Throughout this article I will use the term e-lancer and the more generic free agent interchangeably.
However, Thomas Malone and Robert Laubacher, making the connection between the growth in the number of these self employed individuals and our electronic infrastructure, have coined the term e-lancer. Specifically, they define an e-lancer as "electronically connected freelancers" and describes their activities as follows:
It reduces the external cost for business organizations by making freelance labor markets more efficient, and it provides a channel to huge information resources that even an individual e-lancer can afford to tap.
Passive job Web sites that simply publish project requests and/or e-lancer profiles, and active job Web sites run by traditional agencies that get involved in the matching process by interviewing talent and matching skills to the appropriate project.
Web-based accounting services Web-based accounting services can replace shrink-wrapped software such as Intuit's QuickBooks with a Web site that manages an e-lancer's business bookkeeping on the Web.
If the e-lancer travels on business, he or she can access the books from anywhere in the world.
The e-lancer doesn't have to worry about backups, software upgrades, or government tax table updates.
The scenario in which an e-lancer can make the most money is one in which clients can find exactly the talent they need and contract that talent directly.
At a time when the social contract between employee and employer--one that traded loyalty for job security--is all but dead, it's getting more difficult to tell the difference between someone who is laid off three times in a year and an e-lancer who works on three 4-month projects with three different clients.
What is the motivation for professionals to become e-lancers?
Malone and Laubacher propose that the temporary company (or team) and the fluid network in which e-lancers thrive may become the dominant business organization of the future, displacing large, centrally managed company organizations.
Malone and Laubacher postulate that larger organizations will continue to contract out ongoing routine operations to smaller ones, but that a shift to e-lancers will increase as companies contract out shorter-term projects to temporary teams that may sometimes exist for no more than a day or two.