Are we heading towards a mass freelance workforce?

You might remember: some time back in the 2000s there was this ‘Digital Bohème’ (the way Holm Friebe and Sascha Lobo defined it in 2006), which referred to some kind of disruptive or even exotic form of working, primarily for ‘young people’, who would sit behind their laptops in a café working on ‘projects’ of every imaginable caliber while sipping a latte-macchiato with *insert hip topping/flavor*. Flash forward: in the year 2021 this kind of working has basically become as regular as every other job.


Freelancing numbers are off the charts


Well, cafés might still be closed and perhaps the only fancy coffee is the one out of your own coffee-machine in your own kitchen, the current numbers of the amount of work done by freelancers are staggering. In the US alone 41% of the workforce freelanced in 2020 (up 13% since 2013!), while 53% of the Generation Z (18-22) chooses the freelancing path. Moreover, at least half of organizations worldwide (with staff of 1000+) have seen a substantial increase in their freelance workforce in the past five years (source). And, most importantly, the trend is directed skyward. Since the pandemic broke out and decided to stick around, traditional workers were pushed to explore new or more flexible career paths, which is slowly but surely rendering professional freelance jobs more common, desired and respected. So, ‘Digital Bohème’ is less ‘bohemian’ now and rather becomes a norm. But why is that?


Hybrid workforce is the (two-fold) picture of tomorrow


Freelance workers provide flexibility, which is one of the major benefits of diversifying and restructuring a company in favor of a hybrid workforce. The pandemic forced organizations to shift and quickly adjust their course turning company’s agility into the number one priority. As a result, businesses are increasingly relying on high skill freelance workers to function more efficiently. Yes, an experienced freelancer with a relevant skill set hired for specific projects can save a company a considerable amount of resources spent on retraining the current staff to match the requirements. Yes, they are flexible, reliable and bring about the desired agility.


BUT! They are still temporary workers hired to fulfill a particular function in a particular project and since any greater attachment to your company is absent, the bigger picture of the overall company’s performance might be secondary to a freelancer. Something along “I’ve fulfilled my tasks, thanks for the paycheck, no strings attached, bye!” It’s not too difficult to explain such sentiment though: it is not a company who bears any social protection (be it social payments, insurance or snacks in the office) for a freelancer like it does for its employees, but a freelancer him-/herself. Also, there are no significant barriers for a company to scrap all the freelancer-fueled initiatives when things are not going too well - they are not permanent employees anyway. Thus, some prefer freedom and potential risks of the freelancing path, while others prefer to rely on stability and security full-fledged working contracts provide.


Remote is normal


Remote full-time employment has been boosted beyond all imaginable limits ‘thanks’ to the pandemic. Even more so, both tech and non-tech workers (be it marketers, financial workers, consultants or insurance brokers) are increasingly expecting permanent remote work options, while big companies are not objecting those expectations (look at Facebook, Twitter and co.). That ultimately offers freelancers new opportunities and makes the whole idea of working remotely something regular and widely practiced.


The way technology was changing our working habits with all the video-conferences, online tools and Google-Docs has been boosted tenfold by the global pandemic. Those who were viewed as pioneers just a decade or two ago became a trend. But there also come some new questions companies have to ask themselves. Lines between employees and freelancers blur since the office is no longer ‘the place to be’. Figuring out what exactly the bonus of being an employee is, has become ever more difficult in pandemic times. Are we all just freelancers with varying degrees of freedom? What do you think?

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