Here at KindredHQ we are always interested to learn more about what’s happening in the so-called ‘Freelance Economy.’ Like everyone else, we’re anticipating the firing up of the wider economy and the knock on effects for us independent workers.
We thought about job creation and our role/s in helping get our economy fired up again. There’s no doubt that the number of self employed and freelance workers in the UK alone is expanding rapidly. In the US, the sector already makes up 1/3 of the workforce and is predicted to pass the 50% mark in advance of 2020.
Indeed, our own government looks to entrepreneurs to do their bit to drag us out of the doldrums. Here in the UK we are an innovation-driven economy, but to sustain that we will need a good pipeline of entrepreneurial activity. We freelancers and micro businesses can help create that environment and help business as a whole stay agile.
What can we do to sustain a ‘Free Agent Nation’
The freelance economy isn’t a new thing. It’s quite a while since Dan Pink published his book ‘Free Agent Nation’ and coined the phrase, but the term has stuck.
Recently, at National Freelancers Day 2011, Pink said that he thought there had been some improvement in the infrastructure for the free agent, although KindredHQ still thinks there’s some way to go. Dan also thinks that businesses are starting to ‘get’ the free agent, but policy makers aren’t, which is why we are not seeing any real changes in the way the established order use and support freelancers.
One term that has gained some credence in the US particularly is (acronym alert) ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). That sounds a bit like management-speak to me, but perhaps, like work-life balance, a nod to try and connect with people who are living and working as free spirits. The idea is that organisations are trying to create environments where their employees have some of the flexibility and autonomy that we freelancers have. Let’s see…
We are getting better at this
New types of company are emerging to provide those platforms and marketplaces for freelancers and these entrepreneurs are among the biggest beneficiaries of this new freelance economy. We’d like to think that KindredHQ is one of them!
Infrastructure is what companies like oDesk, Elance and Central Working offer today’s freelance entrepreneurs. Gary Swart, oDesk’s CEO, believes “traditional employment will never return to pre-recession levels. James and Steve of Central Working have a dream to have a Central Working space for co-workers on every high street. They want to help 10,000 businesses grow. (Reckon they’ll do better than that).
In a brilliant piece from the Gene Zaino of MBOPartners, he talks about the growing adoption of collaborative cloud computing tools and social networks like KindredHQ. These are driving a new kind of community building in the freelance workforce. Combining the virtual #watercoolermoment (thanks San Sharma!) with the benefits of professional associations, these communities are providing the backbone of professional support allowing independents to find work, share ideas and gain access to industry/skill specific information and trends. And obviously companies are tapping into these hubs to find talent.
Over in the US, the Freelancers’ Union campaigns for changes in policy and for better, cheaper services for freelancers. Our own UK based PCG, a membership organisation for freelancers runs the highly successful National Freelancers’ Day and has teamed up with Cranfield School of Management and Kingston University’s Small Business Research Centre to research the freelance economy in the UK.
The future of freelancing
We think this is the future of work. Zaino agrees: “The genie has left the bottle. The millennials saw their parents get fired and have a different mind-set about work. We live in a ‘project economy.’
And we are a happy lot. COMRES research for PCG in 2010 said that nearly 60% of freelancers wanted to do this until they ‘retired’. Dan Pink also thinks this is here to stay. It’s a result, he says, of the changing relationship between the individual and organisations.
‘Today, talented people need organisations less than organisations need talented people.”
Of course, it would help if the old economy could start recognising and recording the real stats so that policies might change. Even in the downturn, there is still an intense battle for talent and it seems obvious to us that it is in everyone’s interests to face up to facts.
We’re up for the challenge of taking on the status quo. Are you with us?