Tap into the gig economy for business agility

Freelance marketplaces likeTaskRabbit, Upwork and People per Hour have become serious solutions for enterprises searching for specialist skills.

The nature of the workplace is changing to reflect the need for business agility. This drive to create labour force flexibility has helped fuel the growth of freelancing sites like Upwork, Freelancer.com or People per Hour. This is the so-called ‘gig economy’, where employees are matched to short-term work via online platforms.

We want to be free

Millions of talented freelancers worldwide (53.7 million in the US alone) are using the Internet to find work. Changing expectations for employment mean employees are more willing to explore on-demand working and employers seek the benefits this flexibility provides. VVV

"Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life - one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race,” said Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director.

The trend is informing the expectation of young people entering the labour market: 74 percent of Freelancer.com users are Millennials (people aged between 18 and 34 years old). Mature skills are also available - Upwork claims nearly a third of freelancers are 55-years old and above.

“People are increasingly building flexible careers on their own terms, based on their passions, desired lifestyle and access to a much broader pool of opportunities than ever before in history," said Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork. Though the price of these new freedoms appear to be employee pensions and workplace protection.

Australian and US figures seem to illustrate the strength of the freelance trend. Australia’s freelance economy was worth an estimated $51 billion last year. In comparison in the US, 60 percent of people went freelance by choice and more than one in three US workers are now freelancing.  More than half (51%) of the freelancers had obtained a project online, up from 42% last year. And over half of these connected freelance workers will never take a permanent job again. (However it is interesting that official US government data doesn’t yet show dramatic change in the percentage of self-employed Americans, though some significant trend details are beginning to emerge.)

Real skills

A substantial collection of skills are being made available through these online marketplaces: architecture to CAD design, eCommerce to accountancy, creative design, writing, photography, technical skills, Web design and more, according to Freelancer.com.

Upwork believes the four fastest-growing categories include mobile, sales and marketing, admin support and writing and translation. Even sophisticated roles including video editing, 3D design and customer service roles are also being offered through these marketplaces. You’ll find a doctor using Medicast or find a lawyer using Axiom, for example.

How do freelancing sites work?

Sole traders, SME’s or enterprise clients who need something done - from the technical to the mundane - can join a freelancing marketing and seek out the right people for the job. Most of the contractors listed as available will provide customer testimonials, ratings and information about themselves. Customers contact freelancers to see if they can transact the task, agree the project fee and deadline and move on. Payment is typically made through the platform, with a small commission taken from the sellers. 

Communication clarity and clear objective management/definition count throughout the process. You don’t want to end up with contractors of limited skills or experience competing on price. Take a look at this useful guide on using services like these effectively.

Who is using it?

Some big brands are already making use of these platforms. These aren’t just new media firms like OpenTable or Pinterest. Upwork claims clients include more traditional companies like Panasonic and Unilever. Ziptask clients have included Merrrill Lynch, Visa, Morgan Stanley and Docusign. And there are a lot of projects being outtasked...2.8 million jobs were posted on Elance-o-desk in 2014 alone.

Where should you look?

While this is not intended to be a complete list here’s a little information about five better known services. You should also keep an eye on Orange Fab, which helped launch network employment platform, Videopixie and gameified recruitment service, 1-Page.

UpworkA directory connecting employers with to numerous skilled contractors, Upwork claims 25 percent of all jobs are filled within 24-hours.

FreelancerOne of the oldest services with over 16 million users, this service is popular for those seeking marketing, editorial, social media, design and programming skills.

People Per HourThis huge directory can connect you with a range of technology and creative skills – it claims social media skills are most in demand.

FiverrThis platform offers a range of skills and services with prices starting at just $5. That’s the service hook, but in truth most professionals listed on Fiverr will charge more than this in the form of optional extras.

ZiptaskSearching for Javascript, PHP, Python or Ruby on the Rails developers, then Ziptask seems promising. Billed as providing “instant access” to software developers.

What next?

Just like MOOC’s, it looks like network working will be part of the future work environment, however using these services has limitations. In order to protect yourself against such pitfalls while preparing yourself to exploit the opportunity these services represent, try using these platforms to get some less critical tasks achieved. Doing so may pay dividends, help you identify good contractors for more business-critical tasks.

Read more about digital transformation in the enterprise and the need to migrate to new processes in order to exploit the digital opportunity.

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.