Is AI + Freelancing The Future Of Employment?

Is AI + Freelancing The Future Of Employment?

Critics have warned that AI might cause mass unemployment, but initial indications suggest a different picture is emerging.

Artificial intelligence is set to bring about the biggest technological changes of our generation – perhaps even of any generation. After decades of being dismissed by mainstream businesses and users alike as sci-fi, almost overnight AI has proven its capabilities, as ChatGPT-4 and similar apps have demonstrated just a little of what this technology can do – and which jobs might be impacted.

Experts, academics, and even pioneers of the field have stated their fears and regrets about AI. One of the most immediate concerns is the effect on employment, as certain roles are replaced by algorithms. But, while some of these fears might be legitimate, they’re only one side of the story.

Business Leaders Optimistic About AI

A recent survey of 1,400 US companies suggests that business leaders actually expect the proliferation of AI to prompt organisations to hire more workers. Those surveyed included executives and managers. Amid anxiety among rank-and-file employees that they will be laid off in favour of an AI substitute, almost two-thirds of these leaders said they anticipated adding to their workforces as a response to AI.

Interestingly, C-level execs were more optimistic than managers, with almost three-quarters of execs stating their companies would adopt generative AI, vs just over half of lower-level managers. The difference in outlook can potentially be explained by the level of understanding that each group has about how these new technologies may affect the workplace and benefit businesses. Larger companies are more likely to be exploring AI already.

This aligns with Chrono.Tech’s belief about the role AI will play in the medium-term as an assistive technology that will improve the speed and quality of experienced workers’ output, rather than replacing them (see How You Can Use AI To Juice Your Productivity). In other words, artificial intelligence is an opportunity, not a threat – although the better trained you already are, the greater the benefits are likely to be.

A Boost For Freelancers

One of the survey’s other interesting findings was that business leaders anticipated hiring both freelancers and full-time employees, and were evenly split between the two – something that speaks to another major trend in the employment marketplace, and that will be encouraging to workers who are already seeking less traditional arrangements.

Freelancing, remote, and part-time working have become popular alternatives to conventional in-person, full-time employment. Remote and freelance working increased in the pandemic, and the trend has continued ever since. Overall, freelancing and part-time work are up 20% since 2020.

A lot of that is by choice, not necessity. The increase in the number of freelancers is not solely caused by health issues or the cost of living crisis. In fact, the opposite is arguably true. Employees want more flexible working arrangements, and have been empowered to act upon this by the tight labour market that has been causing the Fed so many problems. In short, companies are desperate for good people, and will pay more and offer better working conditions to get them.

The number of freelancers has been steadily trending upwards for a decade. Government figures from the end of Q2 indicate that almost 22 million Americans now work part-time out of choice, not because they have to.

It’s not just employees who are happy to transition to freelancing. Companies are recognising that it’s wasteful to pay workers for time they may not productively be using. As more and more businesses seek efficiencies, hire remote workforces, and move away from a traditional model of having a physical base, freelancers become a more attractive and effective way to supplement a core team – if not comprising the vast majority of staff.

AI And Freelancing

Perhaps unsurprisingly, companies that follow such a remote-first policy (meaning they are de facto less conventional, more forward-looking, and more tech-savvy) are also more likely to have embraced AI; over two-thirds of remote organisations use AI, vs around half of those based primarily around a physical office. But there may be another reason why companies with a future-oriented stance on AI might want to focus on freelancers.

Freelancers are typically more proactive, hungry, and willing to acquire new skills – making them the perfect match for an organisation with the same ethos. Freelancers have learned from experience what it means to lack the advantages that go with a regular full-time job. They have chosen the benefits of freelancing (including flexibility, freedom, and often higher pay), and deliberately chosen to give up the perks and protections of conventional employment to get it.

That means they are competing more intensely for work. They know that no one will keep employing them if another freelancer can do a better job, while the reality is that many businesses know that firing an unproductive full-timer is more trouble than it’s worth. Moreover, time is money to a freelancer: any technology that allows them to be more productive, doing a better job in less time, is worth looking into.

Even at this early stage, there’s good evidence to confirm this. Almost half of freelancers already use AI for research. Copywriting is another major use case, as is brainstorming for ideas. As Chrono.Tech has already explored, AI is an incredibly useful tool for taking the legwork out of the background work that typically goes with doing a job, or for rapidly iterating through ideas and preliminary stages of a task. A freelancer can then bring their own talent and expertise to bear upon this foundation, enabling them to submit a product of higher quality than either AI or human could create alone, and in less time.

All of this suggests that freelancers don’t need to worry about AI taking their jobs at this point in time. A bigger concern is not exploring this technology, and allowing other freelancers who have made the effort to out-compete them – missing out on the wave of optimism and hiring that business leaders expect AI to bring.