The Future and Top Trends in Freelancing in 2021

Freelancing platforms have been one of the driving forces for the gig economy. This coupled with the most disruptive shift in the job market brought about by the pandemic has got to be the most defining trends in the hiring industry. Companies like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com all experienced a huge vertical rise in April when the pandemic first hit. Most got laid off, most had a more flexible work timing to accommodate more than one job. This was not a seasonal change. This was here to stay. So much so that even job boards need to have a separate section accommodating the gig economy by and large.

In fact, many platforms are looking to cater to freelancers with specific skill sets. For example, Toptal deals with people who specialize in project management. Kolabtree specializes in hiring freelance scientists and researchers. And in 2021, many of these platforms will be vying for coveted freelancers like prized assets. The freelance trend for 2021 is bound to shift to community support and providing resources.

Gone are the days when the best freelance jobs were located in a handful of big cities. If you wanted to be a writer, it was an unannounced fact that living in New York was a necessity. But now the world is your oyster. Hire the best talent from anywhere. Work for the best places without having to pay sky-high rent. The opportunities are truly limitless. Let us now look at some of the biggest trends in the freelance and the freelance hiring economy of 2021.

Fig: US Workforce in 2020
Source: FreelancingHacks
  • Remote work will continue facilitating freelancing: A gift born out of tragedy, the somewhat forced shift to remote has proven feasible, attractive, and productive. It has also been a strong lubricator in driving freelance growth. In fact, there is little to no difference between a full-time worker and a freelancer when working remotely. Technology has made it feasible. Convenience has made it attractive. And the attraction has made it productive. This knowledge stands to be leveraged by the recruiting industry.

Recruitment agencies and job boards will have to dedicate a whole section on their platforms to facilitate this. They need to have a one-click solution for both demand and the supply side. Especially job boards who ought to dedicate some serious space to this.  

  • Freelancing in teams and not as individuals: There are a number of platforms encouraging teams and teamwork among freelancers on their forum. There are various experiments at play: Studios @ Fiverr, VICOs (virtual organizations) in Germany, full-stack marketing teams Marteamo, Mash from Australia to name a few. These collaborations get various subject experts that may be required on one project.

Job boards are likely to feed off this synergy and allow a subsidiary platform to get freelancers to come together on bigger projects. The best of all worlds.

  • The relationship between the freelancer and the hiring platform: Some charge a flat-out membership fee and some charge a percentage of the payment received. Some offer a freemium model where greater support is offered in the paid version such as preferred slots, hiring trends reports, etc. The next big trend in this aspect is the variation in the payment model. For example, Kronos pays in crypto, which some freelancers find very attractive.

Recruitment companies can figure out newer payment models that will optimise their resources and keep a talented pool of candidates attracted through means of lucrative and fun offers.

  • HR needs to frontline the demand side of the gig economy: We all know the importance of this, but Freelancing is yet to go mainstream. First, this department tends to follow and not lead. And the leaders haven’t yet fully come to terms with the flexible, blended workforce. Second, HR continues to see its role that is limited to tending to full-time employees and managers, not the total workforce including freelancers.

2021 will see HR front lining this finally as the ratio will now be skewed in favour of freelancers. Th bonus will no web on job boards to cater to freelancers exclusively to leverage this disruptive shift in trend.

  • Recruiting platforms are building an exclusive community: Startups like Contra and VentureL are focusing on building communities by relying on an invitation-only approach, to foster a sense of community and have at disposal only the best of the best. Freelancers are no more a synonym of unemployed. They share leads, hunt in packs, and work together. In fact, Hoxby and Toptal take it up a notch higher: they selectively welcome new talent through an application and testing process. For those who make the cut, a range of support services is offered for free.

The entire gig economy is getting restructured in 2021. This is the future. Recruiters need to leverage the human need of exclusivity to create healthy competition and weed out the best freelancing talent there is.

  • Celebrating top performers: Some recruiting platforms are A/B testing whether supporting top-performing talent will drive growth. Fiverr Pro offers premium services to the topmost performers. MBO Partners also provides extended support to a select few.

The extra effort in rewarding the top 20% of the freelancers might just be the big turning point.  This will help recruiters retain the top talent by incentivizing partnership.

  • Freelancing is now being respected: Even in Japan and the Nordic countries, among the last to warm up to freelancing as a viable career, freelancing is now being accepted. Like we said, freelancing is not for the unemployed or for those who cannot hold onto a legitimate full-time job. It is not out of pressure anymore, but out of choice. Freelancing is not seen as a stop-gap solution anymore. A report from MBO Partners found that one in five freelancers earns over a staggering $100,000 per year. And another report found that 60% of them who left their full-time secure jobs make more money as freelancers. Like we say, numbers don’t lie.

Recruiters might be able to lubricate this change further by treating freelancers just the same as home-grown and full-time employees. Especially as lines between remote employees and freelancers are getting blurred by the minute.

  • Complete acceptance of the flexible, blended workforce is time consuming: The team at the FreelancerClub in the UK noticed a fascinating trend in their research: freelancers often were misinterpreted by the management for not being seemingly invested in the larger and longer mission of the company. It’s a common and well understood complaint: freelancers are highly transactional, and appear disinterested in the larger goals of the company and its aspirations.

But with the gig economy being the new normal, relationships on both the demand and supply side will become more symmetrical and a win-win situation shall emerge. Recruiters, like we said, will have to look at freelancers as outsiders but as an indispensable part of the company.

Some of these monumental changes that were accelerated by the pandemic are not looking too shabby in retrospect. With more freelancers believing that their career is more stable than a day job by having a diversified portfolio of clients than a job with one employer, who are we to dismiss this as a just another hot trend? This is the future. And the sooner we embrace it, the higher we shall be able to ride the tide.

It is the only way to do life. If you liked reading this as much as we enjoyed writing this, please share the love. We think you might enjoy reading The top job market trends to look out for in 2021.

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