Are Your Freelancers Challenging Your Corporate Culture?

Recently, I had a discussion with a CEO in an engineering firm about how to re-staff his company after he downsized in response to the oil and gas crisis. He is in the seals and gasket industry but plummeting oil prices have crushed him, forcing him to reinvent his business. The challenge was how to employ the new engineering talent he needed without adding unnecessary expenses, at least until his business started to generate cash flow again — not an uncommon challenge today.

It was a similar challenge for a company trying to replace its marketing team without incurring fixed costs. Or a company in the accounting industry that reinvented his staff into interim chief financial officers and offered them to companies that needed their skills but not their full-time costs.

Freelancing, outsourcing and finding other ways to thrive in changing times is no small challenge for companies that have not had to rely on these types of solutions in the past. But perhaps it is a good time for them to learn new skills. Freelancing is not going away. It may become a dominant model for many companies. The perceived complexity is perhaps more simple to solve that it might appear at first sight.

Key questions we were hearing:

The CEO’s and the HR directors we met with were all asking similar questions:

  • How do you find the right outside freelancer workers? How do you even advertise for them?
  • How do you hire them with the right questions?
  • What kind of training do you offer them or are they supposed to come already skilled at the tasks at hand?
  • How do we know if they have the right temperament to fit our workplace style?
  • How do you manage them if they are on site only some of the time, if at all?

You can hear the challenge of unfamiliar skills rearing their ugly heads.

But most of all, the concern was how do freelancers impact the company’s culture? And how do you fold them into that company’s values, beliefs and ways of getting things done? Were they going to add diversity or chaos?

This is not an aberration. It is a growing trend!

As we do our business anthropology we see more and more of these situations emerging as companies adapt to these new business environments with serious business model innovation.

The need for freelancers is growing so rapidly and becoming so ubiquitous that Fast Company has repeatedly identified it as a key trend to watch. A 2014 Edelman Berland survey reports that freelancers already make up 34% of the U.S. workforce (~53 million workers) and FC envisions the use of freelancers as a trend that will transform the core of corporate culture over the next generation.

A related article in Fast Company states that “as of May 2015, 15.5 million people in the U.S. were self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — an increase of roughly 1 million since May 2014. That number is expected to keep growing at a steady clip. By 2020, a separate study estimates that more than 40% of the American workforce, or 60 million people, will be independent workers — freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees.”

By the looks of things, freelancers are not just a recent trend but a major model for a great number of American companies, large and small. My hunch is that you and your company are already moving down this road.

Before going down the freelancer road, here are some things to consider:

  1. Importance of Brand: We all know the value of a corporate brand in attracting top quality employees. This also holds true for wooing the best freelancers for key projects. Companies like Google and Apple can take their pick of temporary employees, due not only to robust day rates but also the star power their brands bestow on a resume for job-seeking down the road. In a freelance economy, cultivating a strong brand is as important as revenue. My advice? Use this to your advantage. Be the best brand to work for as a freelancer.
  2. Adaptive Workflows: When every member of a department or team works full-time under the same roof, a certain flow evolves. Some is intentional and some is merely our human propensity to establish a work rhythm with our fellow toilers. When corporations bring in outside talent to help with specific projects, the established employees will find themselves having to explain processes, act as liaisons with clients and possibly manage relationships between strangers. This means that businesses will have to adapt in order to get back to that flow that comes with everyone pulling together for a common cause.
  1. Compensation: Traditionally, companies have offered top long-term talent 1) an adequate salary, 2) a clear path to advancement, and 3) job security. In today’s expanding freelance talent pool, however, workers are looking beyond the dollars. Whether it’s flexible hours, the ability to work from home or company-provided daycare, businesses need to determine what the modern freelancer wants and adjust accordingly or be left behind.
  1. Culture Fit: In traditional corporate cultures, the challenge is how to integrate new employees into the “way things are done here,” also known as onboarding, encompassing HR policies, office protocols and departmental rituals. My guess is that few businesses are adequately organized for this kind of successful integration of freelancers into their culture. Sure, hiring them is easy ─ fitting them into the groove is hard. If the current trend is indeed here to stay, it means that a new corporate dynamic will need to be established, tested, refined and re-established.

Concerned about your company’s culture?

If you need to know more about the importance of how to find the right freelancers to fit into your corporate culture or how to change your culture to fit into an employee base consisting of more freelancers,  I invite you to read my recent article on the subject: “10 Steps to Change Your Corporate Culture.” 

You can always contact us to learn more about how SAMC can help you diagnose and perhaps even change your company’s culture so it can better adapt for these changing times.


Want to know more?

This might be a good time to get a copy of my new book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights.” In it, I share with you seven stories of companies, perhaps like yours, that were “on the brink,” yet ready to soar. They just needed to step out and see what was all around them. There are lots of insights to share about successful culture change and an anthropology tool kit that might be of help to you as you embark on your own growth journey.