The rapid evolution of digital technologies in an era of global crises has transformed the fabric of the working world. Conventional wisdom has been on its head and workers are shunning traditional career paths in favour of a new work order: the rise of the high-value freelancer.
Professionals are increasingly prioritising project attractiveness, flexibility and a healthier work-life balance. Companies will have to adapt their hiring and management practices to reflect the requirements of this more evolved worker. Moreover, hiring experts with specialist technical expertise will prove crucial to the survival of enterprises in the coming years – problem is, it’s in short supply.
Here, we explore prognoses and strategies discussed in the first episode of our new podcast, Outvise Insights. The series brings industry experts together to discuss their views on business, technology and the future of work. Outvise Insights is available on Spotify, Apple, Google and Amazon podcasts.
In the first episode, “The Future of Work Won’t Look Like the Past”, CEO and founding partner Eusebi Llensa shares his observations on how digital innovation is transforming the structure of businesses and redefining the role of the employee. The podcast is just 20 minutes, but for the essential briefing, keep reading.
Table of Contents
What is the new world of work?
Over recent years we’ve witnessed a dramatic acceleration in the way digital technologies are reshaping the fundamental structures of the world of work. Already, the tendency of previous generations to stay in one job for their entire working life has grown rare.
Through the 1990s, the majority of workers began to change jobs multiple times throughout their careers, with many professionals moving companies around every three to five years. Now, the dawn of the freelancing revolution is undermining the constraints of traditional corporate structures. Fixed contracts, business hours and traditional hierarchies seem more and more optional.
The global pandemic provided a catalyst which made new possibilities visible and highly attractive to an unprecedented number of people. More aware than ever of the flexible remote work options enabled by our connected world, the realisation that they are no longer bound to the traditional workplace has made workers reevaluate what they look for in a job.
According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, a future of work report published in 2021, an astounding 41% of workers considered leaving their current employer last year – nearly double the job-switching intent of pre-pandemic studies. People place an increasingly high price on their hours outside of work, prioritising flexibility and their quality of life.
However, there are other factors impacting the new work order beyond human behaviour; the machine is also playing a pivotal role. Increased automation and accelerated digital transformation is having a radical effect on the future of work, transforming the roles we need to fill and the tasks we need to perform.
How will technology change the future of work?
As new digital technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and IoT assume an increasingly prominent role in businesses and everyday life, large-scale digitization and automation of tasks is inevitable. However, this isn’t to suggest that the forecast for future employment is bleak.
In their future of work report, SIA suggests that any decline in staff levels due to automation will be matched or exceeded by an increased need for employees with knowledge and understanding of the new technologies at hand. In other words, digitization will create as many jobs as it eliminates.
However, these jobs will be highly specialised and seeking out these specialists will be the new challenge that businesses have to face. These specialists are in short supply: data collected by Korn Ferry and published by the IMF estimate that there will be a shortage of 85 million tech professionals by 2030, accounting for the lost revenue of $8.5 trillion USD.
This lack of talent is an unstoppable driver of change. To attempt to compensate, businesses need to reformulate talent sourcing strategies. Major hubs are already implementing blended talent strategies, combining remote talent with full-time hires. However, there is an argument to suggest freelance talent have the edge when in comes to these highly specialised and rapidly evolving tech fields.
This is because expert knowledge of novel technologies is rarely gained by those who have spent years in a position at a single company. In this regard, freelancers have an advantage. By cherry-picking projects that will deepen and expand their personal expertise, they can stay abreast of the latest technological developments.
This constantly enhances their value to clients. Rather than relying only on retraining current employees or hiring new permanent staff, the businesses of the future will increasingly turn to highly knowledgeable freelancers: people who will join the company to fulfil a specific task or one-time project, otherwise known as a ‘gig’.
An appeal to specialists
While for many the word ‘gig worker’ conjures an image of a person toting a delivery bag on a bicycle, the time is nigh to rid ourselves of this simplistic connotation. Today, a huge variety of professionals work on a project-by-project basis, including a growing number of highly specialised, knowledgeable individuals.
As Industry 4.0 dawns, new freelance opportunities open up. Some of the areas in which skilled freelance workers are most sought after are business intelligence, digital transformation, data science and process automation. Due to the value attributed to this expertise, many professionals are turning to freelancing to maximise their financial gains and enhance their professional development.
Many of these people are enterprising young talent, who utilise the time between projects to dedicate to developing their skills. Others are veteran consultants, who after many years of a career at a big company have decided to apply their hard-earned knowledge to stimulating new contexts. Motivated by the possibilities offered by the new work order, high-value freelancers are on the rise.
Rather than being obliged to work by the constraints of their job description, these specialists are driven by a passion to learn more about their area of expertise. Their specific focus and relevant experience can be applied to guide projects in more intelligent, productive and cost-efficient directions.
With many companies having to restructure and optimise costs after recent crises, an increasingly popular solution is to complement the skills of full-time employees with the knowledge and dynamism that freelancers can provide. This is a win-win scenario: companies can maximise value and freelancers get the variety and growth they seek.
The evolution in management mindset
HR departments in some markets are already adapting to these developments; in the UK, for example, we see new roles emerging such as Contingent Workforce Manager. These profiles facilitate companies to find, onboard and maintain relationships with freelancers as a powerful additional source of talent.
However, key to this evolution in HR practices will be a necessary sea-change in management culture. With over 50% of workers stating that the option to work from home or remotely would benefit them hugely, new attitudes towards what constitutes the workplace will come to the fore.
The pandemic prepared managers for the current paradigm shift. In the absence of an on-site workforce during the lockdowns, managers were obliged to define exactly what had to be done and how results were to be measured. Meanwhile, they had to relinquish control over material conditions that would usually quantify these factors, such as the nine-to-five day.
Motivated by necessity, these new hybrid working practices proved to be an inadvertent success in terms of employee well-being. Microsoft’s future of work report disclosed that 73% of workers want flexible remote work options developed over the pandemic to stay.
This novel output-oriented management style does away with unproductive micro-management to focus instead on direct communication and clear goals. Crucially, it also creates the perfect conditions for the inclusion of freelancers in the workforce, giving managers the tools they need to bring specialists onto projects with a distinct objective in mind.
The power of platformisation in the new work order
Despite the benefits of taking on high-value freelancers, many businesses remain reticent and gravitate towards their comfort zone. Instead of leveraging freelance talent, they’re continuing to prioritise hiring full-time employees. Yet, openness to hiring freelance specialists with a deep knowledge of new technologies will be a crucial factor in companies’ ability to keep pace with the complexity and speed of the digital era.
The rising availability of third-party platforms is a key factor in changing this mentality and educating companies on the advantages of hiring specialists. Online talent platforms offer a powerful new solution to help employers with talent acquisition, providing a range of different hiring models to aid managers to find the right person for the job.
Beyond recruitment, third-party platforms like Outvise also play a crucial role in streamlining the freelancer/client relationship, and coordinating administrative processes such as procurement, invoices and timesheets. This ongoing function permits businesses to circumvent the bureaucracy of new hires, allowing employers and the freelancers they appoint to get straight down to the business at hand.
Outvise advocates for talent
The new work order brings with it many exciting opportunities for specialists who wish to balance their private life with their ambition and constantly upskill to share their knowledge. However, it also brings specific challenges. Unlike the comforting stability of traditional corporate structures within which workers could enjoy the certainty of a steady full-time job, freelancing implies a certain measure of uncertainty.
To take advantage of the abundant benefits of freelancing – being able to choose which jobs they take, prioritise quality of life, take opportunities to study and upskill, and be at the helm of their own career trajectory – workers must develop the ability to forecast their financials during fallow periods. Then, to maintain momentum, they need to build trusting relationships with past and potential clients.
Most importantly, in order to overcome the precariousness inherent in the nature of freelance work, high-value freelancers have to be proactive in scouting for new jobs and opportunities. This can present a particular challenge: although specialists may be experts in their own area of study, self-promotion is a separate and specific skill that many talented freelancers struggle with. Here, once again, third-party platforms can play a crucial role.
Platforms like Outvise not only offer professionals tips and training on how to network and self-promote, they actively search for and broker opportunities with potential clients with individual specialists in mind. This ensures both the client and the freelancer get the best possible experience.
Collaboration with a platform which dedicates itself first and foremost to finding jobs for its roster of trusted professionals can give freelancers a welcome measure of stability in the uncertain new work order. This allows them to concentrate on what they do best: applying their specialist knowledge to deliver results for clients.