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It all started in a two-bedroom apartment in New York, at the dawn of the e-lance economy when three inspired engineers founded Elance in 1999. The concept of an alternate workforce caught on like wildfire with a variety of similar marketplaces taking shape — Guru in 2000, Odesk in 2003, PeoplePerHour in 2005, and Freelancer in 2009.
Now, we are at a point where freelancing is a commonly used term with millions of people working independently as part of the global gig economy. As per a 2015 Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) report, 53 million people (34 percent workforce) freelance in the US alone and this is slated to go up to 60 million by 2020. The immediate question that comes to mind is what’s the future of freelancing? What’s the future of the workforce? How should organizations adapt to this trend? Let me try and paint a picture.
Free up Talent
As per Accenture Workforce Technology Report 2016, 38 percent businesses globally are struggling to find the right talent, especially because of the changing nature of roles. Isn’t that astounding?
Roles in organizations are changing fast. 10 years back, digital marketing, big data, user interface, user experience, SEO, apps, etc., were at best scarcely heard terms. These rapid changes have led to a severe shortage of certain skill sets, which are key to today’s day and age. Given the shortage in supply, it is imperative for these skills to be freely available and not locked in organizations to ensure their optimum utilization.
Increasingly, organizations’ competitive success hinges on workers who aren’t employees at all. There are a growing number of people, who temporarily lend companies their skills and knowledge, in an ever-expanding network of freelancers, independent consultants, experts, outsourcing partners, vendors, and other types of non-traditional talent. They help organizations supplement their existing core set of employees with a highly mobile, and dynamic workforce to meet the challenges of a complex and turbulent business environment.
For instance, consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble’s more than 50 percent product initiatives involve significant collaboration with outside innovators. Through its Connect and Develop program, the company has forged more than 1,000 agreements with innovation partners.
The company has also tapped into a wide range of independent contributors through new crowdsourcing models by challenging them to solve research and development problems or to come up with new product ideas. Also, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global professional services firm recently announced to launch a talent exchange to find freelancers and contractors for their client projects. Then there are online marketplaces for skills such as Flexing It, HourlyNerd, and MBA & Company in Asia, USA, and Europe respectively.
This trend transcend borders, languages, and business functions. The growth we have seen in the last two decades have been largely limited to techies, creative designers, and certain low skill jobs such as data entry, and telemarketing. However, all signs point towards this trend affecting parts of the workforce - consultants, lawyers, marketers, data engineers and even general managers, and corporate leaders that have been untouched by this phenomenon.
Within 10 years, we will see new global 2,000 companies with no full time employees outside of their C-suite, as per the Accenture report. No doubt, we have clearly come a long way from the humble beginnings of freelancing to it being the biggest trend of this century. As with all other trends, it will be interesting to see how the future of work evolves, sustains and changes how work is done in times to come.
This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (June 2016 Issue).