Smart businesses don’t grow old, they grow up

Why the freelance economy is attracting top talent and how businesses should make the most of a generation happy to join a ‘hybrid workforce’

David Morris MP was announced as the UK’s first ever ambassador for the self-employed on National Freelancers Day (NFD) last month.

This welcome appointment was made on the day when we celebrate the UK’s record breaking 4.5 million self-employed workers; and, inevitably it raises a few big questions.

  • Do these figures indicate a permanent change in a labour market galvanised by entrepreneurial spirit?
  • Or might they disguise under-employment in a tough economic climate?

Like it or lump it, the way Britain works has dramatically changed over the past decade. Moreover, according to what we observe at oDesk, this change is being driven as much by businesses as freelancers.

Waking up to the hybrid workforce

Businesses of all sizes are waking up to how much a hybrid workforce can benefit them. We see this most clearly in small businesses that integrate a team of freelancers into the core team. This makes it possible for the permanent staff to harness various skill-sets as and when required.

Online collaboration tools mean that the core team and freelance workers can collaborate seamlessly; which, in turn, ensures that projects are completed on time and to a high standard. This is how smart, young businesses grow up without growing old or stale.

Of course, freelancers are still a major force behind this change. We’ve seen a shift in the mindset of workers – particularly among those entering the workforce in the last 10 years (the so-called ‘millennials’). These men and women actively choose freelancing and portfolio careers so that they can earn well but work flexibly.

Freelancing’s attracting the top talent

According to research we’ve conducted, the higher achievers among them are particularly drawn to this model of work: 87% of students with First or Second Class degrees questioned saw freelancing as a highly attractive and lucrative career option.

Alongside high earning potential and a good variety of work, almost half of millennials (49%) said flexibility was an important factor for them when it came to choosing roles. Increasingly, online collaborative technologies guarantee that freelancers can still be efficient members of a “distributed team” while working where they want, when they want, and among whom they want. The hotdeskers’ hub is for this generation what the corner office was to their Baby Boomer parents.

So what kind of freelancers can your business benefit from? On oDesk, freelancers with skills in IT and programming are in highest demand from UK businesses, closely followed by writing and translation, then admin support. By enlisting skilled freelancers on a temporary or even permanent basis, you can scale up (and down) as and when resources are needed, without adding to your fixed cost base.

So the benefits of the freelance economy are being felt by freelancers and businesses alike – which can only be good news.

Hayley Conick is Country Manager for oDesk in the UK

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