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The Future of Freelance (And Why You Should Care)

Businesses should welcome freelancers into the mix or risk being left behind.
Pres. and CEO, Elance, Inc.
September 25, 2017

In case you just blinked, you’ll notice that a workplace revolution is at hand and rising swiftly. Fueled by rapidly changing lifestyles and technology innovation, online freelance work is growing.

Businesses that embrace this inevitable transformation may be rewarded with exceptional work from a steady stream of top-skilled professionals. Those that drag their feet? Well … good luck. With the costs and delays of hiring and staffing full time—plus the growing reluctance of top talent to partake in the 9-to-5 grind—it’s going to be hard to stay competitive for long.

With some workers making the shift to self-employment, large enterprise businesses will now require a hybrid workforce of full-time and freelance teams. Small businesses, on the other hand, may well be manned exclusively by freelancers from around the globe—with few workers ever having set foot on the premises of the companies they’re paid by. Yes, it’s a brave new world indeed.

Freelancing: An Abridged History

To understand how and why online work is growing in popularity, let’s step back and take a brief look at the history of freelancing. Freelancing has always existed in one form or another. The word itself dates back to the early 1800s, where in the classic novel Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott used the word freelancing to describe medieval mercenaries not sworn to any lord’s service. Fast-forward about 150 years and the term was used by writers and artists—most notably those creating work for magazine and advertising agencies.

The online freelance revolution is not only changing the landscape of how jobs are completed, it’s also improving the availability, quality and affordability of workers.

As the web began to evolve, workers in different industries began turning to freelance. Of course, early on opportunities were limited to those with a reliable internet connection—in urban U.S. areas at first and gradually more rural areas and large international cities. This latest group of freelancers was comprised of technology-savvy workers such as IT experts and computer programmers. Now, with internet access as ubiquitous as it is, the playing field is level, and anyone, anywhere, can conceivably go online and tackle a job.

Modern Day Freelancer

Today’s freelancer has an arsenal of technology available. With smartphones, videoconferencing, cloud-based file sharing and other online tools, it’s possible to work virtually from any location—with no need for a physical office. In addition, freelancers can more easily find rewarding jobs, as online workplaces continue to match and connect businesses that need work with the talent ready to tackle projects.

It's not just technology pushing this trend, but the changing values of workers themselves. Until rather recently, large global enterprises were the envy of skilled workers. College graduates lined up to take full-time jobs in the ivory tower, staying on for 40 years and a "gold watch" at retirement. With technological advancements like the internet, however, came yet another phenomenon: the startup. Suddenly it became desirable to work for a quick and nimble outfit, or better yet start your own. As this momentum built, workers began to realize that they didn’t have to suffer through large commutes and long nights working uninteresting jobs. More workers (particularly younger workers) look to freelancing for an improved work/life balance.

What This Means for Small Businesses

In a nutshell, today’s global workforce is in the midst of an exciting transformation. The online freelance revolution is not only changing the landscape of how jobs are completed, it’s also improving the availability, quality and affordability of workers. Businesses of all sizes are using online freelance workers for jobs that require no physical proximity, including:

  • Web programming
  • Mobile app development
  • 3D modeling
  • Video production
  • Market research
  • Writing and translation
  • Graphic design

Welcome the revolution with open arms and you’ll have many of the pieces in place for a brilliant future.

A version of this article was originally published on February 01, 2013.

Photo: Getty Images 
Pres. and CEO, Elance, Inc.