The future of work: a freelance economy | Women's Agenda

The future of work: a freelance economy

Our increasing desire for greater flexibility, freedom and control in our work lives is driving us towards a freelance economy, with predictions that one in three people will be working online, independently, by 2020.

According to a study conducted by Genesis Research Associates for oDesk – an online workplace that enables businesses and freelancers to work together remotely – there is an increasing desire to pursue independent career paths due to the freedom and flexibility they provide, meaning even more of our work will be conducted online in the future.

Of the 3,193 freelancers surveyed worldwide, including almost 2000 “Millenials” (19 to 30 years old), 72% still at ‘regular’ jobs said they want to quit to become entirely independent (61% hoping to do so within two years), with 89% saying they prefer to work when and where they choose, versus in a corporate nine-to-five job. With Gen Y’s demands for more flexibility and more control over their careers, the way we work is shifting.

According to Matt Cooper (pictured above), the vice president of enterprise and international at oDesk, there are a couple of trends underway that are determining what the future of work looks like.

“One trend is the move towards a freelance economy. The fluidity that we’re moving in and out of jobs is increasing. My dad worked for Hewlett Packard for 20-something years. I’ve never worked for a company for more than five and a half,” he says.

“We’re headed to a world where you’re working for five companies at one time, instead of one company for five years … From our own data, we think one in three people will be working online by 2020.”

By using technology to remove the barriers of traditional hiring, oDesk’s platform aligns a company’s talent needs with a freelancer’s desire to work when and where they want, on projects of their choosing, allowing smaller companies or start-ups to assemble virtual teams at an earlier stage in their development.

In Australia for the launch of oDesk’s Upstarts partnership with Pollenizer, Startmate and AngelCube, – through which startups will receive help to bridge talent gaps that exist in tech hub cities such as Melbourne and Sydney – Cooper told Women’s Agenda that a lack of access to talent is one of the key drivers causing this shift towards a freelance economy. Additionally, he says there is a demographic shift where we’re more comfortable building and maintaining relationships online.

“Millenials want more flexibility, they want more freedom, they want more control. Getting a nine-to-five job at a company is the least appealing option,” he says. “There are a lot of people that are choosing to work this way and I think the benefits and the flexibility and the control outweigh some of the traditional benefits that come with employment.”

To keep up with this shift, companies need to change the way they do business, according to Cooper, and embrace the demand for more flexible work.

“Managers have to work a littler harder to communicate, you’ve got to be a little more specific on what you want done and when you want it done and what your expectations are. You’ve got to use all of the communication tools that are available,” he says of working in an online environment.

“There are lots of different ways to share information and stay in touch and we have to go out of way to schedule regular meetings. There are different nuances to making the model feel as much like working next to the person as you can.”

Parallel to the move towards a freelance economy is the growth in co-working spaces. While we increasingly demand greater flexibility and move our work online, co-working spaces are emerging.

“We’ve got this explosion in co-working. Yes we have a bunch of freelancers, yes they want to work for whomever they want, whenever they want, but they’re all choosing to work in a co-working space. They may not be working for the same company but we’re still ultimately social people and we want to have some interaction.”

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