Chief among those tools are cloud-based platforms such as UpWork, Fiverr and Freelancer.com that help identify independent contractors with skills and experience that match up to requirements for short- or long-term projects.
Companies can use the same platforms to handle onboarding and paperwork, set up project milestones, and pay people once work is completed and approved, according to speakers at a Thursday session titled, “Leveraging the Freelance Marketplace to Harness a Global Talent Pool,” at the HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas.
In the United States, 55 million people do some kind of freelance, gig or project-based work either full time or as a side hustle. Forecasts show half the country’s workforce will work independently by 2020, said Eric Gilpin, UpWork’s senior vice president of enterprise sales. “A lot of people do this as choice,” Gilpin said.
Freelancers know their skills are in demand, and they like being able to work from anywhere. Their biggest problem is finding clients, “and platforms like UpWork can help them market their skills.”
At the same time the freelance workers’ ranks are growing, large enterprises are looking to be more agile and bring on talent on an as-needed basis. Freelance platforms have been more than happy to play the role of digital matchmaker.
For most of the 31 years Rich Postler has worked at Proctor & Gamble, the only approach he took to adding talent was hiring employees. But changing times call for changing methods. When P&G initiated a culture change to innovate faster, Postler, the company’s vice president of HR, global shared services and global information technology, launched a pilot to “borrow” talent only as long as it was needed.
Postler started working with UpWork and several other freelance platforms 18 months ago as part of that initiative. P&G continued to tap ad agencies and other third-party vendors for large, multi-million-dollar projects. But as part of a pilot project, the company gave departments permission to funnel smaller work to freelancers who’d been vetted and approved through platforms like UpWork.
The payoff was almost immediate. Using platforms to find freelancers cut the time it took to source talent for a project from 90 days to 4.2, Postler said. Not only that, in the first full fiscal year of the pilot, quality of the work rose 33 percent, and costs dropped 60 percent, he said.
Postler gives partial credit for such successes to creating a multi-functional team with people from HR, legal, labor relations and procurement to run the pilot and develop processes and controls around how the company uses freelancers and platforms. Bringing on freelance platforms won’t work, though, unless they are part of a larger strategic plan, and have executive-level sponsorship, he said.
Freelance platforms originally launched to support small businesses, but have been adding larger enterprises as organizations transfer responsibility for managing contingent workers from procurement to HR, Gilpin said. “It’s still 80 percent small and medium business, but also very relevant to large organizations,” he said.
Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.