The changing landscape of work today means that people can now increasingly do their jobs anywhere, anytime, and anyhow they wish. Breakthroughs in communication technologies have been a key enabler of this trend. Thanks to computers, smartphones, email, instant messaging and video-conferencing, workers today have access to multiple ways to fulfill their job responsibilities without commuting to the office. The implications of these new technologies are profound from an economic standpoint and are leading many folks to significantly rethink the world of work.
Enter the new global online worker, or freelancer. Freelancing is a growing economic reality and more and more attention is being focused on the benefits of this online working revolution. According to the results of a recent survey, 1 in 3 people in the U.S. workforce, or 53 million, are freelancers. What’s more, estimates are that this number will grow to comprise 50% by the year 2020.
The survey, commissioned by the Freelancers Union and online work portal Elance-oDesk, are telling and provide keen insights into the growing freelancing phenomenon. In the words of a the report, we’ve entered “a new era of work — project-based, independent, exciting, potentially risky, and rich with opportunities.”
According to the survey, the two prime reasons for people going the freelancing route were to “to earn extra money” (68%) and to “have flexibility in my schedule” (42%). But interestingly, for 53% of freelancers the need to earn money was not by necessity as much as choice.
Another survey conducted in late 2013 in the U.K. found that “gigging” or working independently for several companies rather than one employer is a growing phenomenon among Gen-Yers. Among the top ranking freelancing jobs in this study were 1) Article Writing 2) Content Writing 3) English translation 4) Blogs and 5) Web Content.
If you stop to think about it, freelancing, gigging, or whatever name you wish to call it makes a lot of economic sense for individuals. Taking the U.S. as an example . . . yes, the recession is over, the stock market has picked up, and unemployment is at a 6% low. While these are all good signs, there exists a growing disparity between the rich and the poor as more people than ever are finding themselves subject to economic insecurity. Neither the number of Americans living in poverty nor the median U.S. household income has changed significantly in the last 3 years. The reality of the “middle-class poor” is ever present. Compound this with the rising costs of living and managing a family, the car loans, the house payments, child care expenses, credit card debt . . . you name it. What this all means is quite simply that more and more folks require a supplemental income to make ends meet.
Companies like oDesk, the world’s largest online staffing portal, have provided a major impetus to the freelancing trend. With a network of over 3 million active freelancers, oDesk is a global job marketplace that provides collaboration tools for online workers to undertake jobs ranging from web development to graphic design to administrative support. oDesk also reached a major milestone in August 2013 when it announced it had done $1 Billion of brokered work since its founding in 2003. By 2018 the online work market is expected to be $5 Billion annually. Note: oDesk and Elance merged earlier this year to become Elance-oDesk.
Freelancing work also makes a lot of economic sense for businesses. Hiring freelancers translates into considerable cost reductions and benefits. This comes in the form of savings in real estate, office equipment, utilities, electricity, not to mention health insurance and retirement costs so often associated with the regular employee contract.
Freelancing lends itself to the explosive growth in mobile, cloud, and information technologies in recent years. Not only do we see the massive influx of digital tools and resources that have made online collaboration possible, but emerging technologies will continue to transform, disrupt, and even threaten the future of work as we know it. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation, and smart machines are all in the process of making certain jobs obsolete. Technology growth also means that regular day job employees need to think and act innovatively and brainstorm new ways of doing business in order to keep their job skills updated.
As businesses prepare and adjust to the growing digitization of work, more options will be made available to freelancers and online consultants. We are indeed entering the era of BYOW – or “Bring Your Own Worker” as the business mindset shifts from the company as a parent to one as a partner.
There are a lot of reasons why freelancing is a smart career move. Rapid growth in technology, rising business operating costs, growing competition for jobs, and high costs of living are all factors that are leading millions of skilled professional to join this growing revolution.
If not already, chances are good that you too will end up freelancing at some point in the near future. It’s a great gig and can provide a nice financial cushion in today’s unpredictable and shifting economy. With Christmas right around the corner, freelancing can be a great way to earn some extra cash for gifts. So go ahead, take the next step and try some freelancing today. You won’t regret it!