Meet the Supertemp: an accomplished manager or professional (i.e., lawyer, executive, consultant) who’s been trained at a top school and company and chooses to pursue a project-based career independent of any major firm. One example of this is Ed Trevisani, a Wharton MBA, GE alum, and former partner with IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers who manages high-powered projects for Fortune 500 companies and advises executives on operational issues, change management, and potential mergers. He does all of these assignments on a temporary basis, working as an independent contractor.
These supertemps have company. Millennials, who are newer to the workforce than Trevisani and his more senior colleagues, are also opting to pursue this same path as independent contractors and freelancers. The Intuit 2020 Report estimates that more than 40% of America’s 60 million person workforce will be independent workers (freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees) by 2020.
As the number of freelancers increase, PwC paints the following picture in its report, The Future of Work: A journey to 2022:
“Big business will be outflanked by a vibrant, innovative and entrepreneurial middle market. A core team embodies the philosophy and values of the company. The rest come in and out on a project-by-project basis. Some firms compete on quality and specialization, while others offer commoditized price-dependent support. “Tele-presence” and virtual solutions allow for greater remote working and extended global networks”
While this is only one of three scenarios that PwC predicts, the corporate world is already catching on to the benefits that freelancers can provide for their businesses. According to PwC’s global CEO survey, 81% of CEOs believe technological advances allowing for more remote and contract workers will transform their businesses over the next several years. On top of that, Forbes’ 2016 Workforce Productivity Report found that 96% of the CFOs surveyed indicate that their companies already engage independent contractors.
What are the benefits of this new “blended” workforce?
Diversity of Thought
Freelancers bring a unique perspective to the table through their particular experiences. They also tend to be predominantly removed from traditional office politics; so they can bringing more diversity of thought to companies and projects. While your full-time, traditionally employed workers provide your brand’s stability, a fresh perspective can provide insights that might have slipped past you and your team.
Employing a blended workforce will help your company scale operations up or down as needed. By deploying a freelance workforce, you will be able to respond to changes in demand through variable costs thus reducing your fixed cost, such as changing physical office spaces.
Contract workers can allow your organization to have breathing room to find the right full-time candidates for open positions, helping to prevent expensive hiring mistakes that might come back to bite you.
When planned and executed with skill, the development of a blended workforce can make a company more creative, productive, and all-around higher performing. Procter & Gamble (P&G) is creating new ways to complete projects by experimenting with larger external talent marketplaces and enhancing its current workforce with freelance workers. They recently completed a pilot program using a freelance management system. P&G reported that the products from this program were delivered faster and at lower cost than with conventional methods 60% of the time. With these results in mind, the company is looking to expand its efforts in these areas and is committing millions of dollars in this area over the coming years.
Here are four tips to help you follow P&G’s example and set your team up for similar success with a blended workforce:
1. Leverage Technology
If your company hasn’t already, consider adopting new technologies like Slack, GitHub, and Google Hangouts as an alternative or supplement to traditional tools like email. These orchestrate communication for a virtualized and dispersed work environment. Similar to these tools, programs like Mural can be extremely effective for collaborative brainstorming and design thinking across geographies. Complementing these communication platforms are programs for online benefits (e.g., Zenefits), operations (e.g., OneSource Virtual), and payroll (e.g., Gusto).
You can also take advantage of the growing wealth of technology in the area of project management in order to streamline newly diversified teams. Programs like OnForce and Work Market help manage project lifecycles and freelancers once they’ve been brought on. These programs also allow you to analyze performance metrics to track how well you are managing your freelancers as your employee mix evolves.
2. Source Widely and Often
Given that your organization might not always anticipate talent needs, it is critical to cast a wide net and seek out a range in talent so that you can be prepared for any gaps that arise. One particularly effective strategy to do this is to leverage the growing amount of technology that aims to assist leaders and minimize the resources (time, money, etc.) needed to match workers with employers or projects.
One platform that assists with this is Upwork, which posts approximately three million jobs annually and facilitates more than $1 billion in freelancer earnings per year through matchmaking transactions between its five million corporate customers and 12 million registered freelancers. LinkedIn is also leveraging its data-rich platform and extensive user base to pilot its ProFinder professional services platform.
3. Focus on Talent
As you develop a base of contractors, seek the best and the brightest. The purpose of freelancers is to fulfill a particular role. It follows that you should hire them based on the specific skills they will bring to your team as opposed to full-time employees, where a number of “softer” factors can come into the hiring decision. Take the time to look at your employees and ask: what skills gaps need to be filled? Who do we need and at what level? Don’t be shy about seeking out the most talented, experienced freelancers that you can find to fill those gaps.
4. Communicate Clearly
The timelines for projects with a blended team are often compressed – you are bringing on freelancers for a specific task. For this reason, you have less time to onboard a contractor than you would a full-time employee, and every moment of communication is critical. From providing detailed instructions to setting clear expectations, blended teams will have varying levels of familiarity with the company, its goals, processes, and needs, so you must strive to ensure that each time you communicate with a freelancer, you are clear and concise.
One way to support clear verbal communication is by using thorough written communication. With most freelance contracts being results-driven, consider converting your job descriptions into statements of work or project descriptions. This will provide freelancers with an upfront set of expectations for their work with your team.
According to PwC, “managing a diverse, heavily matrixed and virtual organization [will have the single biggest impact on the way we work over the next ten years.” By putting the pieces in place today to evolve your organization and prepare for freelancers, you will set your business ahead to thrive in the coming years.