No one can deny the rising trend of freelancers in today’s modern workforce. As reported by this “Freelancing in America: 2016” survey, the number of freelancers within the U.S. continues to grow, with nearly 35% of the workforce made up of freelance employees, amounting to nearly 55 million workers earning an estimated $1 trillion in wages. That is an impressive statistic and shows the importance of the freelancer to the U.S. economy.
A growing trend among employers is to fulfill work tasks per-assignment to independent contractors. This trend is increasingly referred to as the gig economy. The labor market is changing to include a prevalence of short-term contracts, temporary work or freelance work. Who is the gig worker? A gig worker is not easily defined and can come from any number of diverse groups out of almost any type of occupation. The gig worker customarily searches for and finds his gigs through a mobile application or website where he can be matched with customers needing services.
Gig employment is often easy to qualify for, readily available and easy to complete. Gig work is in high demand among employers; some of the jobs which can be readily filled by gig workers include graphic design, project management, accounting, web development, content writing, research, language services, education, marketing, insurance, e-commerce and entertainment. These are only some of the industries that can benefit from temporary, part-time or contract workers. In fact, virtually any type of industry has some job opportunity that can be adequately filled by a freelance employee.
Why are freelancers the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. economy? Part of it is due to the priorities of the Millennial and Gen X worker who may be more concerned with job flexibility rather than the concerns of traditional workers such as job stability. Hiring independent contractors, or freelancers, can give companies a huge cost savings benefit. Freelance employees can be full-time, part-time or temporary depending on a company’s needs. There are both advantages and disadvantages. With the right plan of action, any obstacles can be overcome and freelancers can be a productive part of any modern workplace setting.
Here are a few of the benefits:
A freelance employee is one that may be happier “being his own boss” so to speak. While he may not truly be his own boss, he at least may have some control over his schedule and work load. For freelancers who may also be working parents, this is a huge motivating factor and can ease worries and concerns such as childcare expenses or not being there for important family events. With the burden of family obligations and childcare somewhat eased, freelance parents are motivated and may be more enthusiastic about their jobs than those in the traditional workforce.
In addition to full-time freelance employees, employers may also find benefits to hiring contingent employees on an “as needed” basis to fulfill a temporary or one-time position. As reported in this Bureau of Labor Statistics report, a contingent employee is “temporary” in nature and one that is not expecting to hire on as a full-time employee. Contingent employees, as a rule, are not subject to the same benefits due to full-time employees such as health insurance and retirement plans. Those savings can be turned into valuable ROI since projects can be completed more efficiently and with much less cost involved.
Freelance employees are a part of the connected generation and a majority of their work is completed through the use of a laptop, tablet, smartphones, video conferencing, mobile apps or some other type of connected device. If employers want a tech savvy employee, they will be sure to find these qualities in a freelancer.
No Worries about Office Politics
Everyone knows that all working offices have their own set of office politics teaming with all of the expected work scenarios including competition, jealousies and conflicting personalities. A freelancer doesn’t have to become a part of the office gossip and may be able to rise above the influence of office politics. This can also be a nice advantage to an employer who may be able to depend on a freelancer to give an opinion that has not been influenced by his peers within the organization.
Here are some of the challenges:
One of the legal challenges of hiring a freelancer to produce artistic work is the question of who becomes the owner of the intellectual property once the job is completed. One solution is the “work for hire” agreement which specifies in legal terms that the employer becomes the author of the work even though the freelancer is the one who created it. These types of agreements clearly outline the scope of the work, the compensation and ownership and must be signed by freelancers prior to completing freelance assignments.
Freelance employees such as artists, web designers or planners may be considered independent contractors and under different tax laws as such. Employers must comply with tax guidelines and obligations for freelance employees. For independent contractors making more than $600 yearly, the employer must provide a Form W-9 containing the contractor’s tax identification number, name and address. The W-9 form must be kept on file at the business and independent contractors must also be supplied with a 1099-MISC form listing his income for the year. If in doubt about independent contractor laws, employers can refer to this article from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Independent Contractor (Self-Employed) or Employee?
The freelance employee may not be looking to an employer’s organization as a long-term career choice. Part of the attractiveness of freelancing is the ability to change jobs if the current position is no longer desirable. For the employer, it may leave him in an undesirable situation. While the freelance lifestyle can provide happy and motivated employees, it can also leave gaps in the workforce when the freelancer decides it is time for him to move on. Also adding to this concern are the added expenses for hiring and training new employees.
Even for employers who are not micromanagers, the thought of not being able to physically keep track of an employee’s activities may be a deterrent in hiring the freelancer. With the absence of a brick-and-mortar workplace to report to each day, the freelancer may be tempted to let other personal concerns take priority over his work obligations.
Resistance to Change
Part of the status quo is to do things as they have always been done. Employers may find the existing workforce resistant to change and the introduction of freelance employees to the staff. As a result, freelancers may find it difficult to feel part of the team, which could affect their morale and productivity. It may take patience on the part of the management team and strong leadership skills to work through these types of objections to freelancers joining the team.
Bringing freelance employees into the workforce has its challenges but there are also many benefits. With so many freelancers now populating the workforce, their influence can no longer be ignored. Modern HR departments must include policies and guidelines for hiring freelance workers.
The issues accompanying freelance employment can be addressed through creative management solutions such as the use of remote training. Face-to-face video conferencing can help remote workers become acclimated to the work environment and develop relationships with in-house staff members and management. More than anything, employers who have a workforce mixed with both traditional and remote freelance employees must find ways to make the freelance employees feel welcome and comfortable in their job roles.
The freelancer may at times feel isolated. While the employee may find the work challenging and rewarding, he may also feel that he is not a part of the comraderies that exist between employees at the central work headquarters. With only a computer screen as a companion, the freelance employee may crave interaction with others. There are things that management can do to make the remote worker feel a part of the team.
Here are a few ideas:
Keep the lines of communication open: With an employee that is never going to be part of the physical job location workforce, it is more important than ever to ensure that the lines of communication stay open to address any issues or concerns that may arise. Make sure remote employees are included in staff meetings and video conference calls. This can do wonders to make all employees feel included and a part of the team.
Define expectations: Goals and expectations should be made clear to all freelance employees. There is nothing more frustrating than not understanding what a job is or not having the necessary tools to perform a job properly. Employers should provide measurable goals and objectives for all tasks as well as making sure all remote employees understand the tasks they are being asked to perform.
Provide recognition: All workers want to receive positive recognition for a job well done. For workers who don’t often see their employers, this becomes essential to morale. According to recent research, more than 66% of employees quit their jobs because they did not feel appreciated.
Remote management may not be easy, but it definitely doesn’t have to be hard. There is no reason employers should not explore the opportunity of expanding their workforce with freelance employees. In the end, employers must weigh the pros and cons and make the decision if a freelancer is right for the job. With the proper training and support, freelancers can be a part of a strong and productive workforce for any company.