New workforce for the new normal

Back in the dot-com boom one of the accompanying, hot trends was “free agent” work status. Work for whomever you wanted, when you wanted. Be your own boss; escape stifling corporate culture. In fact, some predicted that work as we know it would come to an end.

All that worked pretty well when there were lots of tasks to be done in the go-go economy of the times. But when the dot-com bust came, the free agents were the first ones tossed over the side. Throwaway workers. Freelancer—or e-lancer if you worked online—became just another word for “unemployed.”

Now the question of whether freelancing may become the normal work style has come up again, this time not because workers are eager to be self-determining but because they may have no choice. An article in the Washington Post suggests one reason for the “jobless recovery” may be that employers can easily get piece-workers and temporary workers and the Internet is facilitating parceling out the work.

One of the things free agents discovered was that, all in all, they couldn’t make as much income freelancing as they could if they had a steady job with paid vacation, health benefits and retirement plans. Now employers have discovered the same thing. Why hire people with all the benefits and high costs if they can get the work done by a freelancer?

Optimistic economists say the economy will recover and normal 9 to 5 jobs with benefits will come back with it. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to learn the networking, selling and juggling finances skills that are crucial when you’re your own boss, by choice or not.