Preparing for the Rise of the Non-permanent Workforce

By Anna Codrea-Rado, Contributor

When freelance talent advisor Stevie Buckley started work on a short-term contract with a new client, he was bowled over by how the company treated him. He was given a clear brief, his invoices were paid on time, and he felt like he was part of the team.

“For the first time in a long time, I felt I was working in partnership with a client as opposed to feeling like I was yet another freelancer obligated to simply provide a service and nothing more,” Buckley says. “Their approach to freelancers was to treat us the same as how they treated their permanent employees—with respect and consideration.”

Freelancers like Buckley are becoming the new normal: a global workforce of non-permanent labor who expect more from their clients. In 2016, a McKinsey Global Institute report estimated that between 20-30 percent of the combined U.S. and European workforces engage in freelance work. According to freelance marketplace Fiverr’s latest report on the economic impact of freelancing, non-permanent workers contributed $135 billion to the U.S. economy last year.

If the workforce of the future will rely just as heavily on non-permanent workers—freelancers, consultants, and independent contractors—as it will on in-house employees, how can companies best optimize these relationships?

The Tech-enabled Flexible Workforce

“Very few organizations actively consider the way in which they onboard, engage with, and support individuals who join a team for a short period of time,” says Matthew Knight, founder of the independent workers community Leapers.

The widespread availability of affordable cloud computing, video conferencing, and messaging platforms have made it easier for freelancers to flourish working remotely. The same tools driving the rise in freelancing, however, can also be used by companies who want to build and manage teams of non-permanent workers.

The Hoxby Collective is a virtual consultancy company which provides on-demand, flexible talent to companies. The tech-enabled community, which runs on Slack and Google Suite, has more than 800 freelance members based in 30 countries. Hoxby’s clients include large tech companies as well as boutique firms who need a range of contractor services, from copywriting and graphic design to web development and IT support.

Freelancers who join communities like Hoxby do so because they work in non-traditional ways, either flexibly to accommodate childcare or simply out of personal preference. Hoxby’s founders and joint CEOs Alex Hirst and Lizzie Penny believe these working patterns do not hinder output or work quality but enhance it when managed effectively.

“Some traditional leadership concepts—for example, being visible—can be translated into the virtual world…Enabling technology already exists and will only enhance the experience and effectiveness of remote working.”

—Lizzie Penny, co-CEO, Hoxby

“Some traditional leadership concepts—for example, being visible—can be translated into the virtual world,” says Penny, “An open-door policy in a busy office can be translated into an online presence whereby you are actually available and responsive online.”

In order to work across multiple time zones and to accommodate different ways of working, the platform has developed something called “workstyle.” Freelancers who are part of Hoxby detail their working hours and location in their Slack profiles so that everyone is clear on when to expect a reply. “Enabling technology already exists and will only enhance the experience and effectiveness of remote working,” Penny adds.

It All Starts With a Clear Brief

According to Brent Messenger, VP of public policy and community at Fiverr, one area most companies need to improve when working with non-permanent workers starts at the very beginning of a new project. “A common mistake companies make is hiring a freelancer or contractor without a clear and realistic brief,” Messenger says.

Freelancers who use Fiverr are required to be clear about what they’ll deliver, but Messenger notes that the buyer is also responsible for explaining what they need from the get-go. “From the start, companies should have a solid outline of what the project is and what their expectations are,” he says.

For companies that want additional support managing larger freelance projects, Fiverr recently introduced a new service called Studios. Companies are able to appoint a team of freelancers through Fiverr, who are then managed by a dedicated studio lead experienced in working with independent contractors.

For companies who want to manage their own onboarding processes internally, Leapers’ Knight says the key is to give freelancers a way of communicating how they do their best work. Leapers created an online document called the Manual of Me which freelancers can use to tell a new client how they like to work when starting a project. The equivalent of a digital user guide for freelancers, this asset gives companies a quick and effective way to get the best out of their temporary talent. As for the freelancers or contractors, it helps set the project off on the right footing.

Creating a New Culture

Company culture used to consist of the perks and benefits employees receive when they sign a permanent contract with an employer. As work-life balance becomes increasingly more important, however, company culture has become less about the add-ons and more about how workers feel toward an organization.

“Many companies have values phrased as single words,” Penny says. “For remote workers who don’t get the opportunity as often to see leaders embodying those values, it’s necessary that they are more clearly defined and enriched with explicit behavioral examples.”

When it comes to non-permanent workers, the clearest signal a company can give of how it values its employees and their contributions is pay. When Buckley told his new client that he invoices upfront, he says the company’s founders told him they had “zero issues” with this policy. “Every single invoice I issued was paid on time, and on occasion, ahead of time.”

Messenger, from Fiverr, notes prompt payment should also be a matter of corporate compliance. “Make sure you understand the rights of freelancers and what constitutes an employer-employee relationship,” he says, adding that regulations and laws governing freelance and contract work can vary by state and city. For example, New York introduced the Freelancing Isn’t Free Act in 2017, which gives freelance workers the right to a written contract, timely and full payment, and protection from retaliation.

“Independent workers are key part of modern work. If the future of work is built upon more agility, more independence, and diverse talent, make sure you’re supporting them.”

—Matthew Knight, founder, Leapers

Beyond payment, Penny explains it’s important for companies to think about how non-permanent workers fit in with the rest of the team. “Businesses who employ a traditional workforce and freelancers need to be beware of a two-class culture,” she says. In situations where there’s a large group in-house and working on-site, in addition to remote freelancers and contractors, managers need to ensure the local team does not end up being the default center of gravity. “You have to be disciplined and make sure that everything gets communicated on all channels, that technology works incredibly well and that dialing into a video conference is as painless as possible.”

For Knight, looking after freelancers is a no-brainer for companies. “Independent workers are key part of modern work,” he says. “If the future of work is built upon more agility, more independence, and diverse talent, make sure you’re supporting them.”