The new word for these freelancers is gig worker. Now when I get a gig I’m expected to take my guitar but that’s another story.
I wrote about the gig economy a year ago when the term had replaced portfolio working and was no longer just about consultants and trainers but about a whole range of people seeking flexibility and control over their work.
It seems that the trend is continuing with parents wanting to work around school hours at the same time as companies wanting more flexibility in managing their head count.
According to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-employed there are 1.6 million freelancers in the UK.
And according to a survey of knowledge workers by a software company just over half of them now work in virtual teams and most of those believe it is more effective than working face-to-face. In addition half of them would consider freelance work if it were offered to them.
The office is clearly becoming increasingly less important, and maybe less attractive due to the travel and daily hassles it can entail. Working from home is becomes more popular, perhaps in an effort to improve work-life balance, but is not for everyone. Whether it’s more productive is a different matter.
Matt Roberts, CEO at Touch Networks, says “People want greater autonomy and a better work-life balance, while companies want consultation from people with diverse skill sets and experience“.
He says 40% of Americans will be self-employed by 2020 and he thinks the UK is heading the same way. Here there is a North-South divide with most freelancers based in the South East (22%), Greater London (21%), and South-West (12%), areas, whereas there are only 1% of them in Northern Ireland.
What are they all doing?
According to the Labour Force Survey 2015 the proportion of freelancers in different occupations is:
- 68% of artistic, literary and media workers
- 40% of those who work in sport and fitness
- 35% of managers and proprietors
- 32% of those who work in design occupations
- 21% of therapists
- 17% of health-care workers
- 15% of business research & admin workers
- 13% of IT workers
- 12% of business & finance workers
- 11% of engineers
- 9% of functional management & directors
- 9% of sales & marketing workers
- 8% of teachers & those working in education
- 8% of those working in public services
A year ago I wrote about people on zero-hour contracts and the gap between power workers and those on basic pay. This issue has not gone away with HMRC currently taking an interest in several companies which pay less than the minimum wage.
In the search for a better work-life balance some people are giving up their traditional jobs and building up a portfolio of part-time jobs instead.
Portfolio working was a term coined by Charles Handy back in the 1980s which has now been replaced by the “gig economy“.
With the developments in new technology and easier access to free wi-fi in coffee bars (but not to our shame in most hotels) people who were once described as Nomads were the exception. Freelance consultants or trainers in the main.
But attitudes have changed and young people, stay-at-home Mums, and those approaching retirement or who have retired i.e. not middle-aged people with a mortgage to worry about, a make up an increasing proportion of the workforce – already a third in the USA – opting to work in this way.
Uber, the taxi service, says many of its drivers have other jobs or are students (I remember when firefighters used to work as taxi-drivers among other things in their time off). Although working from home has become more popular, not everyone thinks this way including, perhaps surprisingly, Generation Y employees.
The desire for flexibility, and I would say control over the work they do, is what seems to be driving this trend. Together with the unavailability of traditional jobs for those in this segment of the economy.
The research behind this story was carried out by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills