The fact that we can easily find gig economy statistics at all shows that freelance work is has moved from being a real thing to being a notable trend. The internet has changed so much about how we live and work. It has brought everything so much closer together. Looking at the available gig economy statistics, we can see just how much global connectivity has changed the face of work. Countless possibilities for business owners and service providers alike have and are still opening up.
But where does it all go from here?
Freelance remote work is trending up, up, up. Independent work is taking over. Not everyone is going freelance, of course. But it is clear that the world workforce is taking advantages of the lifestyle that freelance work offers.
So let’s examine the direction in which these gig economy statistics have been pointing over the past few years.
The gig economy is difficult to accurately measure. Even the US government can’t quite get the numbers right. But if you understand how freelance and remote work goes, you can ask the right questions.
34% of the workforce in the US is doing gig work full time. Upwork and the Freelancers Union have the percentage at 35 in 2018. The Freelancing in America 2018 report surveyed 6,000 US workers and found something very interesting. 84% of those who freelance by free choice do so exclusively. That means 47.6 million people in the US are independent contractors.
By extrapolation of that gig economy statistic above, that leaves 9.1 million people. These people are classified as diversified workers, moonlighters, temps and freelance business owners. That’s a huge jump over the past decade, where alternative work was a very small percentage. Most people involved in gig work back then did so to either supplement traditional income or for lack of choice.
Overall, this is a much slower progression than in the last decade. Much of that is due, however, to the time that it’s taking for employers to adjust to the paradigm shift. As the baby boomers exit and Generation X makes way for the millennials to dominate, change is inevitable. Millennials prefer freelance work, for one thing.
In decades past, freelancing was frowned upon. The term itself, from way back in the Middle Ages, comes from the far less than noble pursuit of free lancing – selling military skills as opposed to the honorable and expected behavior of dedicating service to a lord and liege. Freelancing was all negatives – people who just didn’t care about making a contribution to society, people who didn’t have a high enough level of commitment to hold down a “real” job, people who slacked off in school and now don’t have any marketable skills.
Today, freelancing is something to be proud of. Freelancers are no longer those rejected by the glamorous corporate world, forced to find odd jobs to survive. Career freelancing is a positive choice, and a noble one – albeit arguably – because it entails a much higher degree of passion, dedication and skill to succeed as an independent contractor.
Alternative work, defined as anything that doesn’t fit in to the traditional idea of employment – working long-term for a single company from an office. This includes side hustles and moonlighting, short-term contract-based work and one-off projects, remote work for a primarily office-based company, and freelance businesses – which are comprised of everything from service agencies and consultancies to virtual assistant services, whether long or short term.
Harvard and Princeton economists collaborated on a 2016 RAND data study revealing that a whopping 94% of new work opportunities added to the US economy in the decade between 2005 to 2015 were either gig projects or otherwise did not fall into the traditional office-based work category.
The Global Workplace Analytics gig economy statistics on telecommuting show a different trend from the corporate side. 40% more companies began offering more flexible work options in 2018 than in 2013. The number looks good on the surface, but only 7% of US employers are actually open to remote work. That’s a surprisingly low number, especially considering that half the traditional jobs out there are actually compatible with telework, at least in part. This proves a general reluctance to move away from traditional corporate thinking. The internet provides ample support for collaborative remote work, but company executives choose not to make the necessary, and many times more profitable, adjustments. Only 3.2% of US employees work from home at least half the time. That’s a very limited number of people with flexible options, but still, it’s progress.
As the GWA website boldly states, “Organizations that continue to use 19th Century workplace designs and 20th Century workplace practices to do 21st Century work will not survive.” Larger companies have caught on, and are more likely to continue opening up remote work options. The gig economy statistics on freelance work show that the move towards flexible options is unstoppable, and this is pushing industry change.
Taking into account side hustles on top of traditional employment, it’s interesting to note that we see 61% of the workforce choosing to freelance in 2018, up from 53% in 2016. That’s 97.6 million people who want to freelance as opposed to working 9 to 5. Of these, 42% say that freelancing is their best option because they are unable to work traditional jobs. That’s almost 41 million people who are now part of the workforce thanks to the gig economy.
According to the 2016 Field Nation Freelancer Study, 86% of independent contractors prefer freelance over other work options. Their top reason for going gig is freedom – “flexible hours, the ability to choose their work and control of their own destiny.” About 11% also cited higher income specifically as a reason for doing freelance work.
Of the 104 million people still traditionally employed in the US, a 2017 Gallup poll shows that only 30% say that they are engaged at work. Office jobs are simply no longer able to keep the attention of today’s workforce. The same number say that work-life balance is becoming difficult. 51% are actively seeking new opportunities. It’s no longer about the stability that employment offers. People are giving more weight to quality of life as alternative options prove able to provide security as well as freedom.
These gig economy statistics clearly point to a steady move towards freelancing and remote work. The rate of this upward trend has also steadily slowed over the past decade, however. This is due more to the reluctance of companies to accept how the nature of work is changing, though, and not because the trend is losing force. Despite corporate resistance, the paradigm shift in how people prefer to work and live is an organic one that will continue to push forward. The result of denying or resisting will only be a greater loss of productivity as the best of the best – the fiercely motivated, the intensely determined, the highly skilled – drop corporate life for more freedom, more money, and just a better quality of live overall. It’s not a hard choice after all.
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