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The Future of Work is the Freelancer

There is no doubt that being an entrepreneur is hard work, the hardest I’ve had to work in my whole career. Corporate life was, by comparison, easy. However the rewards have been plentiful, and entirely within my control and influence. I can’t imagine returning to the insecurity of a corporate role.

Yes, you read that right, the insecurity of a corporate role. Why do I say that? Because the regular paycheck that employees receive gives the illusion of security. When you realize that many states in the USA operate an “at will” employment relationship, you understand that this “security” is merely an illusion. You could walk into the office tomorrow and find yourself without a job for any reason; not a heinous mistake; not a poor performance review; simply because.

The reality is we are all insecure workers in the 21st Century workplace.

It’s reported that more than 40% of the workforce is likely to be an independent worker by 2020 it’s apparent that legislation will need to move quickly in order to keep up. In the book The Alliance, Reid Hoffman (Cofounder of LinkedIn), shares his vision for the future of work. He states that the days of the career for life are gone, instead it’s the concept of “tours of duty” where the nature of work is becoming more fluid, and where individuals with specific skills are hired to complete a specific project.

Work has come full circle

In many ways the freelance workforce is old news. Look back two-hundred years, before the industrial revolution that brought about the modern workplace, and you’d find a freelance economy where work was a 24x7 endeavor. In fact, the very word “freelance” is from medieval times when knights, who had not pledged loyalty to one family, were available to fight, whether in tournaments or in battle, for those willing to pay for their service—the ultimate Free-Lancers.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution people worked for themselves or in small family groups, and usually out of their home or nearby. The proverbial butcher, baker, and candlestick maker were the industries of their day. People's relationship with work was fluid, and integrated into their lifestyle. The Industrial revolution brought about automation which centralized production, brought the individual worker out of their weaving loft into the factories, and brought the farm workers to the burgeoning towns to seek a different type of employment, as the hired hands within the factories.

We're all 21st Century Freelancers
These times were not all idyllic and painless. There were riots, there was resistance, and there were even organized protests. “Luddites” were real people, textile workers, who saw the newfangled factories and massive looms as a threat to their existence and way of life. It's safe to say the stress-management industry we know today was not yet in existence.

The Luddite of today may not be smashing equipment with hammers or throwing clogs into the machinery, but their concerns are very real. Warnings of driverless cars and advances in artificial intelligence fuel a new fear, a fear of the unknown impact on how we interact as human beings.

The rapid acceleration of new technologies is having a direct impact on how and where work is done, and a transformational impact that far surpasses the impact of the Industrial Revolution. We’re now in the midst of the digital revolution, one that requires not just hired hands, but the hired minds and hired hearts that fuel creativity and innovation.

Fiverr.com, Upwork.com, and TaskRabbit.com are platforms connecting a global army of freelancers with opportunities that match their skills. Tapping into the flexible economy will allow companies to scale up and down rapidly in response to market and project needs. Tapping into the flexible economy allows each of us to augment our ‘day-job’ with part time, in the moment work that supplements our income or taps into our creative passions through our shopfronts on Etsy.com. It is also the launching point for many start-up service businesses, easing the transition for the founder from employee to solopreneur.

Make sure you pack your waterwings.

The 21st century workplace makes it much harder to be the big fish in a small pond. No longer are individual employees competing in a local market for the next opportunity, instead we’re all swimming in the Global Talent Pool.

When it comes to finding new sources of talent it seems that 21st Century companies are destined to play a never-ending game of global whack-a-mole. As fast as a new talent hot spot pops up, whether it’s a city or a country, other companies quickly follow—draining the pond and market of talent. Everyon then rushes off to anticipate and capture the next talent hot spot.

Transparency and opportunity on the Internet means we are now competing with an unseen colleague who may be thousands of miles, and many time zones, away. When you’re sleeping, they’re working.

Work is no longer the mythical 9-5 office-bound activity. In today’s world, work can happen anytime, anyplace, and with anyone. The lines between work-time and personal-time are blurred. It’s no longer a question of work-life balance and trying to fit everything else around a standard workday. Rather, the evolving expectation is how work and life are a braided system, blended, overlapping, and seamless.

The future of work will center on the fluid workforce, the gig economy, and the freelancer. As such we all need to embrace the insecure workplace, and change our mindset from “I’m an employee” to “I’m a freelancer who is currently retained by this company.”

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