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Why so many people are freelancing

Half of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing by 2027. On the newest episode of The New Way We Work, we find out why independent work is attractive to Gen Z and what needs to change.

Why so many people are freelancing
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Over the past year, we’ve covered the changing landscape of the traditional workplace and the factors behind the Great Resignation. But what about those who left full-time, salaried positions? Or those who have long approached work differently?

Freelancing is on the rise. According to the freelance marketplace Upwork, the number of full-time freelancers grew from 28% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. And while the pandemic may have accelerated the the trend, it’s not showing signs of slowing. In fact, it’s projected that in five years, by 2027, 86.5 million people will be freelancing in the United States. That’s half of the total U.S. workforce.

To understand why more people are freelancing, I spoke to Hayden Brown, the president and CEO of freelancing platform Upwork, on this week’s episode of The New Way We Work.

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Brown noted that, while the overall number of freelancers is increasing, it’s an approach to work that’s especially popular with Gen Z workers–48% of which she notes, are already freelancing. “As younger generations of workers have seen those experiences of older workers, they have also seen that traditional full-time employment is not all it’s cracked up to be. And that working for a single company is not actually a low-risk proposition necessarily.” she says. “They’re finding that they are actually feeling more comfortable by having a career that is freelance. Whereas I think older and other generations of workers had an opposite view where they felt that the entrepreneurial career path might have been more risky.”

That shift in seeing life as a freelancer as more stable than a traditional full-time roles is a big one. Brown says that the most successful freelancers are ones that “don’t put all their eggs in one basket.” There may not be many, if any, recession-proof jobs, but she points out that freelancers who have several long-term clients fair much better than full-time employees who are vulnerable to layoffs.

While freelancing may have once been thought of as something mostly for creative fields, Brown notes that it’s expanding to other industries. “It’s also across every business type. We serve 30% of the Fortune 100. They’re using freelance talent in more new ways, as well as mom-and-pop shops. Small companies are realizing that this is a workforce that they can be tapping into as well. It’s cutting across all sectors of the economy, [and] all types of skills,” says Brown. “Freelancers are in high demand in pretty much every skill area that can be done in front of a computer.”

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Her advice for those considering moving into working independently is similar to those seeking full-time work: Just as you’re unlikely to be successful blasting your résumé out to 100 companies, freelancers should also take their time and create tailored pitches to companies.

Employers, meanwhile, should consider how to integrate freelancers into the company culture and create a thoughtful on-boarding process. “It is ultimately relationship-based,” Brown says. “This is not about outsourcing to some gig worker. This is about long-term, enduring relationships that serve these professionals with their incredible skills. And that serve our business in a way that is truly a win-win. But it takes thoughtful design and thoughtful investment to make that outcome happen.”

For more on what freelancers are looking for, as well as insights on the future of the freelance economy, listen to the full episode.

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You can listen and subscribe to The New Way We Work on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsStitcherSpotifyRadioPublic, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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About the author

Kathleen Davis is Deputy Editor at FastCompany.com. Previously, she has worked as an editor at Entrepreneur.com, WomansDay.com and Popular Photography magazine.

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