Hotshot VC Mary Meeker gave her annual in-depth presentation about the digital landscape last Wednesday. Here’s what it means for freelancers and the world of work.
Like many other articles, this article starts with the mind boggling estimate the Freelancers Union released that 40% of US workers will do freelance work by 2020. How people work is changing and there are many factors that play into the why, but if we look at how careers have developed over the years, we see that the current trend is just a natural evolution.
Whereas our parents stuck to a job for the lifetime of their career, the modern worker doesn’t always commit to just one company.
The Slash Worker
People are increasingly diversifying their income sources. Contrary to prior generations, Slash Workers have shrugged the “single profession, single employer” model in favor of building a portfolio of career opportunities for themselves.
Their happiness comes from the ability to switch gears often, try different professions, and apply and learn a broader skillset. In turn this diversification gives them greater job security than their traditional one profession, one employer counterparts. If one job breaks away, the traditional worker is out of a job, but the Slash Worker has multiple legs to stand on and therefore will likely have a smaller risk of unemployment.
From Résumés to Portfolios
In the past, we’ve presented ourselves in form of resumes, which are a linear view on your past jobs and responsibilities, mostly highlighting the companies you’ve worked for or the job title you’ve held. The focus was on building a case for the length and quality of your professional experience.
For a Slash Worker it’s all about building a portfolio, which is a holistic view on your achievements. The objective is to tell a compelling and coherent story about your professional abilities, not stints, using anecdotes, data, referrals and actual work produced.
What has been a given in creative fields, will apply to all professions. The KPI is changing from ‘who you worked for’ to ‘what you’ve done’.
From 9 to 5 to Project Based
Our parents had to clock in, clock out and job performance was closely tied to the time spent on the job. Most workers committed their time (generally 40 hours/week) to the employer and had tasks assigned to be completed in set windows of time.
Essentially, the worker traded personal freedom for predictable pay.
In the Slash Worker economy, contracts center upon deliverables, not time spent. Workers commit to a specific output of work to produce over a mutually-agreed upon time period. Which leads to the worker gaining personal freedom, but for the potential of less predictable future work.
From Job Mind to Business Mind
For most people their career was just a series of employments. The worker was solely part of the structure of the organization. There was no reason for a designer to also be a businessman, because the organization took care of it.
A Slash Worker has to view their career like a business, one that has its own branding, positioning, phases, legal structure and clients, one of which can also be a full-time employment for a period of time.
The Slash Worker’s Issue
Benefits and back office work used to be managed by the organization. The worker’s job was to focus on their specialized area of work, and nothing else. In a world where the employee is committed to just one company, this model of managing workers was efficient.
But when the worker is part of many organizations, not just one, this model starts to weaken. With less time spent per company, no company would want to take full responsibility for the worker and pay the appropriate taxes, insurances and materials.
In the US, worker classifications were always constructed from the company’s perspective, not the worker’s. The difference in 1099 versus W2 is mostly on the employer’s side. It dictates if the company has to pay taxes for the worker, and if the worker falls under certain protective labor laws that might make it harder or more costly to terminate the employment. Now, people are discussing if we should have a third worker classification. Simon Rothman of the VC firm Greylock said “I think it’s not 1099 versus W-2. I think the right answer is a third class of worker.”
In a modern career, a slash worker can hold multiple classifications at the same time. This is highly dependent on the company employing the person and the nature of the specific project. Therefore, many people won’t just be one, they will be many.
The problem with the modern career is that it’s more complex to handle than your typical full-time job. As your income diversifies across projects and partners, the admin work piles up. Suddenly, it’s not just about the work you’re doing, but also about how you structure yourself as a business. From your base setup to managing your day-to-day. Which leads to the fact that everyone will have to run their career like a business.
From a Slash Worker’s perspective there should be just one worker classification, not many. That is where technology can help. New companies like Fiverr Workspace are working to create a system that eliminates the complexities of these classifications and their admin work—a system that emulates how it would be if there is just one worker classification.