Freelance Frontiers

Imagine that the corporate world as we know it today has faded into digital dust. The economy is now powered by an agile ecosystem of small companies as well as constantly moving and reshaping clusters of freelance workers who come together to work on projects and then disperse. A large company is large by virtue of its revenue, but not by its retained staff.

REPORT | 4m read
September 15, 2020

Gone, too, are the days of the traditional 9-to-5. In the world of Freelance Frontiers, a person’s digital reputation is constantly evaluated, and maintaining an excellent reputation takes near-constant effort. The barriers between work and home life have all but dissolved.

To remain competitive, some workers augment themselves with under-the-skin chips that take their productivity to the next level. But this has consequences, leading to the creation of a two-tier workforce, dividing those who are physically enhanced with technology from those who are not.

A closer look

Technology allows businesses to run leaner; smaller firms are often able to compete on the same ground as larger firms, and can be just as nimble. Many projects that would have been completed by full-time specialists can now be just as easily performed by a team of freelancers.

Technology related to reputation and credibility has also boomed. And as AI and machine learning advance, human augmentation becomes less a dystopian idea than a utilitarian one. Under-the-skin chips would take digital performance enhancement to previously unimaginable levels, and many workers are willing to make this leap.

Like all four worlds we explored, this one is filled with both promise and peril. An increasingly independent workforce—especially one that went “under the knife” to remain competitive—would need to be protected under government regulations, but the protections themselves could not be so stringent as to nullify the perceived benefits to the enterprise. This pathway might also lead to higher burnout, with workers never being able to fully “clock out.”

Today’s take

Our opinion research reveals that few of today’s business leaders anticipate a Freelance Frontiers future. Although they believe the use of on-demand and freelance workers will increase, on average business leaders estimate that freelancers will still only comprise a fifth of the workforce by 2035.


Very few business leaders (22%) believe that governments will seek to regulate labor practices more stringently due to the fall in permanent employment and the rise of on-demand working patterns, although most employees do believe that this will take place (60%).

However, some aspects of this world do resonate strongly with both business leaders and employees. The majority (79%) of professionals believe that specialist workers will expect increased pay and benefits, and almost three-quarters (73%) believe that tech platforms will provide access to highly specialized talent. Almost two-thirds of professionals (64%) believe that workers will demand personal tech such as augmented glasses to enable flexible working.

There is also a strong sense that next-level augmentation will create a divided workforce. Strikingly, our data reveals that almost two-thirds of professionals (65%) believe that there will be a two-tier workforce of those augmented with technology and those not. Humans with chips in their bodies to enhance their performance will have an unfair advantage in the labor market, according to 66% of employees and 54% of business leaders.

Next world
of work

Powered Productives: Augmented workers, centralized organizations