By Savannah Marie
Late on Oct. 16, the government shutdown finally came to an end with only hours to spare before the U.S. would default on its debt. Hopefully, federal workers will be returning to their jobs very soon, even if the shutdown has only been averted through Jan. 15. During the two weeks of the shutdown, though, many government employees were forced to find creative ways to get a paycheck.
One resource they used to find work was a site called Unfurlough.us — an appropriately named list of freelance gigs available specifically to furloughed workers. Created by start-up incubator 1776 and tech firm Blen Corp, the site grew from its humble beginnings as a Google document to a full site in fewer than five hours. Throughout the shutdown it helped connect furloughed workers with gigs in and around the Washington, D. C. area.
Washington, D.C. is one of the biggest metro hubs for tech start-ups in the U.S., so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the jobs advertised were for tech and computer work. One employer, Open Cancer Network — which tracks data for biomedical research — advertised three different positions. The network was seeking an iOS web developer, a PowerPoint designer and an all-around data geek. Cloud My Office, a desktop hosting software company, also advertised on the site. The company was looking for a developer, and was able to conduct several interviews during the shutdown.
That’s not to say you’d have been out of luck if you don’t know OS from XML. In fact, the jobs posted on Unfurlough.us ran the gamut of jobs you may find on any freelancers’ job board. A number of data entry jobs were available, and many of these required only basic knowledge of Microsoft Office and similar computer programs. Furloughed workers could also apply for several writing jobs on the site. For example, a local flower delivery company called Bloompop was looking for someone to help write DIY and creative content. An analytics start-up called NonprofitMetrics similarly used Unfurlough.us to hire freelance bloggers.
Some government employees used the shutdown to pursue creative interests they may not have had time for when they were working full-time. One woman was able to find photography gigs on Unfurlough.us. The work she found actually paid a higher hourly rate than her regular job. Normally, she works in healthcare, but federal law prohibited her from using the skills and experience she gained from the job during the shutdown. Many agencies have ethics regulations that do not allow furloughed employees to take on outside work, particularly if it’s related to the work they do for the government.
Although the shutdown has officially ended, Unfurlough.us still seems to be going strong. On October 17, there were 71 gigs available on the site. Numerous freelancers also kept the profiles they had made. Although Unfurlough.us was created for employees affected by the shutdown, it isn’t necessarily exclusive to furloughed workers. Two of the freelancers with profiles on the site are actually from Europe. One of them wasn’t even aware there was a furlough — he found the site on Hacker News.
If Unfurlough.us continues to match employers with workers, it will likely continue to exist and possibly transition into permanent positions. Given how volatile and uncooperative the U.S. government proved to be during the shutdown, it’s also possible that federal employees may find themselves in a similar situation when Jan. 15 rolls around.