The number of freelance workers is on the rise. The digital era started the trend towards independent contracting and digital platforms are now helping to drive the growth of the phenomenon.

Startups providing solutions to alleviate loneliness among freelancers

“People who work on a freelance basis have got out of the traditional employment framework in order to focus on projects they can choose for themselves, which appeal to them. They follow their passions and are looking for flexibility,” Tessa Greenleaf of CloudPeeps – a community, marketplace and platform that helps freelancers and businesses to work well together – told the audience at the Future of Work event on 30 November organised by the Mangrove group of tech freelancers and entrepreneurs and held at San Francisco co-working space Parisoma. An increasing number of working people are nowadays opting for independence. Fully 34% of all working people in the United States are now freelancers and this proportion is likely to rise to 50% by 2020.

According to a new survey carried out in the United States by Toptal – a work intermediation platform that runs a network of freelance software engineers and designers – 46% of all self-employed providers would be prepared to go back to working in a traditional company structure in order to secure their ‘dream job’, while 13% say they would not under any circumstances want to go back to a job that involves working fixed hours. There is no doubt that our relationship with work is changing. “We’re now moving from a world where people work for one sole company to a situation where they work for various different companies,” pointed out Maren Kate, COO at co-living space provider Roam.

Communities provide an antidote to solitude

However, though brave and committed, freelancers are not immune to loneliness. Tessa Greenleaf underlined: “Often people who’ve chosen to work independently and whose businesses really take off find the first few months really blissful. But very soon, working on your own, being your own boss, leads to a feeling of isolation. Freelancers tend to miss companionship.” However, they should not be discouraged as help is at hand. Solutions to their predicament made possible by the information and communication technology era are now appearing and a number of digital nomad communities are flourishing.

Platforms created by Roam and also co-working space provider Outsite are there to help freelancers find community spaces that provide the right setting and atmosphere for them to work in, whether we are talking about going on a week’s retreat or renting premises for a month. Outsite now provides co-working spaces in four cities in California – from $300 a week, including lodgings and working space – while Roam, as well as offering premises in Miami, is also going international, with spaces in Bali and Madrid from $500 full board. In addition to alleviating loneliness, this ‘co-living’ model enables freelancers to share their experiences with other self-employed people, draw on their skills to complement their own, and even perhaps find the impetus, through friendly rivalry, to set up new ventures.

Mangrove, which celebrated its launch at the Future of Work event, has similar ambitions. Members of this community, all freelancers and entrepreneurs at heart, are to be found all around the world. They get together at regular intervals at retreats in order to draw on the vibrant collective energy and often benefit from valuable synergies within the group. This lifestyle enables these new-style workers to happily balance the need to earn their daily bread with their consuming passions.

Startup matchmakers

There are also a number of startups in existence to help freelancers manage the administrative and financial tasks that come with their self-employed status. Earlier this year L’Atelier reported on Bonsai, which honed its skills at the renowned seed accelerator Y Combinator. Bonsai takes on the role of relieving freelancers from tedious administrative tasks such as drawing up contracts and sending out invoices.

Meanwhile Cloudpeeps and Konsus are there to help freelancers win contracts, which can be a real challenge during the first few months. On the other side of the equation, these two startups also help companies find external providers able to meet their ad hoc needs. Such providers can tout their skills by posting their profiles on the Cloudpeeps and Konsus marketplaces. The websites will then try to match the skillsets on offer with the advertised vacancies and specific expertise required by companies.

By Pauline Canteneur