Small businesses are relying more on freelancers. They can plug the gaps in the labour market caused by the Great Resignation, and they fit in perfectly with the current flexible work zeitgeist. But they bring other freedoms too. This growing band of versatile workers is enabling employers to rethink overhead budgets and how they manage their office space.
Upwork’s Freelance Forward 2022 survey found that the number of people freelancing has hit an all-time high. In the US alone there are now 60 million freelancers — that’s 39% of the entire workforce. Post Covid-19, many people began to re-evaluate what’s important to them, leading to the ‘Great Resignation’ as it’s been coined. People walked out on their traditional, fixed hour, fixed place jobs in search of something more flexible and fulfilling. You want to work from a café in the back streets of Guatemala City? Perfect. Login to your meetings from a steamy Icelandic lagoon? That works too.
Tried and tested
This has led us into the strange position of simultaneously having a talent shortage and a new influx of highly skilled workers hungry for fixed term, project by project work. Employers have had to adapt and evidence shows us that businesses have started to tap into this new resource of agile workers. The Contingent Labor Imperative survey by MBO partners found that 82% of organisations they questioned reported that freelancers make up half or more of their workforce.
Contractors have also long been part of the landscape at companies such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft, so there’s plenty of tried and tested examples. And while freelancing might be thought of by some as a world for traditionally ‘creative’ types – free form, free spirited, freedom loving folk – it is actually industries such as accounting, IT, operations and customer support that are currently the most in demand, according to an Upwork report. It can all be reassuringly sensible.
The perfect union
The rise of the freelancer has been particularly advantageous for small businesses and start-ups. Freelancers allow them to expand and contract in response to the demands of specific projects and parachute in people at short notice. If you have a project that requires a niche set of skills, there’s no guarantee that your team of staffers is going to include an expert in the area required, but the worldwide talent pool of freelancers? Definitely; take your pick.
Furthermore, as Hannah Jolliffe from The Pitch, writes, “freelancers also don’t require the same training and onboarding an employee would. That makes them a great fit for founders who are short on time and need someone who can hit the ground running”.
In a similar vein, it doesn’t make sense for small businesses (or big businesses for that matter) to commit long term to large headquarters with swathes of desks that may sit vacant during quieter periods. Flexspace and freelancers are like a perfect union for companies that want to be agile and responsive to markets and workload. When you have a project that requires an extended team, then hire extra desks for a while. If you have work that requires collaboration, then book the big rooms. And if your freelance specialists live on the other side of the globe, then book them into their nearest Spaces office.
Water cooler creativity
As with all things, there’s a bit more to it than that. Freelancers, whilst flexible people, are also just people, and they benefit from having places to work, space to collaborate with team members, and colleagues with whom they can chew the fat over the water cooler. They also need to understand the company culture to be able to produce the best output, and feel a sense of belonging, even if it’s fleeting.
Flexible hubs like Spaces provide a cost-effective solution. Our offices are designed to be inspiring and sociable. Some are in the world’s most iconic buildings (Shanghai Tower, the Chrysler Building), while some are in local neighbourhood hubs close to home. All have spaces created specifically to help people work in whatever way they need.
Jane Sparrow, co-founder of business consultancy The Culture Builders, says that “moments of connection” can help to make freelance workers feel and understand the company ethos – even if they are just passing through for a few months. “Make the time to perhaps go for a walk together, or have lunch together, or stand by the coffee machine together,” she adds. “What you don’t want them doing is coming into the office to do Zoom meetings or being on email the whole time.”
While all of this sounds like a new ideology, it also naturally links to that old constant – money. This agile, responsive working style can lead to meaningful financial savings, and help small businesses to move with the peaks and troughs of workflow. Flexible working isn’t just about being at home or at the office, it’s about being flexible in all respects.
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