4 foundations for effectively sourcing and retaining freelancers

As project work expands, HR needs to create new models for independent talent, experts say.
By: | May 6, 2021 • 2 min read
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As more organizations target freelancers or independent professionals for project work, they need to ensure they are delivering a quality experience for this unique population of workers—as well as curating relationships that encourage them to stick around.

That’s according to Freelance Forward: 2020, a study conducted by online talent solution Upwork. The research found that 36% of the U.S. workforce freelanced during the pandemic, an increase of 2 million freelancers since 2019. Likewise, two in 10 employees started freelancing during COVID, while 54% have seen an increase in demand for their freelance services, based on a survey conducted by Paychex, the HR capital management solutions firm.

Related: Hear Upwork Chief People Officer Zoë Harte during HRE‘s free, virtual Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 11-13. Register here.

HR needs to incorporate independent professionals into its comprehensive strategy, says Miles Everson, CEO at MBO Partners, a job platform that helps organizations connect with and engage independent professionals. “You’ll end up having to change how your existing workforce [operates],” he says. “That can be one of the most challenging aspects of adopting a direct sourcing program.”

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He offers four suggestions for building a successful approach:

  1. A direct sourcing program, he says, must meet specific criteria: to help fill talent gaps in a way that’s better, cheaper and faster than your current sourcing program.
  2. Something else to consider is the overall work experience. Embrace independent professionals as part of your core workforce strategy. Keep them informed about future projects so they know what to expect and give them a sense of belonging instead of making them feel like outsiders, he says. Share company or co-worker news, ranging from key promotions to a team member getting married.
  3. But how many freelancers should you hire? He says HR needs to work with its leadership team to determine a realistic number or percentage of the workforce. Include hard-to-fill positions identified by senior staff and others. “Set a target that’s a bit of a stretch but believable,” says Everson. “But if you go too far, you’ll get too much resistance.”
  4. Just as important, he says, the company’s infrastructure surrounding independent professionals must be centralized and IT-supported. Establish a program management office that coordinates transactions, compliance oversight and other activity between the organization and freelancers. Assign someone to focus on talent acquisition and curation. On the career section of your company’s website, add a link with contact information for those interested in project-based work. Everson says his company connects freelancers with similar skills through “good, old-fashioned networks.”

See also: What’s the latest on independent contractor regulations?

“Really great HR professionals help shape the operating model of the company, not just fulfill the model that has been created,” says Everson. “How they think about their workforce strategy, including the use of independent professionals, is a really powerful way for them to have relevance in shaping that operating model.”

Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.