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Startups, Here’s How To Better Serve Independent Workers 

Illustration of man shaking hand of woman on monitor.

By Trent Bigelow

The whole structure of work is changing.

From part-time rideshare drivers to full-time freelance professionals, the number of Americans earning income from independent work these days continues to increase. Whether it’s for more freedom and flexibility in their careers or as a way to pick up some extra cash on the side, there are an estimated 68 million people participating in the independent economy across nearly every industry.

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It’s a vibrant, nontraditional way to earn income, and not only provides a lot of benefits to individuals — like freedom and more money — but can provide benefits to the employers who hire them, like saving costs while finding high-quality talent.

But independent workers don’t have the luxury of not having to worry about benefits or taxes simply coming out of their paychecks. Not only are they managing their own work and schedules, but they’re also required to be their own HR department, bookkeeper and accountant.

If the future of work will be more contractors, freelancers and gig workers, then we need to put systems in place to help them more easily navigate the administrative and financial requirements of 1099 work.

Because the future of employment will so prominently feature independent workers, businesses can’t ignore their presence and will most likely increase their engagement with independent contractors, consultants and freelancers going forward. As this happens, here’s what businesses need to know about who these workers are and what the future of independent work will look like.

Evolution of independent work

Independent work isn’t necessarily new. There have been individuals working outside of the traditional workplace for years. But new avenues to earn income easily online or through apps, plus shifting views of work/life balance, have caused the independent economy to scale.

There were still barriers to entry on both sides, with independent workers hesitant to take on the extra role of managing benefits and taxes, and employers accustomed to hiring full-time, in-person employees.

Trent Bigelow, co-founder and CEO of Abound.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed traditional employment. Once businesses were forced to go remote, employers saw that it was no longer strange to hire people working from home, or even in another state.

Many employees lost their jobs and started their own businesses to keep afloat, realized they never wanted to go back to an office or took on part-time gig work and side projects to supplement lost income — and liked the freedom so much they stuck with it.

And if businesses think they’re going to go back to requiring their workforce to be full time and in person after the pandemic, they aren’t paying attention to where the world’s moving. The future will be more dependent on independent work, and now’s the time for businesses to think about how contractors, freelancers and gig workers can not only benefit their company, but how their company can collaborate with and serve those workers better as well.

Predictions for the future of independent work

As the rise of independent work picks up steam, here are some predictions for how contractors and consultants will interact with businesses, and what needs they’ll need met as they do so.

In just a few years, nearly half of U.S. workers will be independent.

The move to independent work is increasing, accelerated by a pandemic that shifted both worker and employer values. It’s expected that in just a few years, half of U.S. workers will be independent workers of some kind — part time or full time, gig work, freelancers or on-call workers, across multiple industries and sectors. Additionally, 49 percent of employees report wanting to leave their current employer for independent work in the next five years. And the larger the numbers, the more businesses need to start paying attention to how they can best serve them.

Tools and platforms will offer financial services to independent workers.

Businesses that employ, serve or pay independent workers will become more aware that these workers need to manage their own deductions, benefits and tax withholdings, and will provide them tools to do so. Banking tools may become even more niche to serve specific segments of the independent workforce, and businesses that work with and pay independent workers will begin to offer more financial options — like withholding quarterly estimated taxes — at their point of payment.

Competing tools and systems for independent workers will collaborate in the future.

As the shift in work moves to independent roles, tools and systems — like apps that facilitate employment — which have previously competed for worker data, will find the benefit in working together to pool data, to not only get a better picture of the workers they serve, but to give independent workers a more seamless work experience.

Future opportunity

The future of work is independent, and the shift is already happening. Businesses that still believe the world can only be 9 to 5 and in person — especially after the pandemic — will be left behind if they don’t embrace the role that the independent economy is already playing.

It’s time now to understand where the world of work is going, and how to get there.

Trent Bigelow is co-founder and CEO of Abound. The company’s APIs enable those serving or paying independent workers (1099ers) to quickly and effortlessly embed benefits into their products, automatically setting aside enough to cover taxes, retirement, health care, insurance, PTO and more.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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