Going freelance isn’t a stopgap, it’s the destination: freelance trends to consider in 2023

Going freelance isn’t a stopgap, it’s the destination: freelance trends to consider in 2023

More workers are choosing to work remote post-pandemic than ever before, and it’s changing the way we look at work, what we value, and what our goals are.

We’ve written about how the freelance revolution has been long discussed and is well ahead of schedule, and what that means for your hiring needs as a business.

The speed at which the world of work is changing is in part thanks to the seismic shift post-pandemic in what we value from our employers and how teams and organisations have adapted to remote collaboration.

While there’s no cap on what this change has meant or clarity about what the future of work looks like, terms like ‘The Great Resignation’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’ and ‘The Great Betrayal’ will continue to trend on news and social sites as the workforce adapts to the new environment of opportunities and blockers.

Surveys from freelance marketplaces like Upwork do highlight, however, just how dramatic the shift towards freelancing and contracting has been in recent times.

More and more employees are choosing to work for themselves

Upwork’s 2022 Freelance Forward survey summarises the experience of 3,000 professionals, and reveals an enormous 39% of the U.S. workforce, or 60 million Americans, performed freelance work over 2022. This is an all-time record for the U.S. – and a 3% increase from 2021.

In tough economic times, this is also a fascinating response to economic uncertainty that foreshadows how response will be different to recession and lay-offs over the next few years. American freelancers contributed approximately $1.35 trillion in annual earnings to the U.S. economy, $50 billion more than in 2021.

Outside of the U.S. the trend is also clear, with the number of freelancers and contractors steadily increasing. In 2022, around 46.5% of the total global workforce is self-employed; that’s roughly 1.6 billion people around the world, according to the World Bank.

Despite their number, in a separate survey of their users Fiverr has found that 34% of freelancers feel they aren’t recognised as contributors to the world of work or the economy.

According to their results, freelancers believe that the top benefits of freelancing are:

  • the ability to work from home (49%)
  • being their own boss (39%)
  • and the ability to choose their projects, the type of work they do, and their clients (33%).

A lot of the above, while dramatic, has been widely discussed and broadly predicted, though changes are happening at a faster rate than anyone anticipated given how the whole world was forced to adapt to remote work during COVID-19.

Changing perspectives: freelancing’s not a stop gap, it’s a destination.

Record numbers of workers chose to quit voluntarily in 2021 and 2022. Bloomberg’s analysis suggests that many did so to strike out on their own as a freelancer or contractor, rather than take another traditional job.

In recruitment terms, this is a likely reason for the job market remaining so candidate-driven and tight despite the economic uncertainty, particularly for the highly skilled, digital specialist roles Salt specialise in around the world.

What’s fascinating beyond the numbers is the perspective shift both from employers and employees when it comes to the gig economy and collaborating remotely.

Upwork’s survey results illustrate that freelance for many, particularly younger or highly educated employees, has become more of a destination than a stop gap:

  • Nearly three-quarters of freelancers (73%) say that perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive, up from 68% in 2021.
  • The younger generation of employees are onboard for change. In 2022, 43% of all Gen Z professionals and 46% of all Millennial professionals performed freelance work.
  • Over half of freelancers provide knowledge services: 51% of all freelancers, or nearly 31 million professionals, provided knowledge services such as computer programming, marketing, IT, and business consulting in 2022.
  • There’s also been an increase in freelancers who hold a postgraduate degree. In 2022, 1 in 4 (26%) freelancers hold a postgraduate degree, up from 1 in 5 last year.

Upwork’s survey focuses on the U.S. job market – where this shift has been dramatic. Lisa Crane, Commercial Director of Salt USA, explains why these changes are so marked in the states:

“Since moving to the US 8 years ago, I’ve definitely seen a growing appreciation of the opportunities freelance work provides, in terms of career progression, flexibility and variety of work, and even to reduce some of the responsibilities that come with being a full-time employee.

Particularly in cities like New York, which is made up of so many Creative industries like Advertising, Digital Media, Publishing and Fashion, and where networking is a way of life, freelancing is now just a standard part of working for so many people. There’s also now a better understanding that benefits employees enjoy like healthcare can be available when freelancing if you’re working via an agency that provides those, like we do at Salt.

Over the last 24 months as remote work became an option, as well as us seeing people increasingly looking for companies aligned with their values and needs, freelancing is great way to experience a company before joining it as an employee.

With the current pace of change as companies try to stay ahead of the competition, I imagine we’ll see huge demand for freelancers and contractors from clients, and even more people open to considering freelancing as an attractive option this year.”

Trust me – go freelance!

Another important trend to highlight is trust. Upwork has charted a 17% rise in the U.S.’s ‘diversified workers’, meaning people using freelance to provide additional income on top of their traditional or permanent job.

Diversifying your income could be part of your preparation to take the leap into freelance or contracting, transitioning slowly and securely away from permanent employment and minimising risk.

However, it also demonstrates where people are placing their trust in the wake of mass lay-offs and economic uncertainty. In themselves.

Traditional full-time employment is losing one of its core appeals: stability. Previously, job security — steady income, benefits, and career progression — has been one of the main attractions of being a traditional full-time employee.

Self-employment, freelance or contract work means weighing the trade-offs. You might have more freedom to pursue work you enjoy, but you’ll lose the consistent pay check (including holiday and sick pay), your team, and the employee support and training that companies can provide.

A survey by MBO Partners featured in the Harvard Business Review revealed that:

Nearly 70% of polled independent workers reported feeling, “more secure working independently.” A significant increase from 32% in 2011 and 53% in 2019. Among full-time employees, roughly 30% agreed that independent work was more stable than their current job.

This offers another explanation as to why so many salaried employees are striking out on their own.

While financial gain is often a key motivation for going freelance, flexibility and seeking a better sense of purpose in their careers were other driving factors. When asked about the reasons for freelancing, ‘to earn extra money’ (83%) and ‘to have flexibility in my schedule’ (73%) top the list.

Creating your own future – how freelancers feel about what’s next

Another remarkable aspect of the HBR’s survey results was the sense of optimism freelancers and contractors felt, compared with full time employees, about the future.

This sense of optimism is linked to control: 68% of freelancers have more than one client, job, or contract project at one time. By diversifying their income in this way, they’re less reliant on a single employer and their financial stability in a time of economic uncertainty for many businesses.

Freelancers are also seeing more contract opportunities available as companies find ways to manage risk and cut costs.

When asked about freelancing opportunities available today that were not available before the pandemic, 76% say there are more. This is compared to just 57% last year.

Why are so many employers turning to more open workforce models and integrating freelance and contract workers into their processes? We explore the statistics and the benefits of hiring freelancers to manage risk, trial products or new markets, and drive progress here: What the freelance revolution means for businesses hiring in 2023

Richard Norris, Managing Director of Salt UK, shares what Salt has seen by way of a shift in attitude towards freelance from candidates and clients:

“Following the intense contract demand felt after COVID the market for contract jobs continues to grow but at a more sustainable level and the on-going economic uncertainty continues to fuel this.  We have placed over 90 contract works this year which is an increase on the levels of Q4 2022. We have noticed the profile of freelancers and contractors has changed – with less experienced candidates now seeing contracting or freelancing as an opportunity for career development and progression that rivals, if not outperforms, what they can expect in a permanent role at a company.

Working across perm and contract recruitment around the globe, we help a lot of our clients adapt their hiring needs to this new job market reality and navigate the benefits and pitfalls of a more agile workforce, even hiring and onboarding whole teams of contractors through our Salt:X service to support clients adapting to change quickly.”

Ready to take your freelance career to the next level? 

Our award-winning digital recruitment agency is perfectly positioned to connect you with some of the most exciting and fast moving companies around the world. 

For exciting opportunities across Consulting, Creative, HR, Marketing, Sales, and Technology sectors, visit our jobs page where you can browse through a variety of available positions from all around the world.

To shape your future with Salt, a leading digital recruitment agency, upload your CV or get in touch.

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