Australia’s freelance economy now has over 4.1 million workers filed in its ranks. That’s one third of the workforce. With more Australians choosing to freelance, how can businesses adapt? How can small businesses prepare themselves for the change? And what benefits will businesses enjoy if they embrace the contingent workforce?
Millions of people across Australia are abandoning the full-time office in favour of a more independent, freelance lifestyle.
Research from jobs marketplace, Upwork, estimates that 32% of the Australian workforce performed temporary, short-term or contract freelance work from 2014-15. That’s equal to around 4.1 million freelancers across all industries.
The study found that flexibility and freedom are key drivers turning people to freelancing work. While it’s the younger generation leading the trend, with nearly half of freelancers being under the age of 35, it’s interesting to note that 20% of freelancers are over 55.
Freelance journalist Rachel Smith runs Rachel’s List, a successful online members-only jobs site servicing more than 4000 freelancers across Australia’s creative industries.
“The shift towards freelance – and away from the traditional, nine-five, ‘bums-on-seats’ type of employment – is growing, and studies tend to bear this out,” says Smith.
“In our 2015 Show Me The Money survey, the majority of Rachel’s List members reported that they have been freelancing for just a short time – 22% had freelanced for between two-to-four years, with another 19.5% freelancing just one-to-two years.
“So it’s a growing trend for people to take that leap into working for themselves.”
Why is freelancing on the rise?
The trend towards freelancing is not surprising. Greater independence and increased freedom to pursue the hours and kinds of projects you want to work on is a definite lure for most.
But what’s in it for organisations, particularly small businesses paying for the services of this growing pool of temporary workers?
Frank Garza, founder of San Francisco firm Daylancer connects companies in need of temporary workers with freelancers looking for work.
He says small businesses benefit greatly from the growing freelancer trend as it’s often easier, faster and cheaper to recruit short-term expertise to get a job done when there’s no full-time need for labour.
“Businesses can tap into a segment of specialists in almost any field,” says Garza. “They can bring on freelancers who have worked with multiple companies on similar types of projects. This can help bring a new perspective into a business.
“It also presents less risk for the business to hire a freelancer. Hiring someone full-time is a long-term commitment and there’s significant costs associated with on-boarding someone new and off-boarding them if things don’t work out.”
How do you prepare for freelance workers?
The downside for businesses is that organisations have to maintain a positive external reputation and be competitive in what they offer to attract freelancers with the most talent. An efficient, lean company with their books in order, which knows where their money is spent, is in a better position to pay their freelancers more.
Garza also recommends that small businesses should utilise tech solutions to keep track of freelancer activities and other resources.
Better remote working conditions and other benefits, such as access to a company’s online business systems, could also prove advantageous to a sole trader or freelancer.
“As technology improves, it’s becoming easier for remote teams to stay connected and work well together.”
Teleconferencing, emailing, database, timesheet and attendance tracking, inventory management, and bookkeeping and accountancy systems should all be integrated on the cloud and remain interoperable.
At the end of the day, Garza reminds businesses that organisations should always seek to be an employer of choice if they wish to remain relevant and successful in the future.
It should also attract an ideal mix of freelancers and full-time staff to suit its budgetary and productivity needs.
“Companies will have to continue evolving what a full-time worker ‘looks like’ so they can retain their most talented employees, as some people will also always want the security and benefits that full-time employees enjoy.
“So this isn’t going away anytime soon but there’s a bright future for both types of worker.”
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