had to change their survival strategy. If you want or need to pursue new opportunities, take the business in a whole new direction or have to upskill yourself, it is all down to you. Lone wolves may have left traditional work packs specifically to achieve this self-determination and, as a result, may be ready to cope with or even relish these challenges.
- Lone wolves can be agile
Lone wolves do not need to produce an extensive business case, then seek approval from various tiers of management, to pursue new opportunities.
Midway through lockdown (and after many weeks with no paid work), I had three calls from different clients wanting me to deliver online training. After some initial reluctance I did some simple research and decided I just had to put in the time, effort and money to transition to a new way of working.
- Being a lone wolf does not mean being alone
Lone wolves do not have colleagues in the same way that employees might. The past few months have shown that social networks can help us survive or thrive in challenging times. The self-employed will benefit from building bonds with different packs. I used lockdown to get back in touch with my old Dungeons and Dragons group (which inspired another article) and am getting involved with the community council for my village. Connecting to other lone wolves could be very helpful.
- Lone wolves must find opportunities
There are opportunities for the health and safety profession to shine during these still gloomy times. Organisations will need to develop COVID-19 risk assessments and keep them up-to-date. Sensible measures must be taken to safeguard the health and safety of home workers. Hopefully, companies will update stress risk assessments, and will need to understand and manage the psychological impacts of COVID-19, the lockdown and homeworking. The self-employed could help fill gaps in an organisation’s capabilities.
As one example, I was asked to help architects consider what they could do while developing their designs to reduce COVID-19 risks that would eventually be faced by construction workers.
COVID-19 and the lockdown has affected people in different ways. While lone wolves may be particularly vulnerable, financially and maybe also emotionally, their motivation and agility can help them to survive and thrive in these still uncertain times.
Sleep and Fatigue: Director’s Briefing
Fatigue is common amongst the population, but particularly among those working abnormal hours, and can arise from excessive working time or poorly designed shift patterns. It is also related to workload, in that workers are more easily fatigued if their work is machine-paced, complex or monotonous.
This free director’s briefing contains:
- Key points;
- Recommendations for employers;
- Case law;
- Legal duties.