The term ‘freelance’ actually dates back to the early 19th century and referred to independent individuals who would sell their skills to others. While the meaning of the word has not changed much even two centuries later, the ways in which people work have definitely changed as the different eras passed us by. Technology has greatly changed the way in which humans operate, work, and go about their daily lives. It has facilitated communication, job creation, and globalisation while eliminating distance and cultural gaps between people from all walks of life. Along with the proliferation of technology, the rise of start-ups and demands for more flexible work arrangements have propelled the growth of the freelance workforce.
Between 2000 and 2014, the workforce has grown by about an astounding 500%. More job search portals such as freelance marketplaces and platforms have been established over the years, and an increasing number of people are signing up as freelancers and offering their services to others. Of course, besides hosting more avenues that give freelancers more chances to work with different clients, technology has changed the freelancing scene in more ways than one for good.
More opportunities for work
There is practically no shortage of platforms to seek out freelancing opportunities as the number of internet users continue to increase. The number of users on LinkedIn has surged greatly over the years. While the employment-oriented online service saw 78 million users in 2010, it accumulated 380 users in 2015 and later on garnered 690 million users in 2020. Not only does LinkedIn recommend jobs to users based on their job search criteria, but it also has groups and communities that make it easier for users to network with like-minded individuals or find job opportunities. This can be immensely helpful especially for freelancers whose living depends on their connections and network with others.
There are also dozens of freelance platforms available on the Internet that freelancers can choose to work with. Freelance marketplaces such as Fiverr and Upwork allow freelancers from all sorts of industries to register and offer their services to others. They can list out their skills and achievements, as well as their rates and their capabilities. Meanwhile, specialized freelance platforms such as Ravenry or Toptal allow more highly skilled knowledge workers to share their expertise with others.
How are these platforms used?
Graphic designers can use their social media account as a portfolio and share their works with other members of the public. Freelancers such as graphic designers and artists can attract quite the following if they play their cards right and reach out to their main audience by posting their works online for others to see. Since two-thirds of people claim to be visual learners and the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since the year 2000, freelancers need to make use of images to capture their audience’s attention. Social media posts that include a photo are ten times more likely to receive engagement than text-only posts.
For freelancers that do not work with visual collateral as frequently, they can consider adding relevant photographs to works that they share too. Articles with relevant pictures receive 94% more views than articles that do not have any images at all. For researchers who wish to share their findings with others, creating infographics could be a great way to share their knowledge with other internet users in an appealing way that manages to hold their attention. Online tools such as Canva allow even beginners to create graphics easily without much skill, which could be a good springboard for them to pick up crucial designing skills that might come in handy in the future.
Freelancers can also work for a number of different companies at once instead of restricting themselves to working for a single employee with a set salary. In doing so, they gain more flexibility in terms of their schedule and salary.
Higher accessibility to tools
A plethora of information is accessible to web users since there is a multitude of sources compiled. By learning how to utilize search modifiers and Boolean operators, sourcing for information becomes much easier for users to customize the type of results they get online. Many libraries have also shifted online and now offer a digital catalogue that can easily be accessed by members of the public. This is great for those who work with a lot of information, such as researchers. Newspapers and books are easier to access than ever, while sites like Google Scholar also allow internet users to access scholarly articles produced by researchers. There are also tools that allow teams and organizations to work together and share information in an efficient way. An example of such a tool is Confluence, a collaboration wiki tool that provides a reliable and safe way for people to work on important projects together.
In October 2021, 62% of the world used the internet. That’s 4.88 billion people using the web. It is easier than ever to disseminate information. The information age that we are living in makes it easy to obtain data from the masses. Surveys and polls can be shared with the click of a button, which some researchers might find useful if they need to quickly contact multiple people to take part in their research. It is also easier for people to acquire tools that might be vital to their work and business.
Storage as a virtual tool
Cloud storage is a necessity especially for those who are looking for a virtual space to organize and store the content they are working with. It is crucial for those who might be working for several clients and companies at once and need a way to make sure that they don’t get all the work they are doing jumbled up. With the vast amounts of information and material they work with, freelancers may find it worthwhile to invest in a cloud storage platform for organisational purposes. Quite a few cloud storage options offer users a limited amount of storage space as a free trial of sorts. Meanwhile, software companies such as Adobe do offer free trials of their programs so that users know exactly what they are going into before committing and paying for them.
Ease of communication
With the help of electronic communication, distance is no longer a barrier to communication. Globalisation has shrunk our world while increasing the number of opportunities for conducting business and overall encouraging cultural influences across different nations and regions. Video conferencing tools (e.g. Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams) allow people all over the world to share their ideas and insights easily, facilitating communication between freelancers and the clients they work with. Even in times that discourage people from travelling, setting up meetings is easier than ever since setting up an online meeting takes virtually no time at all.
Text messaging also enables people to leave notes for each other in case they are unable to find a time to set up a meeting and speak together. Some platforms allow people to work together in real-time to make sure that they are on the same page and can share their ideas easily. Messaging applications like Slack, ProofHub, and Flock facilitate communication and assist teams in terms of their overall work management.
To recapitulate, technology has greatly changed the way many people work, including freelancers. It has facilitated communication and research among other factors. Right after the pandemic struck, the percentage of freelance job postings that were temporary increased from 24% to 34%. Millions of workers were laid off as companies were forced to find a way to survive. 1 in 3 people received pay cuts. Freelancing allowed some people to continue to make a living despite their circumstances. However, this might not have been possible for most people if they lacked access to technology.
Here are a few ways in which technology has changed how people freelance:
- There are more opportunities for freelance work due to the ease of looking for and putting up freelance opportunities
- It is now easier than ever to obtain information, given that humanity is currently thriving in the information age
- People now have higher accessibility to tools because of the internet
- Geographical barriers pose much less trouble now: communicating with others even across long distances is no longer a hassle like before
The proliferation of technology has changed freelancing greatly. While not all changes may be positive, freelancing could very well be here to stay even after the Covid-19 pandemic ends.