As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and advancements in online collaboration platforms, the freelance revolution has arrived. This flexible and entrepreneurial approach is trendy among Gen Zs who want more freedom in their work.
Freelancer job growth context
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, freelancers grew to 36 percent of the labor market from 28 percent in 2019, according to a report from freelance marketplace Upwork. While the pandemic may have rapidly advanced the trend, it isn’t showing any indications of stopping. Some workers shifted to freelancing because of difficulties finding full-time jobs. However, for most independent workers, it’s been a conscious choice to veer away from the traditional employment system that may be inflexible, repetitive, and maintains slow career growth. Upwork CEO Hayden Brown states that 48 percent of Gen Z workers are already freelancing. While older generations have viewed freelancing as risky, young people view it as an opportunity to create a career that suits their lifestyles.
According to research firm Statista, it’s projected that there will be over 86 million freelancers in the US alone, making up over half of the entire workforce. In addition, the freelance workforce is accelerating and has outpaced overall US workforce growth by three times since 2014, (Upwork). Freelancing or being an independent contractor is a result of professionals wanting change. These highly motivated workers have more freedom than ever and, in some cases, can earn more than their full-time counterparts.
The growth of freelancing is primarily fueled by technological advancements, which have made it easier for businesses to outsource specialized tasks to freelancers. The more technology continues to cater to remote work, the more this trend will popularize.
Already, some startups focus on distributed (global or local) workforce tools, including automated onboarding, training, and payroll. The growing popularity of project management software like Notion and Slack allows managers to hire a team of freelancers and organize their tasks more efficiently. Online communication has expanded beyond Skype/Zoom and has become more convenient, with smartphone apps requiring little Internet data. Additionally, Digital payment systems through an application programming interface (API) give freelancers different options on how they want to be paid.
Freelancing was initially considered a field best suited for “creatives” like writers and graphic designers, but it has expanded to other industries. For many businesses, positions that require specialized skills (e.g., data analysts, machine learning specialists, software engineers, IT security professionals) are hard to fill. Hence, organizations increasingly rely on contractors and freelancers to complete highly technical tasks.
Implications of freelancer job growth
Wider implications of freelancer job growth may include:
- An increase in precarious work across the labor market.
- More technical professionals (e.g., software developers, designers) switching to freelance work to command increased consultancy rates.
- Companies establishing formal freelance programs to build an active pool of regular contractors they can tap for work at any time.
- Increased investments and advancements in remote work technologies like augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), video conferencing, and project management tools.
- Governments passing stronger legislation to protect the rights of freelance workers and better define the worker benefits due to them.
- The continued popularity of the digital nomad lifestyle may incentivize countries to create freelance visas.
Questions to comment on
- How does a rise in freelancers create more opportunities for precarious work?
- What are some of the challenges that independent freelancers may face?