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The workforce of the future: how HR managers can prepare

Understandably, a large portion of the discussion around the world of work post-pandemic has been focussed on the challenges and opportunities posed by remote working. Will productivity levels stay the same? (Yes). Will health, both mental and physical, improve? (Yes). Will the office-based businesses survive? (Unsure).

When you imagine freelance workers, what do you think of? And when you think of the people hiring them, who do you see? 

Understandably, a large portion of the discussion around the world of work post-pandemic has been focussed on the challenges and opportunities posed by remote working. Will productivity levels stay the same? (Yes). Will health, both mental and physical, improve? (Yes). Will the office-based businesses survive? (Unsure). 

One thing that has become apparent as we have shifted to a more remote work-based model is that it’s not only possible for a whole range of business tasks to be conducted away from the office but that they’re often performed more thoroughly and successfully when they are. The freelance workforce can play a significant role in this new business landscape, allowing businesses to prosper, with the advantages of fresh insight, new skills, flexibility where it wasn’t available before, and frequently, a reduction in the associated costs, as talent is employed only as and when it is needed. 

While integrating freelancers into your working model can bring multiple benefits, it can also present difficulties from the perspective of human resources. HR teams need to be aware of the changes that working with a freelance team can bring, and rethink their strategies and key demographics for making those changes. 

In my experience, those changes can be covered by the following steps.  Here are five fresh ways to think about hiring and managing the teams that may be the future of your business. 

  • Change your recruitment standards.
    When you’re recruiting for a new team member, the focus tends to be as much on team dynamics as it is on the skills and experiences of the individual. But when working with freelancers, the focus shifts to a work-first format. So, while certain freelance hiring is based on testing, it usually only works for singular small projects and can become expensive as the company increases in size and ambition. Very few teams are trained to identify a candidate’s red flags, which means the quality of the hired freelancers can bring down the overall productivity of teams. It is vital to create standards that team members must adhere to while hiring freelance workers. This could include what third-party platforms to hire from, portfolio expectation, minimum platform ratings/experience, the number of interview rounds to pass, minimum and maximum pay, and so on. Adhering to these standards minimises potential bad hiring, and also prevents team members from hiring their friends and families to work on projects.
  • Create policies that are geared towards freelance workers
    Short term onboarding processes aren’t common within business. There are so many compliance issues to deal with. With freelancers, this is rarely necessary. What is necessary is clear communication routes. And established protocols for onboarding and offboarding talent.

So, what’s the best thing you can do when it comes to hiring freelancers? Actually have a designated member of staff who handles onboarding and offboarding. And before you ask, yes, offboarding is important. Because how can you know how to improve the ways you work with freelancers if you don’t know what they think of you as you’re leaving? 

  • Invest in collaboration tools
    Collaboration can be one of the most difficult areas to manage when you’re trying to integrate either remote or freelance workers into your office-based team. To be effective, project management needs to be simple. And that’s where the use of tools –, Google Docs, Zoom, Teamwork, Confluence, and any one of several dozen others – can ease the way.

Every business will have its own set of requirements. And some tools have better services and better security protocols than others. But using tools that anyone can slot into, even if only for a short space of time, will significantly improve the integration of your freelance and permanent workforce. 

  • Get payment and contracts right early, and admit mistakes when you make them
    There are few things more important to freelancers than getting paid. Because their entire income comes from the work that they produce, their time is extremely precious. If you generate a reputation for poor payment practices, you’ll eventually struggle to access talent (at least, talent worth having) when you need it. Everyone makes mistakes and overlooks invoices, but when you do, the onus is on you to accept responsibility and apologise.

Equally, you need to have contracts in place for every piece of outsourced work to ensure that it is completed on time and to the expected standard. Freelancers like clarity. It allows them to plan and prepare. Having the right contracts in place can significantly streamline your processes. 

  • Prepare for regular contact
    The easiest way of building good relationships with your freelancers and ensuring that no communication is missed is to set one single point of contact for all of them. This prevents the risk of miscommunication, and helps the freelancer to better perform their commissions because there’s no question about who they should contact for what information. It also removes the potential for inadvertently missed deadlines when work is submitted to the wrong person.

Working with freelancers is the next best-practice scenario for businesses. It delivers flexibility, efficiency, cost savings, and access to talent you may not otherwise be able to afford. But it does also present a whole new way of working. If you take away one thing from this article, respecting the freelancer’s point of view is key. It can be difficult to do so even with someone you work with full time with, so respecting contracted freelancer’s time and health can feel abstract at best. But if you start there and gauge all of your choices in running your teams by this metric, you’ll be starting in the right place. 

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