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Courier produces useful, inspiring content for modern entrepreneurs. Our Friday newsletter features stories on working better and living smarter.
Friday 11 September

This week: remote workers are stressed about having to 'always be on' – we explain why it's okay to be away. Plus, how brands built for commuters are adapting to a commuterless world, and why the emerging 'no code' movement might lead to an explosion in entrepreneurship (and soon). Enjoy.

Last week, we reported on some of the small businesses supporting freelancers, a group hard hit by the pandemic. But it turns out it’s not all bad. In some cases, day rates for some self-employed workers shot up over lockdown, according to a study by YunoJuno, a UK marketplace for creative and tech freelancers. Social media specialists saw pay rates rise by 27%, while project management professionals recorded an increase of 16%.

‘Most of our clients are creative agencies, whose end clients are not doing much work at the moment,’ says Shib Mathew, the CEO and founder of YunoJuno. ‘But other industries need to meet capacity demands. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, need to hire the full breadth of creative and tech skills.’ Small, local businesses have also expressed a demand for freelancers during the lockdown, needing specialist digital skills to connect them with both current and prospective customers.

An interesting trend has been the emergence of multi-skilled freelancers, who are able to sell not only their core expertise, but also the skills that they have developed on the periphery over time. ‘A developer could also be a fabulous quality assurance manager, and a project manager has long been an example of someone who is a master of different traits,’ says Shib.

We often hear about the lack of women in gaming – just 11.5% of British game developers were women in 2009, a figure rising to 28% today. But the stat for Black people and people of colour is even worse. In an industry expected to surpass $200bn in revenue by 2023, 85% of the central characters in games are white, while only 10% of the game dev workforce currently identify as ethnic minorities.

Orthors is a Black-owned, London-based game-development studio that wants to bring authentic Black narratives to gaming. Founded by Yasin Ali, Taylor Campbell and Max St Hill, Orthors showcases this trio of ‘new gen urban devs’. Collectively, they bring experience in model making, graphic design and animation to the table.

‘I remember being young and enjoying games, and then one day finding out that it is an actual job,’ Max says. It was only when they got older that the reality of how games work settled in: ‘The narratives in the games start to become more apparent,’ Yasin explains, ‘and you see ethnic people put into stereotypical characters.’

‘Why can’t we just have an adventurous Black character? Who do I dress up as when I go to Comic Con?’ Taylor asks, summarising in a nutshell why Chadwick Boseman, who played Black Panther, meant so much to so many. Orthors has set out to build exactly this. Its vision? A Super Mario-style franchise centred around a Black adventurer, traveller and astronaut.

‘The characters are based on us and what we’ve experienced,’ Taylor explains. ‘We bring Black culture and backgrounds and storylines into the game.’ In the process, the Orthors team hopes to inspire a new generation of Black game developers. ‘You’d never think of us as game devs, but it brings you confidence if someone else does it first,’ says Yasin. ‘You can’t always be the person looking for answers – sometimes you have to be the solution.’

The team launched the second season of their game Dodgecrafts on Thursday 10 September, with another game, 6Faces, in development and due for release in spring 2021.

We’re fascinated by the business opportunities offered by the ‘no code’ movement, which refers to software tools that give a user greater creative control without requiring them to have coding skills. ‘When we say no code, we're saying you don't need to use code to tell the computer what to do,’ says Joe Cohen, founder of Universe, a no code platform that lets creatives and founders quickly build a website on their phones.

Joe, who we caught up with for this week’s Courier Weekly podcast, reckons we’re about to witness an explosion in entrepreneurship as it becomes significantly cheaper and less technically challenging for anyone to create… well, anything. But won’t this also lead to a much higher rate of business failure? ‘The thing that people don't realise is that entrepreneurship isn't some innate skill,’ Joe says. ‘It’s a practice like any other. And the more that you can build the muscle of it, the higher the likelihood you’ll find success.’

‘Of course there will be more failure,’ he adds. ‘You’re probably going to have a thousand times more failures. But you're also going to have a thousand times more winners… I would argue that the reason the rate of failure [for new businesses] is so high is because this muscle is incredibly undeveloped, and we don't have the resources and the ability to actually flex it out in a low-stakes way. So, yes, I think you're going to see a lot more failure. But you're going to see a lot more success. And it's going to be a much more interesting and engaging and dynamic world.’

Listen to the full conversation here.

Ben Kremer and Noël Bollmann found themselves developing an unhealthy relationship with food. As finance workers in Munich – and fans of fast food – they realised that they were part of a culture of office workers who were getting very little nutrition through the work day. Their solution? YFood, a grab-and-go beverage that ticks all the nutrition boxes.

But what happens when people are no longer going into the office, and instead deliberately take their time making lunches at home? While office-goers were their core market, Ben and Noël rapidly acknowledged that YFood could fulfil more universal needs. ‘We shifted our marketing and messaging to be more relevant during this time,’ Ben points out. ‘For example, we have content of people taking the dog for a walk during their breaks, or those that are pressed for time and finding themselves working into lunch.’

YFood is available not only as a drink, but also in powder and bar form. ‘Before quarantine, there was a surge in demand due to the uncertainty of the situation. The 12-month shelf life of the drink reduced people’s anxiety,’ Noël says. ‘What we are seeing now is the share of people buying the powder is increasing, as customers are less mobile, which was the main selling point of the ready-to-drink meal.’

In the past few months, YFood has expanded into nine European markets, and doubled the size of the team. By digging deep into customer needs to inform its pivot, it has stayed afloat. ‘We like that people are cooking fresh food, and we don’t want to stop that,’ says Noël. ‘But, let’s be frank, not everyone is passionate about cooking at home. They may have started out cooking for a week or two, but the interest has slowly burned out.’

Even though so many of us are working from home, presenteeism isn’t going away. Employees are, if anything, currently feeling a greater need to be constantly available and online for long hours. According to a recent survey, 46% of all remote workers in the UK are feeling pressure to be ‘present’, while more than a third have continued to work while unwell.

For Robert Ordever of OC Tanner, an employee reward programme builder, ‘leaders who don’t take their own annual leave, or send emails outside of hours, are setting examples for acceptable behaviours. We need to celebrate milestones rather than long working hours.’

Julie Finnikin works with companies to build better employee engagement and workplace cultures. To actively discourage presenteeism, she says, management should try the following. 

  • Find communication methods that work: ‘Some staff will want numerous emails while someone else may just be happy with the daily huddle. It’s always best to ask each person their preference and stick to it.’ 

  • Embrace flexibility: ‘If someone wants to get up early and get their work completed by lunch, then let them. As long as work is completed to a high standard, meets deadlines and expectations, why should there be an issue? 

For those feeling the pressure of presenteeism as employees, career coach Ellen Donnelly offers this advice.

  • Keep your focus area tight: ‘It’s OK to provide updates on what you are doing and dip out of conversations about unrelated tasks. If there’s a lack of clarity about your responsibilities, align with your manager.’ 

  • Socials shouldn’t be a chore: ‘Don’t feel that you have to attend every Zoom social. Find something you do enjoy, like mentoring a junior employee or applauding the efforts of team members.’

1. How not to micromanage your remote team.

2. The butcher's shop that lasted 300 years.

3. How Covid has changed restaurant branding.

4. Handling work's emotional ups and downs.

5. A look at the role of luck in personal success.

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