It's hard to believe that there were many Internet (born in 1983) naysayers as the modern online inter-connectivity came to fruition in March of 1989 when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee made public his invention called the World Wide Web. Today, we find it hard to imagine ourselves without an online connection.
The Internet has sped up globalisation, making it easier and quicker for people to do business with each other no matter where they are so long as they have a mobile device or computer to communicate. The Internet has also revolutionised the world, changing how we communicate, get information, work, study, do business, shop, send or receive money transfers, and make payments, among many other things.
The online outsourcing and freelance sector have also seen a significant revolution, although one may be surprised to know that working remotely dates back about 50 years. The oil crisis of the early 1970s brought about the flexibility from certain employers to work from home, according to Fastcompany.com.
In 1979, when the OPEC oil embargo was in its sixth year, the Washington Post published an article entitled "Working at Home Can Save Gasoline." That same year, IBM allowed five of its employees to work from home as an experiment, and by 1983, roughly 2,000 IBM employees were working from home.
Toptal.com recently wrote that globally, the number of people working remotely – apart from those who are self-employed – has increased by over 140% since 2005. They also said that in 1970, the Clear Air Movement laid significant groundwork for remote work, saying that the greatest benefit was zero commute time.
In 1973, Toptal.com added, physicist Jack Nilles became the father of remote work as he worked remotely on a NASA communication system. That was two years before the first personal computers became available to the public.
The freelance market
The oldest use of the word "freelance" dates to the early 1800s when both Thomas N. Brown (The Life and Times of Hugh Miller 1809) and Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe 1819) used the word about mercenaries.
Freelancing today has an entirely different meaning. Cambridge defines it as doing work for various organizations, rather than working all the time for a just one.
There are various interesting tendencies currently within the freelance industry. Small businesses, for example, are today the largest buyers of online digital freelance gigs.
The World Bank released a 74-page report in 2015 in which it states that online outsourcing "provides broader access to specialized skills, more flexible and faster-hiring processes, and 24-hour productivity."
The worker has also benefitted because outsourcing has created new opportunities to access and compete in the global job markets, from anywhere at any time, as long as they have computer and Internet access.
Online work, beneficial to the disadvantaged: World Bank
In line with Electroneum's and AnyTask's vision and mission, the World Bank explained that "online outsourcing is highly relevant to impact sourcing, as it could significantly benefit disadvantaged individuals in low employment areas."
The global financial organization segmented online outsourcing in two primary segments:
- Online freelancing, where a higher level of expertise is often required, and the tasks tend to be larger projects.
- Microwork, where projects and tasks can be completed in minutes. Workers in this segment are typically paid small amounts of money for each completed task. Barriers to entry are lower than in online freelancing, making it particularly attractive to 'unemployed and underemployed individuals.
The World Bank said then that the most popular platforms for both included Freelancer, Upwork, among others. Fiverr is currently another very popular freelance platform.
Fees and commissions
The problem with these platforms is the fees and commissions. A seller of tasks on Fiverr pays 20% of what they make. On top of that, one has to pay PayPal a fee of 2.9%. On the contrary, AnyTask sellers pay nothing because it is powered by Electroneum's cryptocurrency ETN.
Payment is also received instantly instead of the one-week delay on Fiverr. AnyTask is currently in the soft launch stage but has already proven to be a success with over 165,000 website sign-ups. Nearly 65,000 have signed on as sellers, and there are currently just under 2,500 tasks listed on AnyTask. The full launch is expected in Q2 2020.
The private sector is currently driving most of the demand, but the public sector demand for online outsourcing is a potential source of future growth. Demand for online freelancing is usually driven by small enterprises, while the demand for microwork is driven by medium and large enterprises.
In both cases, the demand comes from the developed world, the majority of which is from the U.K., US, Canada, and Australia.
"In more mature markets like the U.S. and U.K., many companies, when they want to employ people, want to take less risk," Eyal Moldovan, general manager of Payoneer, told Forbes.
Globally, 29% of businesses with fewer than 50 employees outsource, compared to 66% with 50 or more employees, according to Fortunly.
A recent Guardian Small Business Network poll asked whether business readers outsourced work to freelancers. The majority answered yes, with 79% saying that "using freelancers is a big part of our business strategy."
"Much of this hiring is now taking place on outsourcing websites that allow SMEs to connect to freelancers. Businesses no longer have to search just for local freelancers, they can now outsource virtually every part of their business to anywhere in the U.K., or even the world," the Guardian article added.
The Future of Freelance
There are currently anywhere between 85 million to 150 million freelance workers worldwide. That is expected to increase to nearly 540 million in the five years adding US$2.7 trillion to the global gross domestic product (GDP), according to a recent article by Electroneum.
Financial exclusion is one of the main reasons why the online freelance workforce is growing so quickly. An article by Forbes points out that the overall gig economy stands to drive higher growth in developing countries than elsewhere. It says that it is because they already have a larger population involved in the informal sector of the economy.
Cryptocurrency and blockchain are unlocking new opportunities for both businesses, as well as users around the world. However, the projects one must watch more closely are those that are breaching the gap between developing and developed countries by helping to end financial inclusion, bringing greater global prosperity.