How businesses can prepare for a freelance-focused world

More and more businesses must prepare for the freelance revolution that is coming the world's way

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Love it, like it or lump it, the freelance revolution is coming. There are already nearly five million freelancers in the UK and in just three years’ time, as much as half of the working population will be freelance. In the long-term it’s not hard to imagine a time when permanent roles will have ceased to exist entirely.

With the consistent boom of the freelance economy, focus now needs to be directed towards adapting and preparing your business for the impending revolution. You must ask yourself – is your business ready? The honest answer is probably “no”. The truth is, just five percent of SMEs and even fewer corporations are currently using streamlined ways of managing freelancers. That’s all about to change, radically and rapidly, meaning the vast majority of businesses will find themselves at a huge disadvantage when the freelance revolution kicks in earnest.

There are four key concerns that should make addressing the imminent freelancer boom top of any discerning CEO or HR Director’s to-do list.

The war for talent is tougher than ever, if you think it’s hard to find, attract and retain talent now, just imagine what it will be like when more than 50 percent of the workforce is freelance. Businesses that aren’t set up to effectively and flexibly manage flexible talent will, to be frank, struggle to adapt to a new reality. This will only escalate if and when Brexit comes to fruition, the UK is likely to experience a severe skills shortages across a wide range of sectors. According to CIPD, nearly three-quarters of HR professionals expect the competition for well-qualified talent to increase as a result of Brexit. A clear solution to the talent shortages, is for businesses to tap into the burgeoning freelance economy, where global talent can be accessed immediately. 

To complicate matters further, the workforce will become even more blended. Corporations not organised to capitalise on this stand to lose out. Currently the workforce has a combination of full-time and part-time employees, freelancers, and contractors. While for now the balance is tipped in favour of permanent employment, that won’t be the case for long. It’s worth noting that soon, even full-time employees can expect their roles to become more fluid within organisations. This will facilitate “internal gigging’’, where an individual’s skills are made available across the business. 

All in all, freelancing is already worth £30bn to the UK economy each year in terms of added value.By our own calculations, this figure could be as high as £51bn by 2020. This is because of the efficiencies a fluid, predominantly freelance workforce can offer. This represents a huge growth opportunity for businesses which get ahead of the game and act now.   

Three-steps to unlocking the true value of a blended workforce.

  1. In the short run: Take action! Major change takes time to implement – particularly in larger organisations – and working quickly to engage the relevant stakeholders on the financial benefits will be key.  You should begin to work towards having your freelancers managed in one centralised space. Using the right tool to do so could save you thousands – PeoplePerHour research from 2015 found that businesses could save £6,297.17 per employee, per year, by hiring freelance professionals.
  2. In the medium run: Invest in infrastructure that allows for efficient and flexible management of an increasingly blended workforce. This will eliminate fragmented systems for managing employees, contractors and freelancers and put you in a better position to leverage the global pool of flexible talent that is now available. This will allow you to find the perfect skill set for each  and every task.
  3. In the long run: Philosophically, you should embrace the concept of “Flexible Talent Management” as the best way to maximise the value blended workforces offer. Flexible Talent Management aims to improve the use of on-demand workforce by establishing a unified process. In practice, this will be achieved through a powerful, elegant, end-to-end solution for managing all individuals, driving efficiency, and optimising resources. Such solutions are in development and will become available in the very near future.
Xenios Thrasyvoulou is a leading expert on global workforces and the CEO and Founder of PeoplePerHour – the leading digital marketplace for freelancers