Market musings

The Future of Work Is Freelance (and what this means for your SMB)

by Sasha Viasasha
November 8, 2017

The future of work is coming. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of temporary employees rose by 29% between 2009 and 2012, a trend that continues to accelerate. By 2020 it's been widely predicted that 40% of the workforce will be 1099 workers, while an independent 2016 study conducted by Upwork and the Freelance Union found 55 million Americans participating in the freelance economy. That was 35% of the total workforce.

Flexible work conditions a big draw

The freelance workforce earned 1 trillion in 2016, and cited technology as a major enabler of this trend. The same study also dug into some of the motivators driving this shift, from the perspective of people actually working in the freelance economy. While some view the rise of a 1099 economy as a troubling sign, freelancers overwhelmingly have a positive attitude about the shift. Flexibility is a huge benefit for freelancer, including work schedule flexibility and work location flexibility.

2017: a snapshot

Upwork and the Freelancer's Union just released their 2017 study, which estimates that 2 million workers have been added to the freelance workforce, now 36% of the total workforce. 

50% of millennial workers are already participating in the freelancer workforce.

At the current growth rate, freelancers will comprise the majority of the workforce by 2027.

This workforce is highly motivated, self-skilling, engaged, and on-demand. 

The future of work is here. 

What does that mean for small businesses, and how can they tweak their business model to benefit from this megatrend?

Small businesses have sometimes had a hard go of it in an economy that seems designed to preference the big players. From public policy to software solutions, the needs of large enterprises seem central.  And yet, despite these challenges, small businesses are overwhelmingly the disrupters and trend setters, shaking up the status quo, and driving growth and innovation.

In a very real way, small businesses ushered in the future of work, by finding creative ways to do more with less, and running leaner, more efficient operations. In the same way, small businesses can benefit from trends driving the future of work, including hypermobility, freelancer markets and automation.

The new deal

What we think of as ‘work’ is changing. The old identity, derived from a 9-to-5 desk job and title, is being supplanted by a new way of working and living. Workers who are successful don’t rely on a single skill set or fixed role, but take pride in their ability to learn new skills, adapt quickly to new roles, and wear multiple hats. They may develop numerous relationships with different companies, as well as pursuing personal projects, which allows them a strong sense of satisfaction and positive identity. 

Freelancers have a positive outlook

Although freelancers have concerns about the future, they view the larger policy shift from public to private ownership of benefits as a net positive.The majority (70 percent) would prefer the opportunity to earn more and purchase benefits on their own rather than receiving benefits from an employer or client. They also view a portfolio of clients as more secure than reliance on a single employer. Millennial workers, despite the bad press their generation seems to get, are more financially literate than any generation since the post World War II era. They are also much more likely to have received formal education on fiances in secondary school.  

The consumer-employee

The role between consumer and employee is growing more blurry, as contractors can barter their time for goods and services. The sharing economy and the emergence of cryptocurrencies are creating a super-flexible and fungible workforce that is always on demand. Together with automation, the freelance market is poised to rewrite the rules of business, and alter the working relationship that defined the industrial era. As trends converge, businesses who can act decisively to capitalize on digital transformation can grow their businesses and expand quickly, even replicating their success in other markets and industries. 

2020 and beyond

Instead of chasing next year’s trends, small businesses can focus on getting ready for the future of work by implementing three important changes or mindset shifts that will prepare your business for structural changes coming down the pipe. These can take time, but will pay huge dividends in several years when the majority of capable workers are freelancers and entrepreneurs, and automation tools mature.

  1. Organize work according to similar task sets rather than job responsibilities-    Do a comprehensive task inventory. Many businesses have organized workflows according to job roles, but in order to benefit from both automation and talent markets, businesses should get a good grasp on the all the tasks and operations that are performed across the business. Then they can be repackaged either for automation or for shipping to a talent market for fulfillment.  
  2. Digitize and mobilize everything--There is a huge strategic and tactical advantage to getting mobile and digitizing all business-critical processes. Ditch outdated software and legacy hardware. Getting your operations into the cloud is an incremental project, but if you haven’t begun it isn’t too late. Many early cloud adapters got burned by providers who didn’t survive the first few rounds of innovation, but the remaining players are here to stay. Freelancers will bring their own devices, so be sure you are ready for BYOD.
  3. Creating and maintaining an online presence-- Many small businesses have already gone through several iterations of digital identities, while others are just getting started. Even hyper-local businesses must have a digital presence if they want to grow. People turn to search engines to find the business next door as well as big brands. Word of mouth happens over social networks as much as IRL. A well designed and maintained digital identity will help attract great talent as well as investors and new customers. Luckily, creative talent markets are incredibly competitve ad can help even a business on a budget create a compelling online presense. 

Learn more about how your small business can leverage open talent markets

The future of work solves for talent

The future of work, while bringing new challenges, will solve some of the biggest problems small businesses face. Constant turnover is a major headache for small businesses, who often can’t support long-term employment with competitive wages and a benefit package. A constant churn of dissatisfied employees takes a real toll on businesses in the long term. The future of work will allow businesses to find new pools of talent, and to transact work with the fluctuations of the business cycle. Businesses will be able to scale up quickly to take advantage of opportunities before they pass them by.

Does your office phone system empower mobility?

Are you stuck babysitting an office phone system built on 20th century technology? Adapting your phone system to the demands of the future of work might be easier than you think. 

The next generation of office phone systems are mobile-first, built to ride on top of voice over IP, HD voice and 5G networks. Applications like Spoke Phone can turn a single business phone line into a full featured PBX phone system designed for use on mobile phones. Port over your existing business phone line or of choose a DDI number for a completely virtual phone system. You can easily add and delete additional devices, and you'll only pay for active users.

To learn more about how Spoke was designed as a complete mobile solution for small business like yours, visit our features page, or try out a no-risk free trial. 

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