A Growing Gig Economy: What Makes Freelance Workers Tick?

The gig economy is growing in prominence, but what’s the best way to leverage it? A new report breaks down why freelance is both popular and sometimes frustrating, while a recent experiment suggests a new way of leveraging freelance work within an organization.

Freelancers are an important part of the U.S. economy, and one that’s fundamental, in ways big and small, to the world of associations.

And it could prove even bigger someday. According to the Freelancers Union, 35 percent of U.S. workforce freelances, with 79 percent of respondents saying that freelance work is better than a traditional job.

So what makes freelancers tick—and why do they get into this line of work? A recent study from AND CO, a startup that builds invoicing software, offers a take on what the future of freelance represents. Among some key takeaways from the Slash Workers report:

Most freelancers are relatively new, but they’re independent by choice. Freelancers tend to be relatively new to the trade, with two-thirds of respondents working for less than three years. For the most part, job loss wasn’t what drove them to freelancing. The report found that only 6 percent of respondents didn’t intend to go independent, while 41 percent said they planned to work as a freelancer long term.

A diverse set of projects: The report noted that 70 percent of freelancers were juggling two to four projects at a time, while 17 percent were tackling more than five. Additionally, 95 percent of all workers interviewed by AND CO tended to vary their skills by project, with 61 percent saying they worked in two or three disciplines.

Perks and headaches. While freelancers liked the ability to not have to go to the office, with 68 percent of respondents saying that their quality of life had improved since they left full-time work, there were still some notable frustrations. In particular, 44 percent said a client had failed to pay them, and 60 percent said there was a stigma against freelancer workers.

In comments on the report, AND CO Cofounder Leif Abraham noted that “the data revealed a host of unique insights into this new worker class, but most significant was the multifaceted nature of these ‘Slash Workers.’”

A Different Way of Thinking ABOUT FREELANCE

Of course, as the freelance pool continues to grow, so too will its usefulness to associations. But what about a project that needs a large team of people for the short-term to work on single goals? Is that even possible?

One recent experiment reported on by Quartz suggests it could be someday. Researchers at Stanford University helped to create an entire “flash organization” for the card game True Story, which had received $22,000 in Kickstarter funding.

The project was built out and managed with the help of the university’s software, which automatically hired freelancers and allowed them to work together on a single goal. Poets, developers, and graphic designers were among those who assisted, with new freelancers hired at each stage.

“Our goal is to bootstrap a better gig economy by creating an opportunity through growth through a complex project,” explained Michael Bernstein, who led the research team, in comments to Quartz. “If all I can engage in is tasks, that will never happen. If I can engage in long projects that last a long time, then I think we have a prayer.”

True Story may not have been that project, however. According to the game’s creator, Daniel Steinbock, the approach didn’t lead to the desired results, and he ended up  using a more traditional freelance model instead.

“We couldn’t outsource our product vision to someone who grabbed a quick gig and didn’t have a deep understanding of the project,” he acknowledged.

So while the gig economy is growing in influence, perhaps we haven’t figured out the perfect system to handle it.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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