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Contracting to become working norm - futurologist at freelancers talk

Contracting is set to become the norm. The ‘age of the job’ is ending and enabling technologies will do away with the concept of the traditional office. This is according to futurologist Dr James Bellini, speaking at the inaugural Freelance Lecture.

“Bellini pointed out that in the pre-industrial age the vast majority of the population were flexible workers,” reports Dave Chaplin, ContractorCalculator CEO, who was in the invited audience at at Stationers’ Hall in London on National Freelancers Day, 23rd November 2010.

“The futurologist showed that as the contracting model gains greater acceptance and enabling technology becomes further embedded, freelancers and contractors will work from where they prefer to live, rather than live where they need to work, returning to the model of the pre-industrial age.”

UK’s hidden, but powerful, army of flexible workers

Bellini’s view is that there are as many as 4m workers in the UK who are neither employee nor employer; this amounts to 14% of the workforce. And if the UK follows US trends, the percentage of UK contractors will grow, as Bellini estimates a third of the workforce in the USA is freelance.

“The downsizing trends of the eighties and nineties, moving from the ‘pyramid to pancake’ structure of organisations, has accelerated during the current recession as businesses try to become more agile and cut costs,” says Chaplin. “Bellini’s research suggests that desks in offices are only in use for 43% of the time during regular nine-to-five hours. That’s a huge drain on an organisation’s resources.”

And, says Chaplin, Bellini uses a vocabulary to describe new ways of working: “We’re entering the age of ‘Egonomics’, where no one has a real job, and ‘Giganomics’, where contractors create virtual teams for a sequence of ‘gigs’, and disband once the project is done. Online brokerages of contractor assignments are becoming increasingly dominant, showing that this trend is already underway.”

Bellini paints a future in which organisations will invite expert contractors via enabling communications technology to work on specific assignments, or to generate new thinking through ‘crowdsourcing’. Significantly, he believes that they will only get paid on results or for ideas that get used.

Technology solutions to worker isolation and lack of engagement

Bellini’s lecture was followed by a panel debate hosted by broadcaster Sue Lawley, herself a freelancer and contractor for over 40 years, and joined by panellists Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke, the Telegraph’s Damian Reece, PCG managing director John Brazier and Enterprise National founder Emma Jones.

Lawley’s said that to her attraction to freelancing is the reward of ‘knowing your worth’, and joked with the panel and audience that: “My heart has the word ‘invoice’ engraved on it!”

Contracting is becoming increasingly mainstream, and contractors are finally becoming recognised for the role they can play in securing a healthy economic future for the UK

Dave Chaplin, ContractorCalculator

Chaplin continues: “The debate highlighted concerns many have that working as a contractor would lead to isolation and a lack of engagement. Solutions proposed by the audience and panel came back to technology enablers, such as teleconferencing and online collaboration tools.”

Freeing up potential with new flexible working business models

In addition to the insights present at The Freelance Lecture, National Freelancers Day this year has seen the publication of a PCG special report called ‘The Freelance Career Ladder’, which forms part of the organisation’s ‘Freeing Up Potential’ theme. The report proposes seven models of freelance working, providing contractors with insights into a range of working styles and demonstrating through case studies how they are being applied by contractors.

Also included is a foreword by Bellini and the latest research on the UK’s contracting sector, the ‘Yin and Yang’ survey, comparing client and contractor views on the value of flexible workers to UK businesses.

Chaplin concludes: “The speed at which the UK is adopting flexible working practices is accelerating almost as fast as the enabling technologies. Contracting is becoming increasingly mainstream, and contractors are finally becoming recognised for the role they can play in securing a healthy economic future for the UK.”

Published: 24 November 2010

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