Australia is leading the adoption of online work, ranking as the top hiring country on Elance-oDesk when adjusted per capita, according to new data released by the online work marketplace firm.
The Online Work in Australia study showed that 161,000 Australian companies are registered on the Elance-oDesk platforms, representing 8 percent of all businesses in the country. This has grown over the last three years with Australian businesses increasing their online hiring on Elance-oDesk by 235 percent.
The research indicated the job category Australian businesses were after the most in the last 12 months was in IT and programming (40 percent), where they were demanding skills such as PHP, CSS, and HTML.
This was followed by 26 percent of job posts being related to design and multimedia projects. In the past 12 months, top skills in the category included: logo design, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator.
Newly appointed Elance-oDesk Australia country manager Kyri Theos said Australian businesses are turning to online for the skills they need.
"We're seeing a shortage of IT professionals in Australia; 40 percent of all jobs by Australian businesses on Elance-oDesk were for IT and programming, so that's really telling us that they have gaps they want to fill," he said.
"But I don't think IT and programming is the whole story. Design and multimedia made up 26 percent, so it shows there's real skills and talent that businesses will go in search for on Elance and oDesk."
The survey showed that the main reasons why Australian businesses are choosing to hire freelancers online are because of cost (81 percent), flexibility (61 percent), and speed of hiring (59 percent).
"It shows there's a skills gap that's driving businesses to change and thinking differently. We also see that connectivity and technology are drivers of this industry and this way of working, and oDesk and Elance are facilitating that match and helping to build this market," said Kjetil Olsen, Elance-oDesk vice president, international.
Olsen also noted the preference and attitudes of today's professionals and future workers are changing, particularly common among Generation Y, which is looking for more freelance work.
"When we conducted the survey we saw that a lot of people belonged to Generation Y, who is now taking over the labour market, and we see a strong preference among them to have more flexibility and freedom in how they work, when they work, and why they work," he said.
"The fact that both platforms of Elance and oDesk are gaining significant traction globally tells us the preference of Generation Y can come to platforms like ours. We are seeing millions of people already working online and we believe this is a trend that will continue over the next three years."
But Theos reassures that despite the growth in online hiring, it doesn't necessarily mean freelancers are taking away work opportunities for permanent staff.
"Businesses are finding they can use ... freelancers remotely and can be a lot more productive then they would be if they had only onsite staff. So what we're seeing is a move towards a hybrid model within organisations," he said.
"You can have a group of dedicated onsite staff and you could bring in offsite staff when you need to get specific projects done. What that means for a business is the flexibility to respond to changes in e-market demands and customer preferences so you can be more competitive."
Going forward, more than half of Australian businesses plan to hire more freelancers in 2014 than they did in 2013, the survey showed.
"We believe there is a huge potential in Australia to facilitate between local freelancers and businesses," Olsen said.
"It's often referred to as outsourcing but actually we see it differently. We see Elance and oDesk creating one-on-one relationships; it's just that they're not necessarily in the same office, same city, same country, or continent."
The two rival companies, Elance and oDesk, merged in December last year with plans to combine the power of both companies to better invest in products and services.