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Imagine a World Where Everyone Was Freelance...

02/08/2013 15:14 BST | Updated 30/09/2013 10:12 BST

Imagine not being sure when you'll next be paid and how much, what company you'll be working for, or even what work you'll be doing. For those who don't mind unpredictability, and who are not up for the monotony of a traditional 9 to 5 working day, that might sound familiar.

Enabled by new technology, people are increasingly shunning traditional working models, turning their backs on urban living and the hectic daily commute, for greater flexibility and a better quality of life.

According to the Office for National Statistics, between 2008 and 2012 the number of employees declined while self-employment rose. This was undoubtedly fuelled by mass unemployment in the UK, which gave way to creativity and entrepreneurialism, and the birth of online freelancer marketplaces to meet the demands of freelancers seeking new clients and more work.

Of course there are downsides to the freelancer boom: no company pension scheme, holidays are difficult to plan in advance, the fear of a hand-to-mouth existence as income fluctuates, and tax returns to fill in. Plus, it can be a lonely life for those freelancers that work remotely rather than in office environments, and miss the camaraderie of working alongside colleagues.

But the upside is Freedom with a capital F. Freedom to choose your own hours, to work from a terrace on the French Riviera, to choose your boss(es) and - once you've built up a loyal client base - the freedom to choose exactly which work you undertake. Not bad at all.

So what if everyone went freelance? Aside from the fact that trains and buses might be eerily peaceful during rush hour, with increased competition employees would have to get far better at networking, selling themselves and marketing their skills, although there would be more work up for grabs. If you think of freelancers as sole-trader businesses - which they essentially are - the importance of advertising skills and services becomes clear. Freelancers, like businesses, must fight to stand out from the throng.

But businesses would face a far more fierce battle to attract the best talent, and filter the wheat from the chaff. They'd also need to alter systems to manage remote and freelance workers. Though with no employees on the payroll, there'd be no pension contributions to make, and less office square footage to pay for.

However, the cost benefits for businesses are obvious. With the old employee/employer contract giving way to a pay-as-you-go model where businesses cherry pick from available talent, they can recruit the best, making short-term hires on a project-by-project basis. Only paying for the expertise they need, when they need it, is appealing to employers, and there's the added benefit of being able to test the quality of work before offering permanent positions - a far lower risk recruitment strategy than the traditional CV and interview.

In small and large businesses, freelancers are being engaged for all manner of tasks, from copywriting and web design, to market research and product launches, to mergers and acquisitions. Independent contractors are also filling senior management roles, to cover periods of absence, manage change or implement strategy.

What's clear is that, for both employers and employees, attitudes towards freelancing is changing fast. Once, not so long ago, freelance was code for 'between jobs' or 'recently made redundant' but all that has changed. Freelance is fast becoming a preference, or a life choice - how soon before it becomes the norm?