Making the most of your freelancers – three ideas

Freelancing is a hot topic right now.

One statistic in particular, from the Intuit study on the future of work (pdf), has been making the rounds – that more than 40% of US workers will be freelancing by 2020.  The number of freelancers is increasing, as is the technology that supports virtual working and communication. Online marketplaces such as Elance, Guru, and Peopleperhour are changing the face of work by enabling businesses to access creative talent on a short-term basis – saving them money and getting quick results. At the same time, these sites create opportunities for individuals to develop a freelance career and achieve a flexible working lifestyle.

Whilst this movement is helping companies to get a wide range of jobs done, they often tend to be smaller, specific tasks. By thinking on such a ‘micro’ basis, are companies missing out on the higher level of value that can be offered by freelancers? Tim Brown of IDEO offered an opinion on making the most of freelancers here and here.

Here are three more ideas:

Think strategically about when to involve freelancers

report by PCG, (pdf) the trade association that represents the interests of freelancers showed, through a range of case studies, that freelancers contribute to the UK innovation economy in various ways. For example, they:

  • bring wide and diverse industry knowledge into an organisation, offering fresh insight to challenges and problems
  • have a high level of motivation and dedication due to the short-term nature of their engagement
  • can enable a company to manage risky innovation projects by bringing in skills in the short-term on an experimental basis, rather than prematurely investing in new long-term hires

Allow freelancers to see the meaning behind their work

 “If you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do”. Frederick Herzberg

In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer argue that people are more creative and productive at work when they can see the impact and progress that they’re making.

“If people do not perceive that they and their work are valued by a trustworthy organization, if they derive no pride or happiness from their work, they will have little drive to dig into a project. And without a strong drive to deeply engage the problems and opportunities of a project, people are unlikely to do their best work” 

If this applies to freelance workers as much as permanent staff, then ensuring that they can see the meaning behind what they’re doing – engaging them earlier in the project and communicating the ‘bigger picture’ – can enable companies to benefit from their best work.

The case for temporary teams

David Burkus recently wrote how the best teams might be temporary. His theories take inspiration from Broadway, where producers, writers, actors and choreographers assemble as needed around a given theatre production. Henry Chesborough, the father of open innovation, has also championed this approach for years. On High Tech Campus Eindhoven he explains how companies will take inspiration from the Hollywood model for innovation:

 “Nowadays and in the future we have profound insight into each other’s lives and work and that enables collaboration in unique teams. Look, for example, at how Hollywood makes movies. Every movie is a multimedia project. And the team that performs the project is built from scratch every time. The actors, director, special effects, screenwriter, et cetera, are all pulled together for a project. I envisage those kinds of project-based models becoming very widespread in 30 years’ time and many of the innovation processes will work the way the Hollywood movie business does today.”

Not only can this model provide high value to companies, but freelancers also thrive in this environment. Bracket Salons demonstrate this – two hour events which bring a select team together to brainstorm, resulting in high quality content and discussion. Bringing the right people together around the right challenge can reap great results.

As more people consider freelancing as a career, and with technology making them more visible, there are great opportunities for companies who think differently and more broadly about how to work with them.

Related posts:

What’s your problem? – a briefing template

How to build  a top creative team: an insight into our process

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One thought on “Making the most of your freelancers – three ideas

  1. Great post Alison, and could there be some further work to be done on the interface between freelancers and permanent staff? Some of my work is lecturing in Higher Education which I view as a vital part of the creative industries. H.E. relies massively on visiting lecturers, freelance experts who are temporary. Universities are producing the next generation of freelancers, yet these institutions have yet to engage in a full discussion about their own policy towards freelance teachers and how they fit with permanent staff.

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