Key learnings from the Going Freelance project

TK and I are two French students from Grenoble Ecole de Management. We chose to explore the future of work during our gap year, and we founded Going Freelance. For six months we traveled to 13 cities in 3 continents, to meet those who are inventing new ways of working.

Through more than one hundred meetings, we talked to freelancers to discover their motivations, their needs, and their tips to succeed. We met with companies used to work with freelancers, to learn more about their best practices. We also met with members of the ecosystems created around gig economy: coworking spaces, communities, services for freelancers, platforms. We shared our learnings on our blog through articles and videos and, in the end, we released the study report you can find here.

Now back in France, after hours of discussions over the last months, and meeting with some players that have already adopted methods that will soon become the norm (and not only for freelancers), we are very optimistic about the future of work…

What did we learn along the way?

Let’s start by defining the context of our study: we focused on the role of freelancers in the war for talent. From a perspective of labor demand, companies struggle to recruit permanent employees and look for top independent workers. From a perspective of labor supply, it is relevant that the large majority of freelancers chose to be independent and would never come back to a traditional permanent job as salaried employees. But still, gig workers suffer from their independence. They are on a race to the bottom, always looking for the next gig, and struggling to find a stable situation. In many cases, they are also insufficiently protected in front of accidents, diseases, unemployment.

Working with freelancers

Working with freelancers has many advantages for companies. It is a flexible solution that allows firms to adapt their workforce to the economic situation. It is also a way to hire the best talent available in the market for a short time, or for a specific project. Sometimes, some skills are so scarce that it is impossible to recruit permanent workers, and companies have no other option but to hire a freelancer.

The first challenge is to find the right talent, and many times that talent is already within the company’s network. For this reason, companies must keep an organized, operational and engaged pool of freelance talent. But this challenge is more human than technological since there are tools such as Freelance Management System that allow companies to manage their talent pools. Of course, if the right talent is beyond the organization’s network, then the company still have to find him through staffing agencies, recruitment firms, platforms, or even freelancer agents.

Some companies have created a new position to coordinate their freelance workforces: The Chief Freelance Officer

Shunt around the procurement department, the human resource department, and the functional department, freelancers are disrupting compartmentalized organizations. Some companies have created a new position to coordinate their freelance workforces: The Chief Freelance Officer. He is responsible for creating a good experience for freelancers within the company. In small companies, he is the main spokesperson for independent workers. In large enterprises, his role is defining new processes to support the collaboration with freelancers and educating line managers.

In our interviews, we also discovered that successful collaboration with freelancers very often doesn’t depend on the maturity of the market or the organization, but on one person who decides to take initiative and drive transformation by implementing new practices: one single courageous employee willing to implement change.

What are the good practices when it comes to working with freelancers?

The first step is to prepare them for the mission by providing them with a clear briefing. The problem is that not many line managers know how to clearly explain their needs to freelancers. In consequence, they end up hiring an inappropriate profile, or starting a mission with the wrong objectives.

There is no room for management and hierarchy when it comes to collaboration with freelancers.

Also, a freelancer needs to be considered as an expert able to provide the company with a professional solution. Once objectives, deadlines, and deliverables are defined, the freelancer should be able to choose how he is going to meet the company’s needs. There is no room for management and hierarchy when it comes to collaboration with freelancers.

Besides, the onboarding process should be quick and efficient, starting with clear communication between freelancers and permanent workers, so there are no internal tensions created by the arrival of the independent worker.

The offboarding process is also a key moment in the collaboration between freelancers and companies because it allows both sides to create a long-term relationship. It is the time to get feedback from freelancers, so the company can improve freelancers’ experience, and the time for freelancers to get feedback from the company, so they can learn and grow.

Are companies ready? Well, many companies know they need to evolve towards more flexible, blended workforces, but the transformation is not always easy. Frankly speaking, we have seen just a few organizations working efficiently with freelancers. From our perspective, there is still a long way to go.

The freelance ecosystem is rising

Today, more and more startups aim at simplifying every aspect of freelancers’ lives. We created a Google Sheet to list companies that provide services to freelancers, and we now have more than 250 of them, from work platforms to FinTech and InsurTech solutions.

Freelancers are also bringing new ways of working to companies. For example, remote work is becoming the norm, including for employees, as the benefits are huge both for workers and their employers. When technologies allow us to work from anywhere, the only remaining challenge is a human one: transitioning towards a new form of management based on trust rather than presenteeism.

Also, new places of work such as co-working spaces are developing all around the world boosted by the boom of freelancing. In those new workspaces the role of the ‘community builders’ is key to success since they are responsible for creating and reinforcing interactions between people to create a community. At the end of the day, although freelancers work on their own, they always tend to join groups, collectives, and communities where they find much more than just social interaction.

It’s time to rethink our institutions

Nowadays, being an employee, which has been the norm for the majority of people, is on the decline. 40% of European workers are not permanent, full-time employees. We believe it is time to rethink the social protection system for these professionals.

Yet, the solution is not to integrate all independent workers in some categories they don’t want to fit in or forcing them to pay contributions for services they don’t want to benefit from. Most of them prefer to handle their risks, and any new system should respect this. We would like a model that lets them choose their own social security and select the services they want to pay contributions to and benefit from them.

However, we see this debate as a great opportunity, not only to discuss the protection system for independent workers, but also to rethink our work and social models.

Samuel Durand is studying at the Grenoble School of Management. Together with his classmate TK he was traveling the world to meet people and organizations that are shaping the Future Of Work. They authored the study “Exploring the future of work” where they summarise their findings.

Image: Steven Zwerink under a Creative Commons license


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