Hello! Welcome to Very Online, issue #12.
First of all: Happy new year! 🎉️ This was me when 2022 became 2023:
Like the rest of the world, I have a long list of resolutions and goals for this year. One hefty section of that list concerns work. See, I’ve been on what LinkedIn calls a health and well-being break since May 2020. Besides a few short-term jobs, I haven’t worked for almost three years.
Most would call this situation fun; hence, the term ‘funemployed’. But it isn’t. A pandemic is still killing people and still perpetuating vaccine inequity. Then governments gave up on reporting and containment measures because the ~ E C O N O M Y ~ 🙌️ 🙌️ 🙌️
Nor have my physical/mental health and well-being improved. I’d say those actually worsened. I don’t recommend being jobless and battling depression, anxiety, long-term family and health issues, and SSCD all at once. It’s exhausting.
But we are in a capitalist society, I live on my own now, the costs of living keep rising, and my meager savings can’t keep taking hits. So even if I am neither completely ready nor able, I must return to work.
About that… Wow, ‘work’ got all messed up, no? 😂️
Turns out 60% of Filipino employees are quiet quitting, and companies worldwide are spinning their own crises into quiet thriving and quiet hiring. Then we have the gender gap; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); hybrid work; and the ‘future’ of work. We’re also concerned with mental health in the workplace, and extra employee support and benefits, among other things. If you ask me, work as a whole is much more of a hot mess now than it was pre-pandemic. And Filipinos are still about that toxic positivity, y’all.
How about freelancing and remote work? My, oh, my. This industry has always been fluid and unpredictable. But freelancing just went mad in some ways and remained stagnant in others. Returning to it at this time feels more like a back-to-square-one-thing than anything else.
Join me as I get my bearings — and maybe take another (much shorter?) pause before diving in again.
When I say ‘freelancing’ and ‘remote work’:
There are more of us.
A LOT MORE. To be specific: Filipinos are 1.5 million strong on online freelancing platforms as of 2021. If we want to, we could build our own country.
Well… Unity nga daw, diba???
This isn’t always by choice.
The usual reasons from the pre-COVID times are still valid. People will always want to have flexible schedules and more independence, a reliable local and/or international client list, and the ability to work from anywhere. Climbing corporate ladders, obeying silly orders, and kissing C-suite asses aren’t cool anymore. What matters now is having the power to choose when, where, and how to work; and for how much we’ll trade our time and labor.
(Do people still say “I want to be my own boss?” Or have they already learned that freelancing means you’ll actually have multiple bosses? 🤭️)
But the pandemic also brought many to my line of work by force. There were massive layoffs and company/contract closures worldwide starting in March 2020, and the Philippine unemployment rate spiked to record levels:
Lists and databases of people looking for work popped up everywhere (like the Filipinomads Creative Network list, which I signed up for). Everyone joined online freelancing platforms for primary or supplementary income. Many of my friends and contacts also began their own food, content creation, health and wellness, and handcrafted goods businesses to make ends meet — and to ease the impact of shit-poor corporate and government ‘support’. All these made the industry much more crowded than it had ever been.
Basically, everyone was just scrambling to keep their heads above the figurative water. To be honest, many are still in this situation in 2023.
“Mindset ba, mindset???”
The world adapted out of necessity, but mindsets also changed.
For so many years, I got so much crap for working freelance or remotely. My family and peers said it’s not a legitimate career path; it’s all just a bunch of ‘rakets’ (I so hate this word!); or that I’m just lounging around at home and not really doing anything, so I should be available and willing to do whatever they ask of me during normal business hours. I developed an inferiority complex (a.k.a. the ‘Freelancer Lang’ mentality) that has taken me years to shed, and I’m still working on it.
But when they were forced to do it…
They found out firsthand that it was not easy juggling work responsibilities, chores, and other familial obligations, and the isolation and burnout that WFH can bring, COVID or no COVID. Did you get any apologies? I certainly didn’t.
Then came the deluge of content penned by WFH n00bs and ‘advice from experience’ thrown at me by the same condescending family and peers about work-life balance, setting schedules and priorities and non-negotiables, proper WFH conduct and remote-business practices, the difficulties of this line of work…
Basically, we longtime freelancers drowned in lessons that we’ve screamed at the skies long, long ago — and they’ve appropriated while pretending we haven’t done this at all.
📣️ Louder for the chumps at the back:📣️ Work is work, whether online or offline, short-term or long-term. We are as legit as the everyday office worker, no matter how many boomers or salarymen (salarypeople? salaryfolk?) say otherwise. And we are running actual businesses, not doing charity for your friend’s mother’s cousin’s best friend’s boss or whoever.
Now that the workforce is returning to on-site arrangements, I hope people keep their ‘newfound’ respect for Filipino freelancers and remote/gig workers. Even if my pessimistic self says otherwise.
We see more jobs for us — and we’ve got higher standards.
When I started out, there were only three main ways to get contracts: freelance marketplaces or platforms, your existing professional network, and sheer word of mouth. Today, these three methods are still the go-tos, but we’re not stuck with just these anymore.
Upwork and Freelancer.com remain huge here; but Payoneer and GCash’s Philippines Freelance Market 2022 Report mentions other marketplaces like SimplyHired, FlexJobs, Guru, and Toptal. I see so many Facebook groups for freelance and remote work, and open to both Filipinos and international workers. Dedicated websites and job boards such as Write Jobs, No Desk, and Remote.co offer a wide range of part-time and full-time, international, and remote listings. LinkedIn and JobStreet even expanded their listings to remote vacancies.
There are also vast improvements in the type or range of contracts posted. When I was new, all I could see were data entry, copywriting/content spinning, virtual assistance (VA), graphic design, and IT/programming jobs. In 2023, we can be a lone wolf on lucrative projects across industries or work within a full remote-only company or team, and in managerial positions. We’re not limited anymore to poor-paying, poor-quality outsourced jobs from dubious folks and scammers.
And if we don’t see a job we like, we can make our own! Much has been said about content creators and social media 🤮️influencers🤮️; at least within my age range, they’re mostly negative. But for the younger millennials and Generation Z with talent, business acumen, and practicality (plus the seniors and middle-aged folks who follow their lead), they are viable and lucrative career moves. Yes, if we’re gonna be technical about it, they are considered freelancers too.
Our personal standards went up with our options. Every contract I’ve taken has taught me new things, good and bad. So my non-negotiables today are:
- No deposit, no work. No exceptions.
- Pay me like you would any other freelancer from the ‘First World’. My being a Filipino doesn’t mean you can pay me at ultra-low, sweatshop, Third-World rates. (More on this below.)
- I work Monday to Friday, during normal business hours in the Philippines (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PHT). I do not work on call.
- Absolutely no time tracking and screenshots every 10 minutes! Bossware or employee monitoring software are invasive AF. If you can’t trust me and my own data-driven reports (I use non-invasive solutions like Toggl), work with someone else.
- Because I have SSCD and currently cannot travel, I am not taking or even considering any contracts or jobs requiring travel, or long-term commitments with inflexible milestones or deadlines. My disability is debilitating, and my condition and availability can change really quickly. I do not make promises I know I cannot keep.
- I do not tolerate any finger-pointing, blaming, politicking, and public shaming; gaslighting; moving goalposts or milestones without prior notice and mutual agreement; and any form of retaliation. Period. 😤️
We have better tech and better services!
Out of all the changes in my industry, I love this one the most.
I remember cringing every time a potential client asked for a video call because that meant I had to use Skype with a subpar built-in webcam. Then we’d send files back and forth via FTP or email. If I wanted to work somewhere else, I’d sit in a coffee shop for hours alongside noisy customers and noisier coffee machines. And then receiving payments would be such a headache because PayPal ALWAYS takes a big bite of incoming payments, and it was the only major player in the international payments game at the time. The clincher? Bad FX rates and limited Philippine bank interconnectivity made sure we were stuck with bad conversions and worse banking choices.
The present day is much brighter. I prefer using Zoom and Google Meet for one-on-one or team calls. Then we chat over Slack, Asana, Monday, Twist, or Flock, rarely via email. When I use email, it’s only to talk to Philippine companies and service providers that still do things old-school 🙄️, or new contacts. For international clients and services that need documents from me, cloud storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Nextcloud) is the way.
I now accept payments via Wise and PayMongo aside from PayPal, with the third one as my very last option. I can also use digital banks like Maya Bank, Komo, Tonik, or Unionbank instead of traditional banks — gotta love the higher interest rates, instant paperwork, and zero lines!
We are also faring better for office equipment and services. I now have a prepaid wifi modem for backup because our internet is notoriously expensive, slow, and unreliable. Standing and portable desks, gadget holders, and ergonomic chairs are gaining in popularity; and video calls can be improved with small ring lights and external webcams. And whenever I have cabin fever, I can book a seat or meeting room at a co-working facility, or use the available hours offered by my virtual-office provider. Here, I’m guaranteed a quiet space for long stretches of focused work.
Just as entire companies can go 100% remote, so have I with my one-person operation. I use a virtual office for privacy reasons. I file my tax forms and pay government contributions online, too. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has a comprehensive (if confusing) eServices range and an eAppointment System for all of its offices. The Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and the Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF, better known as the Pag-IBIG Fund) have online hubs as well.
Not into using these aging government portals? Third parties such as Taxumo, JuanTax, Moneygment, or MyOffice can help you with the legwork and online transactions.
I also see more communities for freelancers and remote workers joining originals like the Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines or FWGP, among them Filipinomads, Buhay Digital on Reddit, and Filipino Editors and Writers. This is a far cry from when I was a rookie and figuring it all out on my own!
Big Brother is closely watching us.
The bigger freelancing and remote work become in the Philippines (and the more advocates and allies we have), the more The Man pays attention.
In 2020, Congressman Christopher “Toff” de Venecia — a former TV, film, and theater actor — delivered a privilege speech about how hard COVID-19 has hit the Philippine arts industry:
Senate Bill 136 and House Bill 3738 have also made headlines in the past couple of years as these seek to improve gig workers’ rights, working conditions, and government benefits. But these have not progressed since filing, and I hope they move forward this year.
When the Tax Man cometh, the Freelancers go legal. The BIR saw 26.8 million registered individual taxpayers in 2021. I’m not sure if this is a result of the agency threatening already-struggling home business owners in the middle of a goddamn pandemic, but I think being registered is a good thing overall for us. I also see a rise in the number of online guides for freelancers DIY-ing the business registration process, so there are obviously more of us wanting to do this the right way.
And the more people register with the Tax Man, the more valuable information we get about our industry. Taxumo’s ongoing State of Online Taxation series offers an interesting view of its customer base. For example:
- Taxumo is used mainly by millennials to file their tax forms
- ‘Poor’ taxpayers (those earning less than ₱9,250) made up 32.6% of payments in 2021
- Self-employment tax forms are the top 2 most filed on the platform
- 62.5% of Taxumo taxpayers are women
- Men make 11.5% higher tax payments than women, and
- Non-binary taxpayers are seeing a 2,200% rise in income.
These things are still shit, though.
First off: even with the recent emphasis on remote teams, in truth, we still work alone. If you’re getting into this industry, brace yourself for the (often long) bouts of physical isolation and loneliness.
One way to address this problem is to reach out and build your own communities and support groups. But I’ve also seen so many of these groups fizzle out once their members get contracts again, regain their financial footing, or turn overly competitive. I know it’s hard to keep these going, so if any of you have suggestions on how to do this, please tell me 😃️
Speaking of money… Despite the rise in global hourly and per-project rates, Filipinos still have a bad reputation as lowballers or undercutters when bidding for online jobs, and for accepting cheap hourly rates. In these tough times, need trumps ego. People will take whatever they can get whenever they can.
Given everything going on right now, I (and you) can’t and shouldn’t blame my fellow freelancers for thinking this is okay. Many of us truly don’t know any better or realize that they can charge higher, or see their work and effort as deserving of higher monetary value.
Employers and entrepreneurs from more affluent countries (a.k.a. the Global North) take advantage of Filipinos because of this low self-worth. In 2021 alone, I’ve had like seven to eight White startup guys message me on LinkedIn and my website, and send me great JDs and pitches. Then they asked for my rates, then balked because they didn’t like my answer.
Normally, I’d chalk this up to a simple difference in budgets and opinions. But one told me straight up that he hires only Filipinos because we “work harder than others, seldom complain or negotiate, and [our] rates are super great for [him].”
Read between the lines, people. These White dudes hire Filipinos because they think we’re cheap labor. 🙄️🙄️🙄️ And unfortunately, colonial mentality is still going strong in these parts.
Our country of origin hampers us in other ways. Last year, I was thinking about writing and monetizing content on Medium, Substack, or Ghost. But these platforms pay out only via Stripe, which doesn’t support payments to and from the Philippines in Philippine pesos. Of course, there are workarounds for this, but I don’t want to jump through several hoops just because a Western payments company does not want to accommodate us.
I’ve also noticed that the nonprofit, NGO, and multinational sectors’ job postings run along race lines. Consultants or contractors are either ‘international’ (expatriates or AFAM, with higher pay and prestige) or ‘national’ (Filipino citizens, locally based, lower pay). As one example shows us, because we locals or ‘minorities’ are viewed as less to begin with, we also deal with office microaggressions (or downright hostility) to honest and well-meaning input, and institutional methods of racist silencing.
And people ask why I will never ever return to on-site office work. I mean, freelancing is as tough now as it was then, and I wonder how my nth return will unfold. But corporate slavery will forever be a no-go. 😒️