Fallacies in the fully-remote, freelancer-only future of work. by@vinayakranade

Fallacies in the fully-remote, freelancer-only future of work.

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Vinayak Ranade


Photo credit — SpaceX

I can tell already that this won’t be a popular view, since everyone is jumping on the “future of work” bandwagon.

There’s an increasingly popular sentiment about the future of work produced by our beloved echo-chamber, and popularized by the use of words like “Uberization”.

Yes, it’s true that the internet allows people to be productive without being co-located and while being remote and having a remote-first culture.

Yes, it’s true that one of the big hurdles to being a freelancer i.e managing biz-dev is being solved by marketplace tools.

Yes, it’s true that the data says that an increasing number of people have side gigs and often do part-time, remote, freelance work, giving rise to the popular gig economy.

It is clear that at least some part of the future of work will be remote, freelance, and gig based. But not most of it.

These three trends don’t add up to a future where EVERYONE will be remote freelancers, at least for the next 20 years.

Here’s why.

  1. Physical projects of great magnitude still require in-person teams to maximize execution velocity. (E.g SpaceX)

  2. Back in our cave man days, everyone was a freelancer. But then we discovered that working in teams had advantages for progress, sustainability, and likelihood of long-term survival. The same is true for businesses. (E.g Indus valley civilization)

  3. Specialization will become increasingly important. Freelancers often evolve to generalize skill sets, while people with only 1 job often evolve to specialize. As “low-hanging” projects get completed at a faster pace, more people with deeper specialization will be required to go from “0 to 1” to put it in valley terms.

  4. Familiar freelancer story #1: First you do a few part-time gigs here and there and enjoy the freedom. It’s nice, and you get to keep your own hours. If you do a great job, you suddenly find that you have a lot more work than you anticipated — so maybe you find a buddy to help out. Oops, you’ve just started a consulting firm.
  5. Familiar freelancer story #2: You do a few part-time gigs here and there. Then someone happy with your work asks if you’d consider a slightly longer engagement — like a 3 month project. Sure, you say, as long as you can keep doing stuff on the side. No problem, they say. In month 2, you start enjoying yourself and get immersed in the project, enough to see that it’s really going to take 2–3 years to achieve the vision, and it’s impossible to accomplish everything you want in the meager 3 month time span. You like the people there and it seems like the company is taking off. You say “screw it” and jump on the rocketship full-time.
  6. Simply because people have more side-gigs now doesn’t mean that they will abandon their main focus.

  7. Gig economy verticals will get consolidated by large players.Fragmented freelance / consulting practices will end up being dominated by a market disruptor that consolidates them under one roof.(E.g Redfin disrupting small real-estate businesses.)

The line between contractors and employees will continue to be blurred. We already got a preview of this with the Uber employee vs contractor legal battles. And now Hello Alfred is doing W-2’s for their Alfreds. The only difference is that employees tend to get more benefits and rights than contractors e.g healthcare, profit-sharing. So if you have a bunch of long term contractors that are monogamous, and you give them some extra benefits to keep them around, are they still contractors?

This is not to say that companies riding these waves like Catalant, Fiverr, Gigster, etc. won’t be successful, nor that remote teams like HelpScout and Buffer can’t work (obviously they do) — it’s just that these trends are not all-encompassing, nor will they be dominating forces in the outcome of the world economy.

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