The freelance economy rapidly is growing in the United States. More than 15 million people are self-employed, and numerous experts predict we’ll soon see a steep increase in the number of individuals who leave corporate America to work for themselves. One study put the number at 60 million people by 2020 — nearly 40 percent of the workforce.
Why are so many people making the switch, and which changing dynamics have made it possible? While no single answer explains the shift, we can identify a number of contributing factors. For example, we know employers see the benefit of hiring a contractor to perform specific functions for a limited period of time. It’s more cost-effective than hiring a full-time employee. We also know numerous platforms exist today to connect freelancers with available work. All this makes it easier than ever before to be self-employed.
But other drivers are at play, too. Here’s one that might surprise you: There is substantial disparity in the technology capabilities of large corporations versus self-employed freelancers. According to enterprise software expert Sean Nolan, founder and CEO of Blink, personal technology currently has a substantial edge.
“Enterprise software is far behind the standard being set by personal technology today,” Nolan says. “In fact, it is so bad that it is giving a competitive advantage to startups and freelance workers who are more productive, more satisfied with their work and able to operate their small businesses more cost effectively.”
These are four ways personal technology is superior to present-day office technology:
1. User friendliness.
It might not be fair to compare personal and office technologies in this regard because they’re designed for completely different audiences. Still, that doesn’t justify how far behind the times office technology has fallen.
Personal technology has the user in mind. Interfaces are clean and engaging, data is visualized in digestible ways, and many functions are gamified to encourage use. Taken as a whole, these systems make it more enjoyable to be in business for ourselves. We can hand-select the software that best suits our working preferences and style.
“We are all conditioned by the technology we use at home, so when we go to the office and have a vastly inferior experience, that is hugely frustrating,” Nolan says. “It’s destroying employee productivity and retention.”
2. Mobile applications.
Desktop computers are almost synonymous with “old technology.” But in many companies, it’s the only device an employee has to do his or her job. We’re confined by that workstation and the very limited software installed on our system. By contrast, home-office technology is typified by its flexibility.
Freelance professionals work from their phones, tablets and laptops while they travel on planes and trains. They get things done in cities around the world. They’re able to do so because their work programs feature excellent applications. They can access the files they need from any device, and they all connect to the same information stored on the cloud.
Apart from the frustration of working on an outdated console, employees who are limited by old technology are less effective in their roles. They cannot work unless they’re at their desks. The workforce — and millennials, in particular — demand a better work-life balance. Mobile applications allow employees to be effective anywhere they go.
Everyone has different needs depending on the job they perform. Naturally, this means they need access to different kinds of information and tools. Here again, personal technology outperforms enterprise technology.
“At home you can change the settings on all of your applications and devices to help you do your job most effectively,” Nolan says. “But the average user of enterprise software is confined to limited, preset options. A large percentage of the workforce cannot even access job-critical information without the help of other employees.”
Of course, enterprise software is designed to be big, which makes it difficult to be customizable on a user-by-user basis. Even so, a wealth of new technologies can assist with that problem. Bots, micro apps and chat functions are a few of the solutions for large-scale employers looking to improve user experience.
4. Artificial intelligence.
It’s hard to write anything about artificial intelligence (AI) that hasn’t been covered elsewhere, but we can’t ignore it, either. Personal technology already incorporates AI into numerous software products freelancers use to do their work. From sales and marketing platforms to billing and accounting technologies, these systems all use AI to exponentially increase productivity.
The corporate world has been slow to adopt AI for its own use. It needs to embrace the functionality that AI can deliver or risk falling further behind. According to an MIT study, only 38 percent of CEOs list technology renovation among their priorities.
What might push enterprise-technology enhancements higher on the agenda? An exodus of high-quality employees from the corporate world might get some attention. When the best professionals prefer to freelance their talent, executives must take stock of the fundamental differences between working for a company and working for oneself. Technology has to be a factor.