New forms of work: towards a generalisation of free-lancing at the expense of salaried employment?

Leonard's team leads foresight work on key themes for the construction, mobility, energy and real estate sectors. This work of diagnosing transformative trends in these sectors and building scenarios for VINCI's businesses is based on regular analysis of current events, which we will share with you regularly in each newsletter. This week we offer you our reading of the impact of the health crisis on new forms of work - a subject of interest to Leonard for several months - and the possible emergence of new practices.

Freelancers are considered to be self-employed, providing services and/or intellectual services in sectors outside agriculture, crafts and trade (including delivery drivers, for example). In 2019, there were 930,000 of them in France, including more than 500,000 in the digital professions. From 5%, this category of self-employed workers should rise to 14% in 2024 according to an IFOPsurveyin 2020. They sometimes carry out their assignments in their client’s offices, sometimes remotely. They work directly with their clients, through “marketplaces”, or sometimes through subcontractors.

The trend of free-lancing at the expense of stable permanent employment was already emerging before the crisis, as we presented in our collection on new forms of work. The pandemic crisis may well appear to be accelerating this trend.

Companies have been caught short by this crisis and must readjust in a very uncertain context. Indeed, they have little visibility on the future and the majority of them fear a new health crisis or recession. Unemployment and hiring freezes are preferred. According to INSEE, the French economy lost more than half a million jobs in the first three months of the year. In total, and according to estimates by the Banque de France, the coronavirus health crisis could lead to the destruction of one million jobs over the whole of 2020. Added to this phenomenon is the fact that 85% of jobs in 2030 do not yet exist (according to a study by the Californian think tank Institute for the Future (IFTF)).

However, companies must continue to produce. The flexibility and agility provided by free-lancing appear to be an effective solution to this sudden situation and to anticipate tomorrow’s businesses. For workers seeking meaning and freedom, freelancing is a solution that can meet these expectations. These aspirations, already present before the crisis, have been reinforced after it. Salaried employment is no longer a guarantee of fulfilment and commitment, other values sought after by the new generations in particular. It is also a way of developing cutting-edge skills in artificial intelligence, for example. The counterpart of this freedom is a precariousness of employment. Weak social protection, fluctuating activity depending on the economic context, dependence on one or a few clients are all factors that risk becoming worse. The development of platforms for other categories of self-employed workers such as Uber could be a factor in extending these precarious conditions to freelancers.

If this trend towards freelancing is not a simple rebound but a long-term one, as the signals suggest, French companies will have to rethink their entire work organisation. It is a safe bet that companies will have to manage the triptych of employees (possibly freelancing for another part of their time), freelancers and technologies, thus once again calling into question management, corporate culture and work spaces. Unlike mere wishful thinking, as has been the case for several years, companies will really need to take action.

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The VINCI Group created Leonard to tackle the challenges posed by the transformation of regions and lifestyles. Our goal is to unite a community of key stakeholders in order to build the city of the future together.