Elance Blog

2010: The Decade Of Online Work

The day the entire world moves on from the "oughts" is nearly upon us. Since we entered this decade ten years ago, technology, work, and society on a micro and macro level has evolved to a level no one could have ever predicted. Before we can look forward to the future, we must take a look at the past to see just how far we’ve come.

Think back to the year 2000. George W. Bush and Al Gore were the front runners in the Presidential election. Microsoft had just released Windows ME, the recently-launched Playstation 2 was the hottest holiday item, and the term “Y2K” and its associated panic had just been retired. Monochrome screens on cell phones were standard, and smartphones were only for the earliest of adopters. Broadband was adopted by less than 5% of the population while dial-up services were the method of choice at 35%.

Today, broadband has moved from luxury to necessity, while Internet connectivity has moved from the home to pockets and purses. People from all over the world are now able to connect digitally in a blink of an eye to communicate, play, share ideas, inspire, and work in ways never thought before.

Although no one truly knows what’s in store for the upcoming decade, one thing that is certain is that work will continue to evolve at a break-neck pace. Here are important trends to follow that will expand online work to new heights by the year 2020.

The Technology Trend – One could only begin to fathom what type of technology will be available after the following decade. Moore’s Law states that “the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.” With the first 2-billion transistor chip on the way in Q1 2010, using Moore’s Law, we should expect to see the first 32-billion transistor chip in 2020, or alternatively, a computer processor with 32 times the power of the fastest chip on Earth today.

Mobile technology will also continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Data that’s currently available on cellular networks will go from high-speed to even higher-speed, while network coverage will leave no deadspots across the globe. Visual displays and web cams will move into the 3rd dimension, providing a virtual, near-accurate representation of a person through a web conference, and broadband access will have near-ubiquitous penetration in all populations of the globe. And that’s just the beginning.

There’s no doubt that technology and business go hand-in-hand. Advancements in tech have processed and packaged information of all types in formats that are becoming truly on-demand from any location in the world. It's played a huge role in spurring the global and societal adoption of online work in the past 10 years, and expect it to truly send online work to the next level in the coming decade.

The Lifestyle Trend – Society’s toleration of the old-school paradigm of work is fading, fast. Corporations are enacting programs to encourage a better work-life balance (for example, IBM doing away with vacation tracking back in 2007), but as people continue to find success and share stories in freelance and contract work online, the quest for a truly autonomous work-life balance will become the end goal for more workers than ever. (Check out Benjamin Gran’s blog post on how Cubicles Are The Phone Booths Of The Future.)

Companies large and small across the globe will notice this shift in lifestyle and will adjust their workforces accordingly, and the large increase in staffing of virtual contractors and freelancers will no longer become a faux pas.

Also, with health coverage being one of the larger obstacles by freelancers and contractors in the United States, the adoption rate of online contract and freelance work could grow dramatically in a short amount of time if a universal health care bill is passed.

The “What’s Cool” Trend – Not too long ago, getting suited up for a high-ranking position in a large corporation was the symbol of success, but as we move into 2010, the definition of “what’s cool” has changed significantly.

Staking your claim by creating an independent professional career, for example as an entrepreneur, is a much more likely measure of success in today’s society. No more working for “the man”, no more 40-hour workweeks, no more hoping for a promotion… you get the gist.

Savvy and successful entrepreneurs and businesses have been tapping into online work to get what they need done in a cost-effective and timely way for some time now, and as the population of these new ventures grow rapidly, expect the hiring of online workers to increase in this sector exponentially.

The Cultural Assimilation Trend – In 2009, we’re currently living in a world where hiring a professional from another city, state, country, or even continent is commonplace, but it has yet to reach critical mass. However, as time progresses, the acceptance of online work will grow to be just as common as the use of online marketplaces and eCommerce stores that came before it.

Think back to the 1990s. Online stores and marketplaces were just opening up shop, but as a consumer, buying online was a action for only the earliest of adopters. The same evolution is occurring with getting work done right now. Today, the general population of IT managers, marketing firms, and corporations are still not fully aware of the hundreds of thousands of skilled, verified professionals that are readily accessible, but over the coming decade that will change, just like how the world of virtually shopping has evolved into an everyday action.

The world of online workhas come a long way, but we've only just scratched the surface of the New Way To Work. Although it's impossible to predict what the face of work will look like in 10 years, one thing is for sure – by then, The New Way To Work will become The New Way To Work.


The article on defining work in 2010 is superb. My comments are as under:
1. How do we communicate when the languages of the world are so different? Will translation be online software based? May be that is the challenge of the decades ahead.
2. Any amount of 'on-line' will not eliminate the need for core engineering of machining or giving shape to the imagination. Are we going to an era of 'enough-is enough'? Basic needs are not sustained.
3. Reaching to poorest of the poor and satisfy his / her needs. Knowledge explosion is making us 'Jack of all trades and master of all too'. Yes price for all these are realistic and in a single life span, theoretically, at least.
4. On line work should reduce people travel time resulting more productivity and reduce pollution. Can we reduce manufacturing set up? Yes we can split into micro-work station in manufacturing within the realm of an individual. May be products will travel faster than individuals.
5. Power of Energy is paramount. Metabolism of create your own bio-power on-line may be the future in the decade after next.
Congratulations again for a mind storming article. Above are my few sparks out of the reading of your article.

Hi Alex,

Thanks for a great post. The whole world is shrinking as the World Wide Web grows.
I believe that today freshers in IT industry need not have to worry about getting a job. If they have the right skill they would have a right job.
Through websites like Linkedin we get a chance to connect with top level people. I feel blessed to be born in this era.
Let us see what happens when the transition fron Web 2.0 to Web 3.0(semantic web) happens.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2010. Thanks

This is a great article. Well done!