If Using Freelancers Is The Way Many Companies Do Business Now, How Do You Protect 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 now is a good time for them to learn new skills. Freelancing is not going away. In fact it has become a dominant model for many companies. But the perceived complexity is perhaps more simple to solve that it might appear.


Key questions we were hearing:

The CEOs and 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 your company’s values, beliefs and ways of getting things done? Will they add diversity or chaos?

Not just a trend, freelancers are the new normal

As experts in business anthropology, we see more and more of these situations emerging as companies adapt to today’s post-pandemic business environment. What we, and they, are realizing is that the new economic climate we find ourselves in requires some serious business model innovation.

According to Credit Summit:

Currently, it is anticipated that 73.3 million Americans work as freelancers, with this number projected to rise to 90.1 million by 2028. This means that 50.9% of the total U.S. workforce is anticipated to join the ranks of gig workers. By 2026, the global freelancing market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15%.

Key takeaways from Credit Summit’s research:

  • It is anticipated that 73.3 million Americans, or 46.25% of the American workforce, are freelancers in an expanding gig economy.
  • The data science and analytics sector experienced the largest year-over-year increase in freelancer expenditure from 2019 to 2020, at 115%.
  • In December 2021, 4.2 million people voluntarily left their jobs.
  • The main reasons behind choosing to work remotely are flexibility (49%) and being able to take care of the family (74%)
  • Only 9% of independent contractors would prefer to have a traditional job, compared to 79% of them who prefer freelancing.
  • The average monthly salary of gig workers is $6,810, which is almost $2,000 more than the salary of traditional employees ($4.164).
  • Over 50% of freelancers said that no amount of money could convince them to go back to their traditional jobs.
  • By 2023, the gig economy is projected to be worth $455 billion.

Clearly, freelancers are not just a recent trend but have become 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. If you’re not, maybe you should be?

When hiring freelancers, 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. This encompassed HR policies, office protocols and departmental rituals. My observation 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.

A deeper dive into fitting freelancers into your organization

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 article on the subject: “10 Steps to Change Your Corporate Culture.” 

Concerned about your company’s culture? We can help.

At Simon Association Management Associates (SAMC), we are culture change experts. We specialize in helping companies and their staff assess their organizational culture and business model as it is today and embark on a process to implement the culture they want and need for tomorrow. We invite you to contact us to discuss how our team of corporate anthropologists and business change management advisors can suggest ways you and your business can change your culture to capitalize on today’s many challenges to achieve greater success. We look forward to hearing from you.

Want to know more about culture change? My book is a great resource.

This might be a good time to get a copy of my 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.