Online freelance platform dominated by IT requests in Nordic region

Online freelance marketplace is fast becoming IT workers' go-to job board for lucrative contracts

The online freelance marketplace is fast becoming IT workers' go-to job board for lucrative contracts.

As well as moonlighters seeking to top up their income, IT contractors are now landing jobs with large businesses in the Nordic region.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, adjusting headcount season by season is deemed good business practice and companies are now turning to online workers to supplement a smaller base of permanent staff.

The global online worker industry has grown tenfold in five years. Worth $300m in 2009, it is now a $3bn sector – and if growth continues at its current rate, it will be worth $50bn by 2020.

And early adopters in the small Nordic countries are getting involved in a big way.

"Up to 2014, 35,000 Nordic clients and 40,000 freelancers engaged with us,” says Steffen Hedebrandt, Nordics manager at freelance exchange Elance-oDesk.com.

"These might sound like ridiculous numbers, but the work world is changing.”

At Elance-oDesk, freelancers register and outline the work they can do. Then they bid for jobs.

The hiring organisation can vet candidates by interview or portfolio review – or by reading Uber or eBay-style feedback left by previous clients. Work is usually commissioned and under way within a week.

Globally, the platform's fastest-growing sectors are user experience (UX) designers, front-end developers and iOS mobile developers. Clocking up a value of $500m, IT accounted for 50% of all last year's client spend on Elance-oDesk – more than admin, writing, design, finance and marketing spend combined.

Regardless of the discipline, Nordic workers have some natural advantages. Offering good education, a deep talent pool and an enviable work ethic, Nordic countries already punch above their weight on Elance-oDesk. 

Some £10m (€13.7m) was spent by clients in Denmark, Sweden and Norway last year, matching Germany pound-for-pound. That is impressive, given the latter's greater economic power.

And technically speaking, there is nothing to stop workers making the switch to the Nordics.

Last month's European Commission DESI (Digital Economy and Society) Index named Denmark as Europe's Most Digital Country, with Sweden second and Finland fourth.

Despite some challenging geography, broadband now serves almost every Finnish and Swedish home, including rural areas. Even Denmark's remote 'Cold Hawaii' coast has full connectivity, and there is almost total smartphone penetration in all five Nordic nations.

Elance-oDesk.com's Hedebrandt says setting up as a freelancer now is no more complicated than finding a desk and “digitising what you do”.

Elance and oDesk – former rivals that joined forces in early 2014 – have even been collaborating with the EU to advise on the cultural implications of a freelance revolution. “One in two workers could be digital soloists in our lifetime,” says Hedebrandt.

And the Nordic countries are a solid test-bed for that theory.

“We are the best with English as a second language and, as small countries, we are used to collaborating,” says Hedebrandt. “Nordic workers can speak to everybody all over the world. We can have partners everywhere and we can freelance freely.”

For the IT specialist as much as the dog-walker, a cultural shift to freelance seems to fit well in the Nordics.

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This could have been another great business opportunity for LinkedIn. Didn't they think about it or couldn't monetize?
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