Working from home might be new for displaced office workers, but it’s typically the locale of choice for freelancers. With the worldwide economy at a reckoning, more and more gig veterans are riding to the rescue as companies struggle to regain their bearings.
Human resources is no different.
“Freelancing is on the rise among millennials who are leaving the city,” said Meghan M. Biro, analyst, brand strategist, podcaster and TalentCulture chief executive officer. “They can make their living at home—now more than ever before.”
To find out what this trend means for the everyday employee, Biro talked with Jim Stroud, vice president of talent at Proactive Talent, and Chris Russell, founder of HR Lancers. Together they looked at how hiring freelancers and consultants fills in the gaps.
More organizations are hiring freelancers for HR because they offer flexibility. They can specialize in a particular area and can be hired for short terms. There is the added economic advantage of not having to offer benefits, which is a huge money saver. Less investment boosts productivity on the spreadsheets.
Benefits are a problem for freelancers, which means they have to price them into their bids for work.
“Companies hire freelancers to gird up their weaknesses,” Stroud said. “If your HR lead is great at everything but—fill in the blank—hiring a freelancer can fill in the void until your HR person is up to speed on whatever the need.
“Hiring a freelancer is easier on the budget than hiring two salaried professionals,” he said. “Freelancers are a quick and easy solution when you need to address a problem—now. Plus, you add diversity of thought, which is often overlooked in enterprises.”
Take a test drive
If a company is interested in a full-time equivalent, “trialing” a freelancer allows you to see firsthand who is a good fit for the role.
“Try before you buy,” Stroud said. “It works for infomercial products, so why not in the workplace?
“Why is HR always among the first to go?” he said. “Does that speak to how well—or unwell—HR departments are branding themselves in an organization?”
Naturally, freelancers are handy for plugging holes.
“With HR departments being trimmed to the bone, consultants can fill gaps,” Russell said. “It’s a general trend toward outsourcing by growing the number of freelance HR consultants.”
More than that, freelancers offer specific talents.
“There may be a need for expertise in a subject the HR department doesn’t have, such as compliance,” Biro said. “Hiring a freelancer is an economical way to expand the knowledge base.
“In smaller organizations the first departments to be downsized may be HR,” she said. “We’re in lean times. Freelancing out HR makes sense.”
Freelancers are the antidote to the staid status quo.
“We need a different array of skill sets in HR than before to be competitive in terms of hiring, engagement and retention,” Biro said. “We can’t always build out the ideal department. Freelancers give us strategic advantage.”
Because freelancers can work from home, hiring them frees precious space that has to be spread out to accommodate those who must go to the office. The downside is there is much less in-person contact as freelancers work from remote places.
“Using freelancers lets companies do more with less,” Russell said. “Businesses can tap into expertise in areas such as source, employer branding, benefits and so on that they might not have internally. Leaders may want to outsource even more due to the pandemic, which is going to accelerate the trend.”
The typical freelancer is far from being a rookie.
“I see more freelancers in HR than before, and many are experienced practitioners,” Biro said. “They would rather work with multiple companies and have a great impact. I approve.
“How much more prevalent will gig work become?” she said. “It feels like that’s the next big shift such as remote work when the pandemic first hit. We’ll need second-wave adaptation.”
Overall, Biro said remote working is changing the nature of HR.
“We’re seeing that we don’t need all hands on deck, in house, all the time,” she said. “Freelancers fit this new paradigm.
“It’s amazing to see administrative and strategic positions transforming to freelance,” Biro said. “If employer benefits are no longer the primary way to get healthcare, we’ll see more of that in HR.”
What was new a short time ago has rapidly become the normal way to do business.
“Companies will have to work harder on their employer branding to differentiate themselves,” Stroud said. “Telecommuting is no longer a novelty. HR will have to adjust its policies for work-from-home employees, especially as it relates to privacy.
“Freelancers could put the HR of small companies on parr with Fortune 100 companies in terms of level of expertise and quality of service,” he said. “How long before large enterprises present an option for people to freelance for them?”
Shroud envisions the following exchange:
- Company: We are not hiring, but you can freelance.
- Jobseeker: How do I freelance?
- Company: Click this link for more info.
Use benefits to your advantage
Leaders must have a clear grasp of what they expect of freelancers in terms of specific projects and time needed to complete a task. Freelancers do not bid on work based on “other duties as assigned.”
“You’re going to be competing for top HR freelancers,” Biro said. “So, what can you offer that makes you a more attractive client? Can you cover their health benefits for the time they’re working with you? It may be more cost-effective than you think.
“Know what you need—which means consult your HR department to find the blind spots,” she said. “Pinpoint the gaps. Freelancers don’t need to run the whole show, although they can. Still, they do need parameters.”
Leaders might find the power pendulum swinging away from them.
“For any freelancers you bring to your organization, remember they don’t have to work for you,” Biro said. “It’s their choice. Treat them with respect and consideration, pay competitively, and they will continue to work for you.”
While providing benefits might not be required, successful companies will go a step beyond.
“If you want to attract top HR freelancers, offer to pay their healthcare bills,” Stroud said. “Attract them with great perks like educational benefits, which will make them better freelancers.”
Freelancers ought to be treated as a vital part of the organization just like any other worker.
“Include them in your weekly meetings, offer them project-based work, also monthly retainers for X-number of hours is always appreciated,” Russell said. “They need the insight into your organization to best help.”
He added an essential reason why an expert freelancer answers a company’s needs: “Technology is changing so fast, the typical HR person can’t keep up.”