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Independent Spirit: More Workers In COVID Economy Work For Themselves

The COVID-19 economy has seen a significant rise in independent workers and digital nomads.

There are many terms for it: independent contractors, digital nomads, side-gigging, gig economy jobs. But they all mean independence and the growth of more independent workers in corporate America, according to a new study.

According to a Dec. 9 report from MBO Partners, a company that specializes in workforce solutions for independent contractors, 59% of workers considered themselves independent contractors (down from 67% last year but up from 55% in 2011), and 10.9 million considered themselves digital nomads not tied down to a traditional office, HR Dive reported.

These stats highlight the shifts toward more independent, remote work (57 million, or 35% of American workers, consider themselves freelancers), a shift that has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. The trend is expected to accelerate again post-pandemic when companies look to trim positions either through outsourcing or automation. According to Gartner, nearly a third of companies have embraced "replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure."

Christopher Lee, CEO at CEL & Associates, told Bisnow that CRE companies are increasingly shifting a number of their functions to automation, offshoring, AI and independent contractors, and anywhere from 70% to 80% of CEOs in other industries are looking at automation, freelancers or streamlining systems as a basis for fulfilling work requirements.

Companies have gotten used to operating with a leaner staff during the shift toward work from home, and others simply seek ways to trim the budget during a challenging year. 

There is also an element of financial insecurity at play with the drive toward independence. The practice of side-gigging has grown 51% since 2016, per the MBO analysis, an increase explained by the need to cover for lost hours or compensation or make extra money during the downturn.