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independent worker

Contract work and freelancing may have seemed like hot topics over the past few years, but like it or not, this trend of the independent workforce is on the rise and growing at an enormous rate.  Job seeker or employer, the shift to a more independent workforce is going to affect the way we work and how we look at work now and down the road.

Why the Shift?

There are many reasons for the shift in increase of independent workers.  The recent recession left many people out of work or graduating with no prospects, where contracting or starting a business have become the only options to pursue.

Additionally, the rapid rate of technological advances has made it easier than ever to promote, connect, and work autonomously.

The change in perspective towards entrepreneurship due to the success and widespread press of many recent startups has also helped shift the view towards independent work being a viable and desirable career option. Job seekers now have the ability to become masters of their own career shifting from engagement to engagement rather than job hopping over time.

Implications & Expectations

A recent survey by Ernst & Young, LLP in Chicago for Chicago Ideas Week revealed that 60% of respondents said the number of contract arrangements would increase in the next 5-10 years and 48% believed contracts will become more important than full-time employees.

Let that thought sink in: Almost half of respondents believe freelancers and contractors will become more important to their business.

Businesses will start to rely on the independent workforce to remain competitive and flexible in a continuously changing marketplace.  Not only that, but they will have to adapt to a more dynamic, balanced, and global workforce.

This new blended workforce will drive an increased need for better communication among an organization’s workers, and companies will have to find new ways to retain top talent and increase loyalty among their permanent and non-permanent labor force.

For job seekers that choose to work independently this also means an increase in skills to self-promote, network, interview, and create opportunities with potential clients and customers.

But, working for your self doesn’t necessarily mean working alone.  There will be a continued rise in dynamic co-working spaces which will push collaboration and the cross pollination of ideas as well as new technologies to enhance the experience for those choosing to work remotely or while on the go.

For independent workers this can lead to greater productivity and success and even a rise in more startups and partnerships being created.  For businesses this can mean altering how you view competition and trade secrets and evaluating innovation and openness versus confidentiality in your business model.

“Today, talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people.” – Daniel Pink, Author, Free Agent Nation

The implications won’t just stop at how we work, but can also be expected to drive a change in other areas such as taxation laws, a shift in employer sponsored benefit programs, continued national healthcare reform, increased privacy concerns, and more.

Not only will a company’s culture have to adapt to meet the demands of this workforce, work-life balance, over time, will shift too, as the independent worker’s schedule becomes more flexible to meet the demands of working in a global environment, allowing workers to take time off when needed and re-arrange their day around other personal and work demands.

Businesses in turn will have to be able to mirror some of the same benefits to full-time employees to retain them among their talent.  And, as more job seekers turn away from selecting traditional roles due to employers cutting benefits, eliminating job security and increasing workloads, businesses will have to find new ways to attract both permanent talent and independent talent that has the luxury of picking and choosing their projects.

This means creating more meaningful work, changing views on traditional benefits to include things that are personally important to their workers, and looking across geographical lines to build the best teams for the projects at hand.

Facing the Facts

According to MBO Partners, Second Annual State of Independence in America Report, the independent workforce rose by nearly a million workers in 2012 to nearly 17 million workers, and is expected to be as many as 23-million strong in the next five years.   Not only that, but these independents bring in roughly one trillion dollars in revenue.

Not only that, but the majority of this workforce has chosen independence (75%) and virtually all (97%) are either highly satisfied (85%) or satisfied (12%) with their work style.  Only 3% of these individuals plan on seeking a traditional job in their near future.  In many cases, going independent is the best career option when faced with a lack of traditional jobs, a volatile job market, and a weak economy.

The report goes on to state, “Independent workers are active in every state, women are about half of all independents and adults from Millennials to Seniors are becoming independent. Independence is no doubt a national, multi-generational movement not restricted to one sector or age cohort.”

This new workforce is also one of job creation as more than 1 in 10 plan to launch larger businesses and startups to create traditional jobs as well as engage other independent workers.  An independent worker today is tomorrow’s entrepreneur.

While the freelance economy is not a new phenomenon, the rate at which it is accelerating and shifting the dynamics of our workforce will continue to advance the way in which we view work.  Business that are already looking ahead and opening themselves up to the possibilities rather than reacting in fear or resistance to independents will be at a greater competitive advantage over time.

And job seekers who look ahead and understand how they might evolve and adapt with these trends will be able to better equip themselves with the right skills and tools to maneuver successfully through their careers whether they choose the path of an independent worker or a traditional job.

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