Pandemic increases opportunities for freelance specialists

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in greater opportunity to take advantage of a wider talent pool through the use of specialist freelancers.

With many businesses' staff operating remotely, and with flexible hours, organisations are able to tap into talent outside of their usual locations, building more international and diverse teams.

Speaking to HR magazine, David Collings, professor of HRM and associate dean for research at Dublin City University, said: “There is no doubt that the pandemic has been a reset for so much of our thinking around HR, and the composition of the workforce is certainly up for debate.”

Collings noted the increased use of gig workers to support internal teams

While much of the media attention has focused on organisations that reduce cost and place the burden of flexibility on individual workers, as in the case of Uber and Deliveroo, at the other end of the scale, for some firms, gig work has also been a strategic play.

Collings said: “This is much more about leveraging specialist expertise, freeing up internal talent for core tasks, or providing some agility in high-velocity environments.

“It is generally not a cost play in these firms but rather a strategic way of tapping into talent.”

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The real priority when it comes to talent, he added, is “thinking about the different aspects of the work that needs to be done in organisations and then who are the best people to do that work".

The best people to do the work could mean looking further afield for talent.

Callum Adamson is co-founder and CEO of Distributed, a business that helps build specialised teams from around the world that organisations can use for specific projects. This can lessen an organisation’s reliance on local talent and reduce the need for larger, more expensive full-time teams.  

Distributed only works for software teams, but Adamson argued it can work for other sectors too.

He said: “The secret is in developing processes that allow the work to be done from an asynchronous perspective, for example working more flexibly across different time zones, etc.

"Can this work for any industry that currently works from a laptop or computer? It can."

Though a centralised team works better for roles that are focused on executing a company’s roadmap, he argued that around 75% of work is more operational and so could be done by remote teams working anywhere in the world instead.

The idea, Adamson said is “to build an elastic workforce in the cloud that all businesses can tap into".

Collings has observed a similar trend developing for internal recruitment, where businesses develop a talent marketplace in which employees can bid to work on specific projects. 

He said: “Rather than impacting the composition of the workforce, employers are focused on how employees are deployed reflecting a less rigid and more agile approach.

“It is as much about how employees are deployed as the nature of employment. These systems are designed to be a lot more flexible and agile in responding to organisational priorities.”

When it comes to outsourcing though, Collings said businesses are more likely to be cautious as they are counteracting the high risk of the pandemic.

“This is predicted to impact on global supply chains through reshoring and near shoring," he said. "In other words bringing much of their operation closer to home so to speak.” 

“This may mean for example that regional structures become more valued and key activities happen at regional level and some more activities are brought back in house to manage that risk a little better.”

Logistics firm Wincanton has a workforce split between on-site and remote operations.

For people director Jo Pick, the one thing the last 18 months has proved is that working more remotely is possible with its existing workforce composition. Therefore the case for outsourcing is about much more than just remote work.

She said: “Each team/organisation has its success built on the engagement and delivery of their people outsourcing simply because remote working is more readily available will xnot necessarily lead to successful outsourcing plans – particularly if offshoring too,

“Any case for outsourcing should take into account a much larger set of decision-making criteria.”