After a difficult year, businesses and employees alike have been given a new perspective on the world of work. It’s been particularly tough for freelancers, with customer pipelines interrupted and the familiar cash flow uncertainty multiplied exponentially.
In fact, research from IPSE showed that around 70% of self-employed people experienced a drop in demand for their work at the start of the pandemic.
But in the wake of a pronounced pandemic slump that took power away from the independent workforce, the freelance market is well on its way to recovery. The broader global economic recovery has undeniably been a catalyst for this. However, increasing appetite for freelance roles can also be attributed to professionals refusing to hand back the flexibility granted to them indirectly by national lockdowns.
Beyond a resurgence of the freelance economy, the lifestyle shift afforded by the pandemic marks a far more fundamental evolution of global working practices, with independent workers at the core. After all, many people that move into freelance positions do so to seek better career autonomy and improved work-life balance. In a way, this has accelerated a trend that was already emerging. Workforce flexibility became increasingly necessary as businesses expanded globally, adopted a remote-first culture and prioritised results.
Freelancing, the gig economy, independent working – whatever you want to call it, employers must come to terms with its growing influence. Governments and businesses are recognising that it is here to stay, with a greater emphasis on employee rights, benefits and protections, especially given the health crisis of the past 18 months. What implications could this have?
Benefits for businesses
The freelance economy has seen peaks and troughs over the years, but this time it feels different. Rather than a sporadic set of hard-working individuals, there is growing appetite for a more co-ordinated approach to freelancing– whether workers looking for more consistent jobs or businesses that need staff but don’t have time to recruit. In fact, the emerging freelance platform industry is expected to grow by 15.3% by 2026.
Ultimately, this signifies that access to freelance capacity is firmly on the agenda for businesses as they increasingly understand the potential of this model. Namely, that they require access to employees with the relevant skills, and at the right time. An on-demand workforce, with employment models that are skills first, rather than job first, can better support global productivity.
The democratisation of work
The other effect of the pandemic has been to highlight the power held by the skilled workforce, many of whom have woken up to their potential industry value. In fact, the rise of the ‘plural economy’ – a contract-based approach which allows for several jobs to be worked at once – has stoked the flames. More than ever, people understand they can work for multiple companies and get paid more this way than via traditional employment.
This democratisation of work also creates a better balance between employer and employee. The flexibility offered by freelancing not only comes from the ability to work wherever is most comfortable, without needing to commute. The independence from freelancing can be enhanced through a skills-based approach to career development, which provides professionals with the ability to develop specific attributes rather than be confined by narrow job descriptions.
The boom in freelancing will also have a positive impact on the skills gap in many areas, particularly industries such as technology, where demand for skilled workers is very high. In fact, data from Adzuna and Dealroom found that vacancy numbers in tech have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with over 100,000 job vacancies per week on the job site.
Whether we have the required skilled workers or not in any given sector, the flexibility of freelancing means that as long as human resources are organised in the right way, the skills shortage should be a thing of the past. After all, what is freelancing if not the sharing economy for people’s skills?
Much has changed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Traditional ways of working – including classic notions of what it means to be in stable, office-based employment – are being reconsidered after decades of being the norm. As we are seeing with the economic bounce-back, the continued rise of independent careers will undoubtedly be the biggest trend defining the future of work, as the workforce and businesses alike reflect on the most efficient model for them.