The Freelance Revolution Is Here: Trends to Watch This Year
By Shahar Erez, CEO of Stoke Talent
Companies are in a constant race for success and they need to be agile to win the race - especially in today’s economic environment. To do so, companies across sectors are relying more and more on freelancers and contractors, and this shift is nothing new. In fact, it’s been on the rise for years, and has gained immense steam in the last year alone. Since the pandemic, which pushed more traditional workers to explore new, flexible career options, the notion of being a professional freelancer has been garnering a growing amount of respect as a career.
While in the past, freelancers may have been viewed as those who couldn’t find full-time work, they are often sought-after workers who have reached their career peaks and want flexibility in how they work, when they work, and the projects they are working on. Beyond the pandemic’s direct impact on the freelance economy, shifts in the global economy, technology, and political climate -- as well as the changing expectations of today’s workers -- have inspired six main trends which will bubble up this year and into the future.
1. Hybrid Workforces are the Currency of the Future
There is an inherent flexibility provided by contract workers, as well as many major benefits that can be had from restructuring the post-COVID organization into a hybrid workforce. Now more than ever, agility has topped the list of priorities for companies across the board, as they were pushed to pivot and shift quickly during the height of the pandemic. In fact, a study from Upwork revealed that two-thirds of CEOs feel agility is the new business currency. Also, although 70% of companies were working on digital transformation strategies, the progress was not sufficient enough to protect them from the operational and economic difficulties brought on by COVID-19. Because of this, businesses are leaning heavily on contract workers to operate more efficiently, especially because 90% of companies believe that a blend of full-time and freelance workers provides them with a competitive advantage.
In 2020, many companies took hits to their business and were forced to cut costs or reevaluate how they were operating and spending to drive new efficiencies. As businesses remain laser-focused on driving revenues and rebuilding -- or in the case of some tech giants, continue on their growth trajectories -- anything that is seen as a competitive advantage will be a priority. Companies are finding that freelance workers can help build business, and as a result, a mix of full-time and freelance staff will become commonplace.
2. Companies Will Lean on Contractors to Fill Technical Skill Gaps
Coupled with what the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report refers to as an “acceleration in the adoption of new technologies,” the shift to systems automation has shined a spotlight on a quickly-growing skills gap around artificial intelligence, encryption, big data, the Internet of Things and non-humanoid robotics. Businesses are struggling to fill roles that require candidates with these specialized skills. Not only does that detract from productivity, but it also creates a financial burden. What does this mean for the future of the workforce, and specifically freelancers?
Companies are looking for qualified staff wherever they can find them, and in many cases, this means that they are expanding their use of contractors for tasks that require specialized skill sets. Knowledge workers -- and especially those with skills to fill in-demand roles in data analysis, big data, AI and machine learning, software and application development, and IT security -- will continue to be in high demand. This provides ample opportunity for freelancers with these skills to pick up contract work, fill in these gaps, and be selective about the companies they work with and the time they spend.
3. Highly Skilled Professionals Will Opt for Freelancing Work Over Traditional Employment
With more companies leaning on freelancers to fill skill gaps, it makes sense that this growing demand for jobs that require specialized skill sets puts a premium on contract workers who have these abilities.
Bringing a highly-skilled independent contractor on board for specific projects can save organizations tens of thousands of dollars as compared to a full-time team member while delivering equally high-quality results. It can also give organizations the ability to launch new projects and initiatives more quickly than if the company took the time to hire a full-timer or train in-house staff to do the needed tasks. There has also been a shift where people are opting for freelance work rather than full-time roles because of the flexibility it provides. As this trend continues, there will be a growing crop of highly skilled workers for companies to choose from, making this a win-win for both organizations and the independent contractors they hire for these projects.
4. Organizations Will Rely Less on Staffing Firms for Contractors
The shift to freelance and remote work has brought with it a proliferation of hundreds of on-demand talent platforms, which can lead to time and cost-savings for companies when compared to traditional staffing agencies. With a higher availability of skilled workers than ever before at their fingertips, in 2020, many hiring managers took the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and circumvent staffing firms completely in favor of finding freelance talent in on-demand marketplaces — a trend we can only expect to continue growing in the coming years. Platforms like Stoke Talent that build in tools to help navigate the intricacies of freelance hiring - including features that help companies remain compliant, elements that support onboarding and offboarding, and payment capabilities -- will also become integral in making this process just as smooth as hiring a new full-time worker.
5. Full-Time Remote Work Is Here to Stay
Today, a growing number of workers can live wherever they want and still have access to a variety of job opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t be able to pursue. Not only that, but large swathes of both tech and non-tech workers like consultants, marketers, insurance brokers, and financial workers are wanting and expecting permanent work-from-home options. Many companies — including some of the tech sector’s biggest players — are accommodating this new preference. In fact, 50% of Facebook’s 48,000 employees are expected to work remotely within 10 years, and Twitter and Square made their “work from home forever” options official.
As a growing number of companies experience firsthand the feasibility and affordability of fully-remote workforces, this also means that a greater number of doors can be opened to remote opportunities for contract workers that may not have been considered previously.
6. More Remote Work Will Lead to More Freelancers
The widened acceptance of remote work will create greater opportunity for freelancers and thus, may inspire more people to choose a freelancing path rather than full-time route. Because the shift to remote work has not only turned out to be feasible but also incredibly effective, organizations may no longer be apprehensive to hire remote freelancers. Instead, it has proven that freelancers can be an asset and are worthy of investment, especially given the other clear advantages for companies.
Also, in the wake of a global event that forced companies to pivot to a fully-remote work model, more businesses are now better positioned to tap into the freelance market than they were before. From a high level, there is little to no difference between a full-time remote worker and a freelancer in terms of potential work product, making it a no-brainer when a freelancer has the skills needed when a full-time candidate may not and would require extensive training.
What This Means for the Future
It’s certainly been an unprecedented year for both businesses and employees around the world, and if one thing is certain, it’s that we are in the midst of a freelance revolution. While the pandemic has accelerated this major market shift, it will by no means slow down when the vaccine becomes widely available. Now, the question is when modern companies will understand where the workforce is headed and make the necessary change to adapt to the new rules of the game, leveraging freelancers to build their businesses.
About Shahar Erez
Shahar Erez is the CEO of Stoke Talent, and an experienced executive with solid engineering, product and marketing leadership backgrounds backed up by sound results. He has more than 15 years of experience in various management positions in a wide range of organizations building stellar teams and leading them to new levels of success in highly competitive markets. He is also an entrepreneur with a remarkable execution track record in product / strategy planning and project management, passion for leading change and extraordinary interpersonal skills.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.