What happens when freelancers outnumber salaried employees? In the USA, more than 30% of the population are freelancers. The assumptions of employers and employees are being turned on their heads, but politicians are still focused on creating jobs. Good luck with that.
This transition is nothing less than a revolution. We haven’t seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Now, employees are leaving the traditional workplace and opting to piece together a professional life on their own. As of 2005, one-third of our workforce participated in this “freelance economy.” Data show that number has only increased over the past six years. Entrepreneurial activity in 2009 was at its highest level in 14 years, online freelance job postings skyrocketed in 2010, and companies are increasingly outsourcing work. While the economy has unwillingly pushed some people into independent work, many have chosen it because of greater flexibility that lets them skip the dreary office environment and focus on more personally fulfilling projects. – The Freelance Surge is the Industrial Revolution of Our Time
Over the past decade many corporations have had continuous profits while most workers have seen none of it. Trickle down economics doesn’t work. One of the few options for individual workers is to establish a new work contract. However, unions are losing influence and collective bargaining hasn’t done much for workers’ wages. But it’s getting easier for individuals to connect to each other and to potential clients. The tools for individual workers to connect and collaborate are now available, though we don’t have the culture or mindset to fully embrace them yet.
I have often referred to salaried employment as indentured servitude. Practices such as minimal hours, free internships, and unpaid overtime are examples of this culture. Perhaps with more worker mobility, a growing body of free-agents, and less dependence on corporations for work, we may see this culture changing. We are not there yet. Many companies are hiring more contract and temporary workers, who have all the downsides of freelancing without any of the benefits. Contract workers are told where, when, and often how to work.
Contract work may seem like the only option for many people, but freelancing is a better one. Freelancers first have to band together in networks and communities of practice to help each other out. Lack of medical coverage (US) or a drug plan (Canada) can be barriers to freelancing. Therefore freelancers should look into better options for group health care, joint marketing, and shared administration. Currently, the deck is stacked with laws supporting either employers or employees, but the future of knowledge work is in free-agency. Free minds are needed for innovative and creative work (Talent), the core of the network era economy. However, neither corporations nor unions will change to help out freelancers, so they have to help themselves.
Contract work is for mugs. Freelancing means freedom.