Full-time work has always had one big advantage: safety.
The reason your parents, and your parents’ parents spent so much of their lives putting in long hours at the factory, office, or coal mine, was because of a desire to put food on the table, sure, but even more so a desire to protect themselves and their families from risk. A full-time job, especially a government job, provided safety, security, and modest long-term benefits. And that feeling of safety, regardless of the costs incurred to acquire it (the biggest one being working a job you didn’t enjoy all that much) was the reason your parents told you, dear reader, the same thing: go to school, get a good job, achieve safety and security.
Well, times are changing.
The biggest reason freelance work has been stigmatized (right up there with entrepreneurship) has been its lack of safety. In the 1980s, ‘90s, 2000s, and even well into the 2010s, if you said you were a freelancer or an entrepreneur, most people interpreted that as a cryptic way of saying, “I’m unemployed.” Today? These are two of the most prized, most highly regarded titles in the modern world. To be an entrepreneur is to have freedom. To be a freelancer is to have autonomy, agency, and choice.
Many trends are helping to accelerate this shift:
- The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated society’s acceptance of remote work, freelance work, and the downsizing of full-time workforces in exchange for more nimble, distributed teams of contractors.
- Two-thirds of Americans have a side hustle, and 24% planned to start one this year, in 2021. Furthermore, “46% say they were motivated by the prospect of creating passive income. 25% of Americans say saving for a specific financial goal was their side hustle motivator, and 23% say it was saving up for a specific purchase.” Translation: most of the country doesn’t have one job anymore, and likely started a side hustle with the hopes of eventually no longer needing a full-time job.
- In 2019, Fiverr went public, and boasts nearly 1,000,000 freelancers who sell services ranging from logo design to video creation and editing to website development and blog writing. Fiverr going public is just another signal showing the validity of the freelancer economy and the likelihood that it will continue to grow as a category.
Of course, there is still some pushback against this new way of working. For example, a California appeals court recently stated “Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors, siding with a lower court that found the ride-hailing companies were likely violating state labor law,” according to NPR. But as more startups and disruptive companies change the way people work, provide services, and monetize their assets (Turo, Airbnb, etc.), these laws are going to become harder and harder to interpret, pass, and uphold.
The freelancer economy is being built in plain sight.
Here’s how full-time work will change as a result.
1. Jobs will start falling into one of three different categories.
- Full-time work
- Part-time/contractor work
- Freelance work
For as long as any of us can remember, full-time work has always been the dominant and most highly valued category of work. You went to school, you graduated with a degree, got a job, then worked your way up the corporate ladder. But now, and especially in the wake of the pandemic, big companies are realizing how inefficient it is to treat every single role within the company as a full-time role.
As a result, a new category of work has emerged: part-time/contractor work. This isn’t quite 100% freelance work, where you are solely responsible for feeding yourself, but also isn’t a full-time job. It’s something in-between, valued by employers in a wide variety of ways. Some give their part-time workers benefits just like they do full-time workers. Others lump their part-time contractors in with freelancers and vendors and treat them accordingly.
It’s this middle category of workers, the part-time/contractors, where we will likely see the most evolution over the next ten or twenty years. Because the reality is, freelancing is hard. Working for yourself or being entrepreneurial is hard. Not everyone wants to do it. But, as evidenced by the labor shortages recently, a lot of people don’t want to go back to work full time either.
This middle ground seems to be most interesting to the widest number of people.
2. Younger generations want remote work opportunities, and remote work is the easiest to be done on a part-time or contract basis.
The COVID-19 pandemic gave everyone in the world a taste of remote work.
Since then, remote work opportunities have skyrocketed. It’s not just a discussion about full-time vs part-time work anymore. It’s also about how people want to work—and people would much rather work from home than commute to an office 5 days per week. Younger generations, especially, having grown up on the Internet and watched peers of theirs build careers as YouTubers and TikTokers, would much rather work remotely than in-person.
And all of these trends are changing the way we as a society think about employment.
If you are the CEO of a large company, you probably would rather have your employees be full-time, fully invested in the business, showing up to work every day (as CEOs of Netflix and Apple have publicly stated, encouraging employees to come back to work). But if that’s not what employees want, and are willing to quit if unheard, that’s going to force companies to change the way they hire. And so if the only work opportunities new, young talented workers want are remote, then guess what? Remote opportunities are going to be what suddenly open up at these companies.
Indeed has published a ton of surveys and graphs reflecting this trend.
3. Freelancer marketplaces are showing people how profitable self-employment can be.
The other big argument against freelance work in the past has been how difficult it is to find clients/customers.
After all, this is the hardest thing about working for yourself.
But with the rise of freelancer marketplaces like Boardsi, MentorPass, Fiverr, and many more, finding paying customers is no longer an issue. Anyone can create a profile, upload a few examples, and within hours start providing work to paying clients and customers over the Internet. Add in the ease with which people can launch personal websites, accept credit card payments, and manage their finances with easy-to-use and often free (or freemium) technologies, and it has never been easier to be a freelancer. (And this isn’t even including the whole Creator Economy side of things, and other platforms like Patreon, OnlyFans, etc., that help creators monetize their passions.)
The truth is, big companies have a problem on their hands, and that problem is autonomy. Freedom. People want to spend their hours, days, and lives doing things that make them happy, from the comfort of their own homes, and ideally making the same if not more money as they were showing up to an office every day. Safety and security has lost its allure. Startups like Uber and Airbnb have shown the world how a safe & secure industry one day can be easily disrupted and made irrelevant the next. And the idea that you will work at one company for the rest of your life is dead. It doesn’t exist anymore.
People now feel the want, need, and desire to provide for themselves.
And the freelancer economy is changing the way full-time work is valued in the modern world.