The End of the White Collar Worker?

Freelancing in the Gig Economy on the rise

Not so long ago, freelance work was synonymous with instability. Freelancing, whether that be as a designer, content creator or consultant, was viewed by some as an undesirable state of employment due to a lack of defined hours, uncertain wages and temporary contracts. This warded some professionals away from the gig economy and in to corporations. While working for a corporation has its perks, so does working for yourself. According to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), there are now 1.1 million gig economy workers in the UK alone. This trend looks set to continue – but why is it becoming more common, and how will it disrupt the traditional job market?

No more nine to five
Perhaps the main problem with discussing the gig economy is understanding who actually belongs within it. A self employed lawyer, for example, is as much a gig economy worker as a Deliveroo driver. RSA research states that whilst the gig economy is most commonly associated with drivers and delivery workers, they constitute only one fifth of British freelancers. This means that a host of other professionals are turning away from more traditional permanent employment patterns and taking matters into their own hands. The question is, why? There are many factors behind the growth of the gig economy, including digital disruption and the creation of online talent networks. Not all skilled professionals end up in corporations, which means that businesses and individuals have to look elsewhere for the required skills. New agencies like Catalant and PeerPoint help customers to do exactly that by matching their needs with available professionals. Despite recent debate over the fairness of wages, freelancers seem to be quite content with their working lives. Data collected by the London Business School revealed that 92 per cent of gig economy workers are moderately to very satisfied with their employment situations. The survey also showed that half were making more money than they would at a corporation. In short, if freelance work was once considered unstable and limiting, it certainly isn’t today.

How will the rising gig economy disrupt the working world?
From the perspectives of both professionals and customers, the availability of freelance workers has and will continue to lessen reliance on corporations. For the consumer, the gig economy can provide more efficient services without the overhead costs or waiting lists associated with large businesses. Corporate organisations may be slightly disadvantaged by this, but the gig economy has also presented them with various opportunities. Companies, like individuals, can enlist the services of freelancers. Uber and Deliveroo, for example, have created successful business models by doing this. Entrepreneurs have also taken advantage of the situation by setting up new agencies to match clients with providers.

As the gig economy expands, so will the scope for talent brokers. Established corporations could even adopt hybrid systems that utilise the merits of both outsourced and inhouse workers, which of course ties into changing work spaces. But if a business can outsource talent, why hire full time employees and pay for offices? White collar workers are already feeling the effects of mass automation – now changing employment patterns themselves are putting them at further risk. It’s clear that the gig economy is an attractive alternative to rigid contracts and dictatorial employers. On the other hand, gig economy workers often have to chase clients for payment, who may even fail to pay at all. Freelancers also risk losing their intellectual property, and are often not guaranteed a steady flow of work. With this in mind, it’s unlikely that traditional job markets will be made redundant.

Instead of representing uncertain prospects, freelance work has evolved into a flexible and fulfilling way to make a living. The existence of independent talent agencies, along with increasing employment opportunities, have helped to encourage this transformation. But has the gig economy collared corporations? Whilst self employment is clearly beneficial for some people, it’s not for everyone. The long term contracts and security offered by corporations is an important selling point for prospective employees, and consumers are far more likely to trust big companies. Even so, the boundaries between white collar workers and freelancers are becoming less defined, especially as the workplace of the future begins to take shape. Long established service firms still have a key role to play, but the gig economy is something they need to learn to work with.

Does your business rely on the gig economy? Do freelancers present a serious threat to white collar workers? Is the gig economy an improvement on traditional employment? Share your thoughts and experiences.