Are freelancers depleting our productivity?

Freelancing is certainly on the up. There are more people doing freelance work in the UK than at any time in history, and it’s likely to grow over the next few years.

Many of the jobs it leaves behind are unexpected, but the drivers are not. Take catering, for example. With leisure eating out, package holidays and events, the way that food is produced is shifting. Companies like Deliveroo are feeding tens of thousands of people a day, and wholesale deli-coaters are manufacturing close to the market and then taking it right back to the users.

The rise of the gig economy

The real shockwave, however, is the way that it affects the often unglamorous areas of production. Freelancing is eliminating completely layers of production and all those jobs that are routinely outsourced – from packaging to delivery.

Meanwhile, services like marketplace makers and CouchSurfing have created new markets for people to work, not only for themselves, but for other people. These platforms make doing projects that you never imagined so easy and attractive.

It’s long been known that freelancers can have difficulty staying healthy and working well, but there has been little research into this. A recent study from academics at UCL and WIT analyzed data from 500 employees working as freelancers and discovered a number of worrying trends.

Freelancers, the study found, felt tired more often and suffered more sick days than colleagues, whether or not they had sought out healthcare. They also felt more isolated from their colleagues. In both areas, freelancers were more likely to enjoy more restorative activities like walking, which may help them regain some health.

In one study, 29% of people working as independent workers chose to get to work by standing up in meetings. Among them, the economic gain was estimated at up to 16.6%. Standing also seems to be as effective in the shorter term, contributing at least 13% to the nation’s workplace productivity.

A new way to work

Being able to stand up in meetings, train stations and sitting in a cafe while engaging in a more sensible form of sedentary behaviour can all add up to fewer weeks sick in 2016. Thanks to modern technology and a widespread recognition of the value of having more time to enjoy life, freelancers are increasingly wanting to spend it as they see fit, allowing their bodies and minds to rest.

This search for balance is one of the most important changes in how freelancers work and can be helped by multi-tasking strategies, particularly when it comes to your sleep. Sleep technology like Aura encourages dreaming, so you can keep working into the night. More worrying is the fact that we’re missing out on the delicate routine of sleep.

And health isn’t the only area in which freelancers are adapting their working habits. An office-based workforce has clearly dropped in importance as more and more people pick up and move to an open-space workplace. Again, the benefits are easy to see: teams of people more willing to change their working environment to suit their individual needs, each of which improve creativity and productivity. At the start of 2011, the office numbered in the thousands across the UK. Today, they stand at less than 30,000.

But what’s being lost? Today’s Freelancers are getting a different kind of work than their predecessors. They’re developing new perspectives, tackling more diverse problems and learning a wealth of new skills. Their employers can give them the support they need to do this, or they can overlook these trends and turn their backs on the freelancers they once needed. In the future, the Great Recession may have many effects, but if the freelancer can hold onto the change they are seeking, the economic consequences will hardly matter.

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