Freelancing, knowledge-work, and technology in 2023

Change is good, and opportunities are real

Strange things happened in the technology industry during 2022.

In terms of technology itself, many amazing advances took place, including the mainstreaming of large learning AI models, and the meaningful resumption of the space race.

But when it came to work opportunities, the year was really weird.

At the start of 2022, hiring was deeply competitive.  Sought-after developers were fending off attractive offers, and adding 'NO RECRUITERS!' to their LinkedIn bios.  Freelancers were doing well too, even though most well-funded startups and enterprises preferred to hire and own full-time personnel, complete with non-compete handcuffs for even junior roles.

Then the world changed, between the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis, and one crypto industry implosion after another.  Meanwhile skyrocketing interest rates brought a reality check to all sources of funding and investment, as the tech-heavy NASDAQ declined by 30%.

All the headlines were suddenly about layoffs, from every tech giant. 

Post-pandemic profits had led to the cynical practice of 'overhiring,' as Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg wrote, in a message to employees regarding recent layoffs, “At the start of Covid, the world rapidly moved online and the surge of e-commerce led to outsized revenue growth. Many people predicted this would be a permanent acceleration that would continue even after the pandemic…Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected.”

No kidding, Zuck!

Behind the headlines, those 'overhires' were real people, not simply some enterprise's surplus resource. People who had made life-choices and decisions based on offers from well-established brands, which were abruptly withdrawn... Often leaving talented and resourceful humans high and dry, without a job, and sometimes without a critical visa entitlement.

Sadly, the jobs bloodbath looks set to continue, with over 21000 new layoffs so far in January, according to Crunchbase.

But all of that talent is now infusing the freelance space, and leading to new opportunities on both sides - hiring and working - for those ready to embrace new ways of getting business done:

🌟 Many highly-skilled people are 'back on the market', and often in no hurry to accept the first offer. Having been burned before, and hopefully with a bit of a financial cushion, they can take the time to consider their next move. That's going to lead to some exciting new startups and collaborations in 2023.

🌟 The work they were doing usually still needs to be done! And employers are discovering that freelancers can often do it better, on a fractional basis - offering the needed outcomes through highly refined and specialised skills on a results-driven basis, and without creating lasting employer liabilities.

We have everything we need in place to make this work, and break the full-time-employee-or-you're-outside-the-tent paradigm of tech hiring - and indeed, the knowledge economy more widely. 

In fact, I've just been writing about this for the Estonian e-Residency team - who have always understood the potential of new ways of working and doing business, and have led the way through their pioneering programme digital access for entrepreneurs since 2014:

Our latest guest on the Future Is Freelance podcast, Levin Wense, agrees.

Levin runs tech recruitment agency MVP Match, and has been in the business long enough to see matters cyclically, and to spot the opportunities on the horizon where other may see only a downturn.

Levin suggests that in order to increase their chances of success, freelancers should be ready to take on proactive problem-solving and emphasise results. They need to highlight the value they can add to potential hirers, especially if they want to take advantage of opportunities to plug the strategic holes which mass layoffs have opened up.

He stressed that building a freelance career is much like running a small business, and a professional attitude will help freelancers stay organized and stay one step ahead of their competition.

Talking with Levin, it is clear he also understands the importance of building a strong entity to support the freelance career. Through his own experience, he has seen how helpful it is to have a legal backing for contracts, taxes, and the like when navigating the world of the gig economy and beyond. Operating as a 'Xolopreneur' with Estonian e-Residency is a fast, and accessible way of doing this, while maintaining the location-independence agility that remote work offers.

Ultimately I took great heart from the optimism of this conversation, and the potential unlocked by the turbulent times we are experiencing.

The world still needs technological solutions, more than ever before, and funding still exists and will correct for present economic conditions. Levin expects that the industries that will be the most funded in the future will be green tech, logistics, supply chains, energy, and food security, and he encourages freelancers to explore opportunities in these sectors.

What are you going to create, what problems are you going to solve, in 2023? How will you use the collaboration technologies we have, the regulatory structures like e-Residency, and the business shifts like blended teams, to find your place in the present-future of work? 

What a time to be alive! Embrace it 😎

With best wishes

Maya Middlemiss