The future of work is an interesting term, used all too often to invoke visions of robots and automation taking over the workplace. The reality is that the future of work is much more than machines replacing humans.

The future of work, at least in the foreseeable future, is way more about how we work, and how technology is influencing how we work together. Our modern economy currently, and will always to a large extent, run on knowledge.

In the past, this meant something completely different than it does today. Knowledge lived in pieces of paper, trapped in physical files. Today, knowledge lives in the cloud as digital content, information, and data stored across repositories and applications.

While automation, machine learning, and AI help us and our companies make sense of a lot of this data, knowledge workers, or individuals with a high level of education and experience who use and apply knowledge in a creative and innovative way, are still required to make the most of everything.

In fact, knowledge workers continue to be the most prolific area of job growth in the modern economy. In 2012, McKinsey & Company estimated there are 230 million knowledge workers in the world. The Wall Street Journal states “knowledge work occupations have been adding more jobs than any other since the 1980s — about 1.9 million per year. The other categories are growing too, but only by about 100,000 to 250,000 per year.” The Wall Street Journal also states that when looking through the past thirty years, the number of jobs for knowledge workers has never been rising as quickly as it currently.

What has clearly changed, and is changing rapidly, is exactly who these knowledge workers are and how they work with one another. The rise of the distributed team and the freelance workforce is undeniable in its size and momentum.

The freelance economy is growing at an extraordinary pace, with 56.7 million Americans doing freelance work today — up by 3.7 million since 2014, according to a new study of 6,001 workers commissioned by the giant freelance platform Upwork and the Freelancers Union. That represents one-third of American workers.

It’s important to note that this is a good thing. Working with freelance teams can dramatically increase a company’s productivity while saving money. It allows companies to take advantage of talent all over the world and take advantage of having workers across different time zones. It’s unlocking valuable and productive niches within the workforce — for example, the fact that nearly a third of people over 50 freelanced in the past year.

And while some previously thought freelancers were being forced into part-time roles, the opposite is true — and freelancers are probably happier then they’ve ever been. Check out these findings according to Upwork’s 2018 Freelancing in America Report:

  • 92% of freelancers expect their work opportunities to continue to increase.
  • 90% have a positive outlook in terms of how they work both now and in the future.
  • 72% of freelancers say they either have the amount of work that they want or more.
  • 84% of full-time freelancers say their work lets them live the lifestyle they want, compared to 63% of full-time traditional workers.
  • 54% say there is no amount of money where they would definitely take a traditional job.
  • Among full-time freelancers, 64% said their health has improved since they began freelancing.

Upwork and other freelance marketplaces can be an invaluable source of help for startup founders (and larger companies) on a budget. When you are a small team working on big projects with short windows of opportunity, being as efficient as possible matters. These freelance opportunities also allow entrepreneurial-minded people to diversify their income streams while being afforded the flexibility to work how and where they want.

If new to the world of freelancing and the gig economy make sure to stay tuned, where I’ll be publishing a thorough guide for both those looking to build a freelance team, and those looking to become freelancers themselves.

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