Here’s What To Expect From The Gig Market Economy in 2021

Emily Bright

If there’s one lesson the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that it is impossible to plan more than a few months in advance. Everything can change within a second, and no plans are truly concrete anymore. Brands and companies used to focus on long term goals, such as meeting yearly benchmarks, but now the focus has become more short term. Especially in the heart of the gig market economy, which is driven by on-demand talent, the need for shorter term goals is only greater. Fixed retainers and long term contracts are out of fashion.

The future of work is freelance, and here at Publicist, we’ve known this for a while. Thanks to COVID-19, the reality of remote work has become the new normal, making it even more convenient for freelance work. The desire for long-term contractual commitment has been in decline, paving the way for shorter-term projects and flexible freedom.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, companies need to “embrace the full potential of digital talent platforms and the on-demand workforce” in order to meet the ever-changing digital landscape. A recent 2020 study by Upwork revealed that freelance work contributed to $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy, driven by younger, highly-skilled professionals seeking a new alternative to the traditional workforce. 

The gig economy saved the American job market in a time where traditional employment plummeted and offices shut down. Layoffs at companies all around the world hiked up unemployment rates, but project-based and skill-focused work became a saving grace for talent in the marketing/communications industry.   

Now, at the start of 2021, the gig economy is stronger than ever. It’s been almost a year since the halt of the pre-COVID work trends. Here’s what to expect from the gig market economy as we enter the new year.  

Smaller, more quality marketplace platforms on the rise: With the surge in freelance work, many platforms are emerging with accessible freelance talent on-demand. Platforms like Upwork and Toptal dominate the grand arena of freelance work, however hiring from smaller, more quality marketplace hirers can create a more personalized experience, especially beneficial for smaller businesses. Freelancers and clients alike are looking for a more personalized hiring process, and smaller, more premium platforms are the best way to secure this relationship.

Rise in teamwork among freelancers: As the gig market economy continues to grow, freelance platforms are encouraging collaborative work between individual talent.  With major companies looking to platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to hire talent, it is important for freelancers to communicate and collaborate to create seamless work. The value of freelancing isn’t as “individualistic” as it used to be, and the growing network and community of freelancers is important in creating more complex, enterprise work.

Neon co-working sign

Freelance work will become more stable: In the past, freelancing was not seen as a stable profession. The gig economy was often related to side jobs or in-between work, but that perception is rapidly changing due to the surge in freelance work. People previously saw freelance work as unreliable because of the lack of 401(k) plans and health insurance eligibility; however, many support networks, like the Freelancer’s Union, are working to help build more long term stability for freelancers. The Freelancer’s Union provides affordable health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, financial services, among other services and securities.   

More professions to incorporate freelancing: For some professions, such as those in the PR/communications industry, hiring freelance talent to complete projects on an individual basis is expected. However, many professions are moving away from traditional employment models to incorporate freelancers into the workforce. This switch from traditional agencies to consulanties to freelance work has paved the way for industries such as engineering, management, fitness, therapy, event planners, and coaches, among other professions, to embrace project-based work. Freelancing is expanding rapidly to other industries than the communications world, and very few areas of business see no potential for freelance work at this point in the economy. 

Executives will enter the spotlight: When thinking of freelancers, usually the individual talent themselves, such as the writers, designers, and marketers who drive the gig marketplace. However, with the rise of multiple freelance market platforms, executives will be expected to take more of a stand on what differentiates their platform from competitors. Freelancers today have a variety of platforms to find work on, so higher-ranking executives will need to make more of an effort to connect with freelancers and the talent who is present on their platform or service. 

Woman with many computers working from home

More variety of skills offered: As the need for freelance work has grown, the skill set of freelancers is ever expanding. Instead of just freelance writers, which is the classic skill that originally comes to mind when discussing freelance, the freelance market has evolved to incorporate modern-day skills, such as Amazon Marketing and AI work. These skills didn't exist 20+ years ago, and they are continuing to grow every day. Freelance skills and services offered today range from tech to marketing to management consulting to HR, among many other disciplines. This list will continue to grow as more skills enter the marketplace and the freelance industry expands. 

Flexibility around technology: The gig economy exists as a result of modern technology, especially the internet. Without the internet, finding available on-demand talent would be virtually impossible, and marketplace platforms like Publicist and Upwork wouldn’t exist. Communication with off-site workers, especially in an era of remote work, would be virtually impossible. The growing trends in technology will dictate the future of freelance platforms. Widespread automation, as well as the continued incorporation of AI, will change the way freelancers are hired and work is completed, and it is important for clients and talent alike to stay up to date with technology trends. 

Legislation changes in the gig economy: The gig economy is still relatively new, as well as the rise in on-talent demand. With the continued need for freelance work, typically remote work, labor regulations will need to be changed in order to meet the demands of the growing gig economy. Traditionally, freelance labor regulations remain focused around traditional employment practices, but as over half of the workforce has transitioned to freelance work, changes will need to be made. Arguably, the biggest change in labor regulations involve retirement plans. Most gig workers don't have a pension or a 401(k) plan, so the task of planning for retirement is entirely up to them. We can expect legislation passed within the next year or so to favor lifestyles, especially retirement plans, for gig workers to increase their quality of life.