The future of work: on to a freelance model?


“Hoy es el futuro” (The future is today – street art in the Spanish city of Valencia)

I’m blessed with many things in life. One of them is being part of a smart group of people, both male and female from their early 20s to their late 30s, with diverse backgrounds, occupations and interests, that gather every month or so for dinner & debate over a variety of topics.

On one of our latest gastronomic encounters, one of them posed us a question that went more or less like this:

“The other day a speaker was talking about the future of work for individuals and depicted it much more as project-based work, with shorter duration and for different organizations or initiatives, without the regularity of x hours per week. What do you think?”

What he was describing was something that looks like a freelance model of work, with all that the notion of freelance encompasses. Many have been identifying the same trend as this post highlights:

“A growing number of people are not only requesting flexibility, autonomy and impact in their careers, but prioritizing it — leading to a surge in freelancing and entrepreneurship

We’re living in complex times where fast-paced chance is a given though, in what concerns work, I believe we can’t yet fully grasp how the story will end for both organizations and individuals.

What I know, from experience and empirical evidence, is this: people are starting to challenge their own assumptions as to what (meaningful) work means, how they want to approach their careers and even the very concept of what a career is. Both men and women want the freedom to pursue other interests, to develop side projects, to be there for their kids/parents/family/friends.

But if the notion of working project-based/freelance-like can provide the freedom to pursue other interests [how many of us dream of a sabbatical year?!], and the opportunity to develop new skills and seek new ventures, working on different projects for different organizations and with diverse people, we usually look at freelance work as unstable and financially insecure, often requiring a shift in mindset when it comes to ensuring a steady paycheck and managing the family’s budget.

No wonder some events, as Dare conference, have special rates for freelancers:

Which got me thinking: if work is changing and freelance-like work is on the rise, bringing with it increased freedom, autonomy and diversity but also probably added unpredictability in terms of steady incomes, then we’ll probably also need a societal change and start questioning our need to own things (a car, a house, and some of the stuff customary in modern households) and how we approach borrowing and lending money (freelancer friends always complain how hard, and increasingly harder, it is to get a loan).

For many, facing all this change, especially when they already have kids and a mortgage, can seem daunting, which was probably why at some point of our interesting dinner conversation my friend suggested that for a couple maybe one could pursue a project-based/entrepreneurial activity of some sort while the other could guarantee some “stability” from a “traditional” job.

So I believe things will move slowly – some will risk new work models and society will slowly change which will propel others to try new models as well – but things WILL move!

What do you think?


3 thoughts on “The future of work: on to a freelance model?

  1. Great article! I definitely think the shift to project-based work will be accompanied by a shift to meeting a greater share of our needs in the unmonetized sharing and informal economies, as in your example of the husband and wife. I expect it will go a long way beyond the nuclear family, though. As wage employment hours per capita continue to drop, we’ll see a lot more extensive income-, cost- and risk-pooling arrangements like multifamily or extended family cohousing projects, neighborhood associations, urban communes — not to mention a larger share of the population living in squats and favelas increasingly tolerated by hollowed-out and fiscally strapped local governments.

    The first European towns in the eleventh century were basically favelas grown up around strategically situated village clusters and only grudgingly acknowledged by the neighboring feudal lord; so as squatter settlements and informal communities around the world increasingly incorporate cheap micromanufacturing tech, modular energy and water infrastructure, permaculture, etc., they may well be the nucleus of the future society.

    • Thank you for your comment Kevin!
      You mention ” I expect it will go a long way beyond the nuclear family, though” and I agree, in a first stage changes in how we approach work will probably “only” impact the nuclear family but with time it will reach the extended family and the community. All this amid a global crisis with no end in sight…

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