Like clockwork, every month brings new reports about the evolution of the modern workforce, whether it’s the rise of telecommuting, understanding how to work with Millennials or the best ways to engage employees. Amid this research flurry, less attention has been paid to another major labor shift: the boom in freelancing and contract-based workers.
According to Forbes, freelancers will make up nearly 20% of the workforce by 2020. That’s a nearly threefold increase from 6.7% in 1995. As a result, the number of full and part-time employees is expected to drop to 80% of the workforce in 2020, from a high of 92% in 1995.
These shifts have a far longer impact than labor-sourcing alone. Businesses will be required to adjust to a model where one in six employees isn’t in-house, but instead miles or even countries away.
This is a positive sign for small and medium businesses (SMBs), which have and will continue to tap into freelance communities to supplement in-house talent. But to capitalize on these opportunities, firms must ensure that they have the tools and know-how to foster a productive business environment that truly transcends the physical office.
Attract high-level talent to your small business.
Traditionally, most freelance and contract demand has focused on irregular work projects, ones too brief or too niche to justify a permanent employee. This will remain true, but is far from freelancers’ only role in the transitioning market.
Increasingly, contract hires will come to represent highly skilled knowledge workers involved across a company’s operations, from programming and graphic design to marketing and product management. Based on their volume and diverse project assignments alone, freelancers and contractors will take on much more visible positions as experts within the companies they serve.
For SMBs, freelancers prove invaluable in gaining a competitive edge. While larger rivals can afford to outspend smaller firms when seeking local talent, freelancers and contractors offer the potential to attract quality talent without geographic restrictions. In these cases, temporary staffers may be retained on a longer-term basis and integrated more closely into the organization. Driving the most value from this emerging subset of the workforce, however, starts with a sound technical foundation.
Get the right tools to utilize freelancers.
One of the most overlooked components to a successful contract hiring strategy is the technical infrastructure required. Time-independent communication tools like email are useful for some initiatives, but others require a real-time approach. Team-based projects are best facilitated through a more collaborative medium, such as video or web conferencing. These tools also play a critical role in sourcing and interviewing freelance talent and are especially effective for SMBs looking to reduce overhead and total time to hire.
After a firm engages freelancers and contractors, having the right communication solutions sets the tone for a productive work environment. Our recent study found that many employees slack off during conference calls taken outside the office, while other high profile cases highlight the importance of maintaining accountability in remote work arrangements. In these instances, integrated communications solutions that more closely mirror the in-person office environment, (e.g., video calls) may be more reliable than traditional audio conferences and email alone.
Be ready for tomorrow’s workforce.
As the workforce continues to globalize, contractors and freelancers will have a more direct impact on businesses’ operations and growth. The ability to recruit talent regardless of location presents an opportunity that SMBs in particular shouldn’t pass up. At the same time, this trend introduces new challenges for business productivity and accountability, which must be met with a reliable communications strategy that supports this decentralized workforce. There’s a reason it’s called infrastructure.
Is your firm looking to work with more contractors and freelancers? Have you experienced any growing pains with accountability or productivity as a result?