It’s been known by many names: the sharing economy, the collaborative economy, and more commonly, the gig economy. In recent years, it’s been called the future of work. That shift in terminology is a major indication of the repositioning of the gig economy in the minds of freelancers, business owners, and of the general public.
Freelancing was responsible for contributing $1.2 trillion USD to the U.S. economy alone in 2020, with 42% of small businesses employing freelancers and more than one-third of the American workforce freelancing amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. In its 2020 freelance analysis report, Payoneer reported that “the U.S. freelance economy continues to flourish despite a 14% unemployment rate.”
And it’s not just the U.S. seeing major surges in the gig economy. The report also highlights incredible growth in India, with a 46% increase in new freelancers joining the gig economy between Q1 and Q2 of 2020 and a wave of new freelancers in Pakistan contributing to a 47% increase in monthly freelance revenue in the month of June 2020.
“With businesses worldwide adapting to a remote workforce, it’s hardly surprising that the concept of flexible, affordable, on-demand skilled labor now offers even more value than it did before. The future of work is here,” says Jonny Steel, VP of Marketing at Payoneer.
How It Works
The expertise that freelancers — or talent, as we refer to them at Voices — offer is often creative, technical, or administrative in nature and is needed, often with short deadlines, on a project-by-project basis.
In principle, the concept is straightforward. You, the brand, need a specific service — whether that’s voice over, translation, audio production, or music composition — in order to complete a project. The talent, or freelancers, fill that need by providing their services for a pre-established fee. This is a win-win: you receive what’s needed in a timely fashion and the talent receives payment for their service.
How the Gig Economy Benefits Brands
Freelance work allows employers to scale up and down rapidly, without having to initiate an extensive recruitment process or enter into long-term contracts with employees for short-term projects. Rather than hiring a full-time videographer, for example, your company could instead post a job on a freelancing platform and choose the best fit based on demos and applications provided by the talent. This means you’re paying for a product on a case-by-case basis, rather than adding a permanent employee — and a permanent salary — to the team.
The future of work is freelance, meaning more and more business needs will be met by talent from freelance marketplaces. There’s a lot of benefit that accompanies this shift to gig work; while in-house teams like IT, Customer Support, and Marketing will still be required to handle the day-to-day operations, there will be more flexibility and opportunity to bridge any gaps that exist within a team, a project, or a company as a whole through utilizing specific freelance service offerings.
For example, let’s look at this scenario:
Andre is the Marketing Manager of an in-house marketing team for a growing SaaS company. They’re gaining traction and are looking to create a compelling video ad that can be run on social media platforms as well as their website. The only problem is that Andre doesn’t have the budget to hire a staff videographer to make this happen.
In a world without the gig economy, Andre would be trying to adjust his budget to squeeze in a videographer or, perhaps more likely, scrapping that important social outreach project altogether. But because the gig economy is thriving and constantly expanding, he can instead hire a videographer — and maybe a voice actor or two — to make his project come to life.
Turning to the world of freelancing allows Andre to get what he needs for his company when it’s required, without having to worry about the lengthy recruitment process, finding room in the budget, and pausing the video ad while the new hire is onboarded.
This shift in the future of work also means that you’ll be able to hire people from anywhere around the world, effectively removing the limitations of your immediate geographical vicinity. You’ll be able to draw from a larger scope of talent without uprooting your life or business and you can reach new customers through marketing channels that would previously have required more in-house power, time, and effort, all from the comfort of your own home or office.
But it’s not a matter of treating gig work like a temporary solution. Instead, we should anticipate that freelance work will become an integral part of the economy. To sum it up, Zach Weismann, Founder of MAG Collective and Make Dents, shared this with me: “After the uncertain year we just experienced in more ways than one, we all need to start regarding freelance work or ‘gig’ work less as a temporary transition and more as a permanent solution. With large companies continuing to downsize and the sheer number of workers who have been laid off during the pandemic, many people are looking for a new way to earn a living. More so than ever, this pandemic shows the importance of collaboration, leadership, culture, and partnership.”
What the Gig Economy Means for Brands in the Future of Work
As with any type of business boom, stricter regulations are almost sure to follow. This carries both pros and cons for talent and brands alike, but ultimately will serve to make the gig economy and its processes safer and more reliable for everyone.
That’s already something Voices prides itself on as a freelance marketplace. We have strict rules and regulations in place to ensure both brands and talent are treated fairly. Upon hiring through our platform, a brand’s payment is held in their Voices account, using Voices’ payment protection service called SurePay™ while the talent records the final files. Once files are uploaded and the client is satisfied with the completed work, funds are released to the talent. This effectively ensures that clients don’t pay until the work is complete and that talent are guaranteed payment for their work. But not all freelance marketplaces work the same way, and discrepancies in payment, quality of work, and timeliness of delivery of that work are all issues that are still common in the gig economy.
When asked about what impacts the newly hybrid working world and the growth of the gig economy will have, Daniel Kane, Founder of Ridge, shared “Regulations will become a larger factor. Generating additional income and having work flexibility are quite common motives when working for gig economy platforms. The gig economy is still emerging, so the labor regulations will most likely remain focused on the traditional employment model. Issues such as benefits, income-security measures, training, and credentials offer room for policymakers to provide solutions. Gig workers will have to become more proactive about managing their careers as digital technologies continue to reshape the world of work.”
Harriet Chan, Co-Founder and Marketing Director of CocoFinder, is on the same page. “The adoption of hybrid working will bring further regulation into the gig economy. What was previously a free marketplace will now see more corporate policies adopted to streamline how companies work with their employees, especially on contractual matters. Moreover, the gig economy will also expand as more companies gain trust in a hybrid working model and having some of their employees work remotely on a full-time basis.”
I have to agree with Kane and Chan. As the gig economy continues to expand with no end in sight, the reality is that the need for stricter and clearer regulation is also emerging. But it won’t be as easy as posting a standard workplace policy for employees to read and sign off on, especially when those “employees” are freelancers, scattered across the globe and operating in many different languages and timezones.
When I imagine what that regulation might begin to look like, I think of legislation like CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) or the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the European Union. These laws are in place to protect individuals in specific geographic locations. However, unlike physical laws, anyone operating within those markets — even virtually — must adhere to the legislation.
As an example, Pensacola, Florida has a law that states “In the city of Pensacola, rolling a barrel down the street is considered illegal. You may also face a fine, depending on the contents of your barrel.” If you happen to be rolling a barrel down the road in Pensacola, this law might be a problem for you. If you’re rolling that same barrel down the street in a community that doesn’t have this law in place, you have nothing to worry about. The law is only applicable within specific geographical areas, and you only have to worry about it if you’re physically in that location.
But that’s not the way legislation like CASL or the GDPR operates. It doesn’t matter if you’re in another town, state, or country; you must adhere to the laws if you’re contacting or working with someone who lives or operates in those countries.
Because the gig economy is often virtual and remote, physical laws like the barrel rolling law in Pensacola won’t work. Instead, sweeping legislation will be needed to protect both freelancers and buyers. If you’re a brand in New York looking for a Spanish voice actor and you hire talent living in Spain, not only will you have to follow the rules and regulations of your own country’s legislation, but you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the laws governing Spain, or more likely the EU.
This might sound intimidating, but it’s something those of us who conduct business outside the confines of our localities have already been doing successfully for years. The good news is that you can do it, too.
Why You Should Care
The world has likely been permanently changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This trickles down to everything, including the gig economy. With the continuing shift to hybrid work environments — and considering many people had to turn to alternative streams of income after losing their jobs amidst the pandemic — the future of work is undeniably freelance. As a brand with creative, technical, or administrative gaps to fill, this works in your favor by saving you time and money while supplying you with almost limitless opportunities in the talent pool. If you haven’t yet used a freelancing marketplace to meet your project needs, there is no better time to start than now.