October 12, 2022
It’s widely accepted that by the time journalists publish a “news breaking” cover story, its novelty has already peaked in the real world.
A good example: the emergence of freelancing as a significant player in the future of work. While many of us were writing about the value of freelancing, its global scale, and the necessity of treating it as a fundamental part of the future of work, independent professionals and companies were already making it happen.
It turns out that the freelance revolution is, if anything, ahead of schedule.
We know now that freelancers are increasingly respected and sought after. Two thirds of freelancers are satisfied with their career, work-life balance, and compensation. 40% of full-time employees in the US have a side-gig. 90% plus of corporate leaders in a recent global survey said they utilize freelancers and say they will increase their reliance. During the current recessionary period, almost 80% of employers say they are increasing their use of freelancers as they suspend full-time hires.
In fact, 80% of employees recently opined that they are attracted to a freelancing career and would seriously consider it but for concerns about income volatility, loss of benefits, and fear of loneliness.
We’ve also seen recognition of the greater potential of the freelancing revolution. A decade ago, it was predicted that, within a decade, a Fortune 500 company would rise staffed only with open talent below the C suite. They were ahead of the market then. Freelancing was initially advertised as a cost-savings play, an “on demand,” staffing service. Most clients companies were small to medium sized, or startups. Freelancing was truly “contingent” work, temporary and supplementary to the core work of full-time employees.
Yet, at that time some were advocating for a broader view of open talent. Visionaries like Steve King of emergentresearch.com, and John Winsor of the Center for the Transformation of work, argued that freelancing was a powerhouse resourcing option of extreme benefit to large corporates as well as younger, more entrepreneurial enterprises. The best workforce, they argued, is one that combines stability, expertise and the ability to pivot in response to opportunity and threat. In short, a flexible, blended, workforce.
The pandemic didn’t create freelancing, but freelancers made the most of the moment. Freelancing was ready for Covid-19. The tech that made possible the digital age workforce was a golden ticket: it liberated knowledge workers from the limitation of geography, time-zone, and, in some countries, caste or class. Moreover, the difference between employees working remotely and freelancers became less and less obvious and even less relevant. The old shibboleths – freelancers aren’t loyal, if they were really good they’d have full-time jobs – lost luster in 2020. Successful companies like Unilever, Google, Meta and UST were able to establish a flexible, blended, workforce where freelancers and full-time employees worked together in common cause. This was particularly the case for tech centric, project based, organizations.
It turns out that open talent is an increasingly well-established reality at the project team level, at least among tech-based enterprises. First, at least among tech companies, flexible, blended teams of full-time and independent employees are already the norm: 73% of tech companies have integrated teams of freelancers and employees.
Second, tech leaders see independent talent as a key tool amidst economic uncertainty and remote work: 71% say that bringing on freelancers or independent workers gives their business greater agility during times of economic uncertainty. This is similar to the results of the Fiverr report, where 80% of corporate leaders planned to increase their use of freelancers during periods of uncertainty.
Third, as many expected, necessity has once again parenting invention. The shift to hybrid and remote work narrowed the psychological barrier to hiring freelancers by reducing the difference between traditional employees and freelancers. Overall, 70% of the tech leaders reported that remote work increased their likelihood of utilizing freelancers.
Fourth, the time required to hire full-time resources is proving a disincentive to focusing on attracting regular employees, and adding motivation to add freelancers to project teams. Of the leaders responding to this survey, 67% agree that the traditional recruitment process needs an overhaul, noting that it’s too long and expensive. And, 65% of tech leaders say it can take 4 months or more to hire top product and engineering talent—for 28%, it’s 6 months or more.
Fifth, the shift to blended team has created new opportunities for freelancers and freelance platforms. A.team is among a number of relatively new companies that is offering both individual freelancers and pre-resourced teams. Using approaches like the FAST teams method popularized by Stanford University, platforms like Comet.com, A.team, Proteams.com, Torc, Mash, and Vicoland.com curate entire teams for organizations that are long on innovation and opportunity, but short on resourcing.
What’s the next barricade that freelancing blow past? Without question, there’s been a great deal of testing and innovation. As MBOPartners.com and Emergentresearch.com found, “The more a firm uses — and is familiar with — contingent labor, the more they plan to increase its use in the future.” Not surprisingly, more and more large corporates are creating proprietary platforms, freelance-stocked platforms that are created and managed by companies for their own benefit, or created and managed for the company’s benefit by an organization like Talentpools.io and Gigged.ai. It some cases, proprietary or prop platforms work closely with large global marketplaces such as Upwork.com or Worksome.com to meet their resource needs In other cases, the relationship is directly with the freelancer, what is often called “direct sourcing.” The MBOPartners.com research found that over half of the corporations participating in their research already used some form of direct sourcing. Prop platforms are disrupting the disruptors.
What’s next? Perhaps we will see greater consolidation at more points of the talent supply chain. Platforms like Malt.com are growing through geographic acquisition of competitors like Comatch.com in Germany. Others like WorkGenius.com are expanding horizontally to offer both freelance and more traditional staffing services? New verticals are being created in fields like finance and M&A. Platforms like Honeybook.com and Wethos.co are providing independent B2C professionals with more services, and are becoming a realistic competitor to freelance marketplaces for high end independents. We’re also seeing a new crop of organizations accelerating the freelance revolution as a robust ecosystem develops. For example, Open-Assembly.com provides a virtual “town square” where enterprises find consulting support in creating a more agile workforce, freelance marketplaces seek new ways to compete, and freelance entrepreneurs, investors, and though leaders come together to share best practice and emerging innovations.
Imagining the longer term with confidence is almost certain to miss the mark. So much has changed, so quickly, that it’s a feat to look ahead even a few years let alone a decade. Did you know, for example, that the freelance revolution extends back in time to the Greeks of Homer’s time. The NY Times recently reported that three quarters of the Sicilian Greek soldiers fighting against Carthaginians in the 480 B.C. Battle of Himera were professional mercenaries; in other words, literally free-lancers. If the past is any indication of what’s possible in the future, the freelance revolution will continue to grow, innovate, and prosper.
Viva la revolution!