If freelancing is so great, why hasn’t it taken over the world?
Using freelance resource – be that interim managers, contractors or independent consultants – brings agility and flexibility to an organisation. Rather than locking in a long-term contractual obligation to an individual, hiring an independent, sovereign professional removes the regulatory overhead of enforced tenure and complex benefits.
And, while job tenure declines the number of people working on their own account continues to grow significantly as this analysis of International Labour Organisation data shows.
Freelancing, or Own Account working may be growing at a fantastic rate, but why doesn’t it yet dominate the world of work?
Focus on Product not Presence
I think there is a clue in the areas where freelancing is already common: journalism, film-making and other creative arts, and the building trade.
All of these sectors are predominately project-based: file a magazine article, make a movie or build a house. These are all very results-based.
I wonder if freelancing hasn’t yet ignited the world of the information worker because of the way we manage people.
Born out of the era of industrialisation, the typical management style is still very task-orientated and characterised by presenteeism: focusing on 9 to 5 Presence instead of the Product of that person.
Today’s leading management thinkers, though, are beginning to talk about ROWE: the Results Only Work Environment (for example, see Tony Schwartz’s recent piece on the HBR blog). In many ways, this is not so very far from Management By Objectives which Peter Drucker wrote about in the 1950s. MBO has long been taught in business schools but it is comparatively rare to see it meaningfully deployed.
If you truly manage by results, however, the issue of “procurement logistics” drops off the table. It doesn’t matter whether the person delivering those results is a PAYE / Employment Act “permanent” employee or a Limited Company freelancer; what matters is whether that person can deliver the results required of that particular project.
Couple ROWE with a meaningful sense of Purpose – that will ensure those delivering the results feel engaged in what they are doing – and Talent Management becomes a truly strategic issue. The focus is then upon which areas of talent require long-term engagement and nurturing (and those may be surprisingly few) and which areas benefit from hiring the rich experience and broad perspective of expertise-on-demand in the market-place.
When Will Freelancers Rule the World?
Many factors are driving the current growth, and focus on, freelancing: technology makes freelancer-organisation transactions easier; economics drives interest in flexibility; demographics drives an interest in autonomy.
However, I don’t think that freelancing will become the overwhelmingly dominant work model in the near future – there are cultural, educational, societal changes needed first – but actually, I do think it will get much bigger, much faster than many people today expect.