In October, online freelancing platform Upwork released it’s 'Freelancing in America 2018' report. This marks the platform’s fifth annual report looking at the state of freelancing in the United States and how freelancers fit into the overall labor market.
According to the report, there are currently 57.3 million freelancers in America, an increase of 3.7 million in the past five years. Of these, an estimated two-thirds use freelancing to supplement their income while also holding a traditional job. And overall, Americans are now spending more than 1 billion hours per week freelancing.
The report also includes the results of a survey of more than 6,000 workers. The key takeaway is that technology is making it easier for freelancers to find work, with 64% of respondents finding work online, a 22 point increase from 2014.
But that’s not the only impact technology is having on freelancing. Technology has given freelancers in underdeveloped countries the ability to connect to the global marketplace. It’s broken down barriers between nations, giving freelancers in every country the same opportunity to apply for any job posted on a global platform.
Technology promises to only increase the opportunities available to freelancers around the world. According to the World Bank, the total global freelancer population is estimated at around 84 million, demonstrating that changes in the freelancing world will likely have far reaching implications for labor markets around the globe.
Here are three ways technology is disrupting freelance work.
Online platforms like Upwork have made it easier for freelancers to find work, although these platforms charge fees that can eat up a large chunk of a freelancer’s earnings.
On top of this, earnings can also be reduced by fees even when they are working directly with clients, as payment sites like Paypal also charge fees for transactions.
As a result of these fees, freelancers working in some sectors can often find themselves earning less than their 9-5 counterparts.
According to a report by Deloitte, released earlier this year alternative millennial workers have consistently earned less than their full-time peers for more than a decade. And 43% of alternative workers have listed insufficient pay as their reason for leaving the freelancing industry.
For this reason tech developers are working to provide freelancers with alternative platforms. Among them are blockchain startups promising to eliminate high commission fees. The technology cuts out the need for middlemen in transactions, making it a perfect innovation for streamlining interactions between freelancers and clients.
Technology is also creating more opportunities for freelancers. At tech giant Google in 2018, contract workers outnumbered inhouse employees for the first time in the company's 20-year history. And Google isn’t the only tech company turning to freelancers and contract employees to enhance its workforce.
A number of tech companies are hiring freelancers to fill skill gaps in highly specialized technical fields. These companies no longer need software engineers with general competencies. In order to stay at the forefront of the industry, they need workers who can help them develop innovative technologies in areas like robotics, artificial intelligence and data science.
But these technologies are still relatively new, meaning finding qualified talent is difficult. For this reason, many workers have discovered they can offer their expertise at a premium. Instead of working for one company for a set salary, freelancers are finding it can be more lucrative to provide their technical skills to several companies at once.
Technology is also creating a number of tools for freelancers that make their work easier. These include applications like Grammarly that check written text for errors and appointment-setting applications like Calendly that streamline the scheduling process. Meanwhile, other platforms are providing freelancers with opportunities to improve their skills in highly sought after areas like SEO and web design.
And technology has improved communication between freelancers and clients as well. Thanks to applications like Skype and WhatsApp, freelancers can communicate with clients around the globe in real time, eliminating cross country barriers.
Additionally, clients are utilizing time-tracking applications to keep track of how much work freelancers are doing. These apps make it easier for freelancers to get paid by automatically tabulating their hours worked and the payment due. But they also lend credibility to the freelancing industry as a whole.
Some clients are wary of working with freelancers because they can’t oversee their work as in a traditional office setting. But time tracking applications let them monitor the status of projects from afar.
At this juncture, freelancing and technology seem inextricably linked. And as technology continues to give companies the ability to work from anywhere, it’s likely more companies will be making their operations completely remote.
As this trend continues, it’s likely freelancers will make up a far greater portion of the labor force in the future.
Photo by Johnny Brown on Unsplash.