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Freelance is way of the future

Published on Thursday, 10 Feb 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

The “work any time, anywhere” culture is flourishing among creative and highly skilled Generation Y members who find freelance work a better fit with their living  and working styles.

About one in five people globally now work outside permanent fulltime jobs, and the ratio is expected to rise to two in five by 2015, says Emma Reynolds, co-founder of e3 Reloaded, a Hong Kong-based workforce innovation company.

More companies in Asia are expecting growth in contracted freelance employment as opposed to permanent jobs, she adds. “How people work and how they live have changed so much, especially when Gen-Yers come into the workforce,” Reynolds says.

Independence is a key feature of the new workforce. Equipped with portable and transferable skills in areas such as information technology, design, writing and project management, today’s young professionals born in the 1980s and early 1990s often work across industries, roaming from one freelance job to another rather than following a straight line of advancement in one company.

“We now see a lot more fluidity, which is exciting for Gen-Yers who need constant change and see change as the status quo,” Reynolds says.

Freelancing is like running a business. Like entrepreneurs, freelancers are living on the edge because their contract could be up any time. But the idea of being your own boss particularly appeals to Generation Y, which is also known as the entrepreneurial generation, Reynolds says.

Alex, who has set up a one-man design venture after working in a major company for 10 years, relishes his decision to go for greater job satisfaction and better work-life balance.

Working freelance has allowed him to focus more on the creative side of his work rather than dwelling on administrative and management issues, he says. “In the past, I had to go on business trips or handle jobs that I might not be interested in, whereas I am now enthusiastic about [at least] three out of 10 jobs even if they may not be highly profitable.”

Above all, working freelance alows Alex, who has an arts studio in Fo Tan and is also a part-time arts and design teacher, to pursue his interests. “I can arrange my time flexibly. If the workload is heavy, I can teach during the day and get on with my work at night.”

For Mervin, a freelance backstage engineer and events manager, there is less office politics involved in freelance work. “When you work fulltime, your mood is often affected by factors outside of work. But when you work freelance, the relationship [with your bosses and colleagues] is relatively equal because everyone works hard and the focus is on getting the job done,” he says.

Reynolds says young people who wish to turn freelance should have at least three years’ full-time working experience in order to get more exposure and understanding of different people and industries.

It is also important to build your personal brand based on credibility, hard work and commitment. “You need to over-deliver in every project you do and you are only as good as your last project. Hong Kong has a small business community,” she says.

Results-Only Work Environment (Rowe)

This management culture aims to create a freelance lifestyle in the workplace. The basic idea is that staff can have control over their own calendar and office hours so long as they get their work done, leading to certain benefits:

Transfer of power and control: Staff are assessed on job performance and outcomes – not on schedules or office politics.

Better work-life balance: Staff can do their work any time, any place so they can have more time with their family and friends.

Appeal to young people: Gen-Yers are used to having complete control. Rowe can enhance their job satisfaction and cut turnover.


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