With COVID-19 having a massive impact on businesses, keeping your enterprise running to ensure your company survives the crisis means having the right skills available today. The freelance community is ready and waiting to help your business through the crisis and beyond.
As the world moves to remote working, many business owners are thinking about how to keep their enterprises running today and, how they will organise their workforces once the COVID-19 crisis has passed.
Freelancers, contractors and other forms of contingent workers have become a part of the business landscape. However, as the current crisis evolves, businesses have the chance to place themselves on a steady foundation by forging relationships with the army of freelance talent that is available today.
I have been running my writing business for the past 25 years. For many in my situation, it’s business as usual. Already home-based, set-up to support clients and customers with zero learning curve, home-based freelancers could help every business survive the crisis and then mitigate any future incidents.
The scramble to put in place support networks for office workers forced to work at home continues. However, savvy business owners can call on the five million UK freelancers to support their business with no investment of time or resources.
Digital natives from the outset able to use the latest communication tools, the freelance community has developed to the point where it can offer a plethora of services that are just a phone call away.
As the New York Times asked: is Coronavirus shaping the future of work? There is little doubt this is the case. If the future of work is making a seismic shift, so is the structure of all businesses impacted by the pandemic. Moving forward, business leaders have to ask will these changes become permanent? If so, how the make-up of their workforces will change.
But this is a debate for the post-Coronavirus world. Businesses need to survive to be in a position even to have those debates and discussions. If their workforces are furloughed and unable to work, turning to a workforce that thrives on its ability to operate remotely could be one way to weather the storm.
Says Adrienne Gormley, head of EMEA and vice president of Global Customer Experience at Dropbox: “Our traditional employment format is based on old assumptions about how productivity works. It works on the basis that spending eight hours in an office is required to deliver a certain output. As a result, freelancers and contractors, who often work remotely with a higher degree of autonomy, have historically been treated as a contingency measure or as an alternative rather than the norm.
“However, we are slowly shifting from this hours-based conception of work to an output-based one, and our attitude towards freelancers is shifting accordingly. The traditional idea that you need to be a permanent employee at your desk all working hours to make an impact needs to go. If everybody is aligned and in communication, using the touchpoints they need to stay on the same page, there is no need to be face-to-face all the time — and as businesses increasingly recognise this, so they will be more willing to embrace freelancers.”
Contingent workers are available
Over the past two decades finding and then hiring freelance talent has become child’s play. Removing the need for what can be lengthy and expensive hiring processes, plus the avoidance of all the usual employment taxes that are associated with employees has pushed many businesses to expand their use of contingent workers.
The approach many businesses take today — and will expand in the future — is to create hybrid workforces that have employees and freelance talent working together within integrated teams. As these changes to how workforces are now organised have taken place over a short time, some businesses have been caught out.
Research from Tytois revealing: “Our research shows that only 14% of UK office workers have been mandated to work from home full-time by their employers during the outbreak, despite over half (52%) of them expressing a preference to do so.
“Of those polled, only just over one third (37%) of respondents believe their employers are ready for compulsory home working. Less than half (41%) of employees are confident that their employer has the technology infrastructure in place to enable them to work productively and securely from home.”
Networks now exist to make finding the perfect freelancer for your business’s needs efficient and risk-free. Established networks such as Upwork, Worksome, People Per Hour, Bark and Fiverr all have thousands of talented individuals with a mindboggling array of skills.
If you haven’t thought how freelancers, contractors and other contingent workers could help your business through this crisis, Mandy Hübener, program director of Executive Education at ESMT Berlin, explains:
“Remote working has been a movement for years, and COVID-19 will undoubtedly be a catalyst for even more tech companies to go fully remote. The advantages beyond pure cost savings are substantial:
• It helps them gain access to otherwise unreachable talent, eg experts based in other countries and not interested in relocation. Joining as a remote contributor is much more compelling when everyone else is working remotely, too.
• It boosts productivity. Developers and many other professionals in the tech space work on what we call the maker’s schedule, they prefer having longer time spells to work on one specific task rather than days fragmented by calls and ad-hoc gatherings. This is much easier to handle remotely.
• It increases diversity. Getting more control over their own schedule is an attractive value proposition for working parents and not being ‘the odd one out’ among a young crowd helps attract more senior talents.
The future of business will almost certainly include team members who are not within the company’s general structure. These flexible workers will become vital to delivering specialist skills when these are needed. This has been how businesses have generally approached their use of freelance workers. This is expected to become the norm. But companies need to start laying the foundations of these relationships now to ensure they fully benefit when the current crisis ends.
Showing your customers, clients and business partners the actions your company is taking to protect your enterprise, the people that work within it, and how your company intends to support its customers in the future, must be communicated now.
In their report, Hanover points out: “The public is not just looking to government and the NHS for practical health advice. They are looking at all expert sources — including you. Also, 6 in 10 (59%) want to hear what your business is doing to tackle the spread of COVID-19 — specifically, how you’re keeping employees safe (57%), how to manage a government lockdown situation (53%), and how to stop catching or spreading the disease (51%). Meanwhile, the media are looking for advice from businesses on how to help vulnerable people, and for positive stories about what businesses can or are doing to help.”
Communicating how your business is changing its workforce and how it operates is vital to maintaining long-term loyalty. Stating how your business is using contingent workers to reinforce and even expand customer services, for instance, is a significant positive message to communicate now.
Dropbox’s Adrienne Gormley also says: “Businesses are still getting to grips with managing this new dynamic. However, this experience has already started to demonstrate that more people can work remotely than many may have previously thought.”
Gormley concluded: “This experience is giving everyone the opportunity to reassess ways of working and form new habits. We’re likely to see greater trust emerge as employers see how teams have performed and delivered during this testing time. Presenteeism will hopefully diminish as companies re-wire how they evaluate output.”
All businesses are under pressure at the moment. That pressure can be relieved by using the rich array of talent that has been developing for decades. The freelance community for many businesses is an untapped resource. If your company is struggling, perhaps a freelancer can help you today.