In times of turmoil…

Investing in people doesn’t have to mean owning employees. Freelancers provide organisations some much needed flexibility and resilience during uncertain times.

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COVID changed work forever — whilst remote and distributed teams existed long before the pandemic, enforced working from home during a series of lockdowns, along with furlough and the related dramatic economic impact, saw many businesses forced into rethinking their hiring strategies, and many individuals rethinking their relationship with work. The Great Resignation was prompted, Quiet Quitting was named, and then a cost of living crisis, spiralling inflation and looming recession, the lasting effects of IR35, Brexit and recent reports that only 9% of UK workers surveyed for Gallup’s ‘State of the global workforce’ report felt enthused by their work.

Things feel bleak.

Employers, rightfully so, are scrambling to figure out how to build talented, trusted, engaged teams of people with the right capabilities within budget, working around flexible, remote and hybrid working patterns, in offices at only 20% utilisation, to consistently deliver for their clients, an ever-changing landscape of new technology and customer behaviours, all whilst facing their own internal commercial pressures. Blimey.

Many large organisations are doubling down on employee acquisition and retention (language which irks me, as if people are an asset class to be ‘acquired’ or owned), and actively divesting from flexibility — WPP for instance stating “we’ll depend less on freelancers and focus more on permanent staff, which will help deliver better margins“ citing that freelancers are increasing their prices inline with inflation and the cost of living in comparison, with salaries, which are not being increased.

In times of uncertainty and financial turmoil, the ability to be flexible and reactive is critical. Rather than investing in the unknown long-term, the ability to deliver high quality work, fit for purpose, with minimal overheads and maximum confidence is essential. And this is where building a community of freelancers benefits even the smallest of businesses.

Fluid talent strategies make use of a combination of common and core staff augmented with specialist and flexible independent talent, such as freelancers. Build a team which delivers for the period of the project plan, and then dissolves when no longer required. Build the project cost around the cost of the people plus your profit margin, and it’s no more expensive that employees (indeed, some studies show many freelance hires will work out less costly pro-rata than a full-time employee, and external specialists tend to be more efficient and deliver work quicker).

This isn’t a call to suggest getting rid of all of your staff and replacing them tomorrow with freelancers — far from it — the binary nature of “on-staff” or “on-contract” needs to disappear, and be replaced with a mindset which is open to building a team with hybrid employment — some are perm, some are external, but they work together effectively for the shared goals of the project and organisation.

This can’t be done without internal changes and process to support adequate integration of external and independent talent. You can’t just hope to drop a freelancer into a team and expect them to do a great job (despite many freelancers excelling at having to navigate this all too common situation). It requires design thinking and strong communication.

But being able to access the right people for the right people in the right way creates far more resilience for an organisation in times of uncertainty than any ‘employee acquisition’ planning.

So how do you find, hire and work with freelancers in the right way?

Stick around, and we’ll start exploring what working well with freelancers means in 2022 and beyond.

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is founder of — a project supporting independent workers, and helps businesses work well with freelancers.

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Matthew Knight

Chief Freelance Officer. Strategist. Supporting the mental health of the self-employed. Building teams which work better.