Although the statistics are hard to pin down precisely, the Freelancers Union tells us approximately 34% of the current US workforce is ‘freelance’ - equating to 54 million people in the United States. With estimates from the likes of Robin Chase and Fast Company suggesting that in the next 20 years those independent workers will rise to 70-80% of us. Liz Ryan reports in a recent Forbes article that we need to “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. Employment is Over”. And in a LinkedIn post, Reid Hoffman, agrees that ‘lifetime employment might be over”, and offers that “lifetime relationship remains ideal” suggesting that our work will come from our alliances.
It likely means that you and your partner and your friend and your brother and your sisters will be working on a contract by contract, project by project basis consulting, creating, and collaborating with each other, with previous colleagues, with new startups, with anchor businesses. It means you’ll be marketing yourself, operating your own business, working from spaces you chose, and hunting up your own work. You will be empowered to carve your career how you will like. It means you will be responsible for your own success.
With this ‘new’ economy on the brink of exploding, one has to wonder, how exactly is this going to work? And be sustainable.
Companies like Uber, Fivver and TaskRabbit, are evidence of a ‘gig’ economy and are built on leveraging excess capacity showing us how the sharing economy can and does make our lives more efficient and possibly more profitable. But we cannot ignore that Uber is routinely under scrutiny for under or de-valuing the independent workers, and Mattermark suggest that the company itself is not profitable. Fivver operates on the premise that you can get work ‘done’ for just five bucks, and TaskRabbit focuses on easing the daily tasks in your life like cleaning your house, fixing your repairs, and completing your grocery, laundry and mail deliveries - none of which seems to fit a professional model for being ‘employed’. Add in campaigns like that of the Freelancers Union, which is blogging and tweeting that #FreelanceIsntFree as they create the world’s longest invoice of unpaid bills, and it can make stepping into the world of independents seem rather daunting.
Yet there are others recognizing where this economy could go and all that it has to offer. In her June article How the Gig Economy Could Save Capitalism, Rana Foroohar begins to explore new directions for the gig economy and offers up the potential benefits of a shift from big employee/employer systems to smaller more entrepreneurial system. Her article considers the future of what she describes as community based capitalism and suggests the need for new thinking on labor laws, regulatory systems, and crowd-based capitalism. Faisal Hoque reminds us of the “value of small” in his Fast Company article while painting the global picture of the gig economy and describing the future of work as one where we can work how we actually want to work. He sees the future of a robust freelance economy where both independents and companies gain mutually and beneficially.
The world of work is clearly changing and there is a growing need to establish the necessary infrastructure to support this new workforce . As we move through this transition, where almost half of us will work as solo professionals in the next 10 years, let us be thoughtful and intentional in how, as independents, we can lead this new economy in ways that are positive and profitable and most importantly sustainable for us all.