Freelance Economy Grows as Workers Seek Flexibility

Employees freelance for a variety of reasons, including the flexibility to make their own hours, make more money, and achieve a work-life balance.

staples and freelance

The freelance economy is growing rapidly, a trend with significant implications for the workplace, according to a study of 2,602 office workers in North America, which was conducted by the business-to-business division of Staples.

The survey found nearly one in four employees freelance in some capacity, and overall, 12 percent of employees work as freelancers as their primary source of income--the same percentage perform freelance work in addition to their primary job.

"The freelance economy can be beneficial for both temporary workers and businesses. Organizations get access to highly skilled talent who bring in a fresh perspective," Neil Ringel, executive vice president of Staples Advantage, told eWEEK. "To ensure the relationship is successful, businesses must be prepared to meet freelancers’ needs and expectations, including providing necessary technology and accommodating personal mobile devices. Businesses must have extra equipment available so freelancers can plug in and immediately get to work."

He noted that IT departments should be prepared to accommodate freelancers’ personal mobile technology.

"With the rise of the freelance economy, employers have access to a large pool of talented people who can help with seasonal or temporary projects," Ringel said. "The freelance economy is changing the way businesses approach getting work done. Departments can determine if a special project would benefit from a fresh, outside perspective and can be completed by a freelancer, freeing up full-time employees to focus on other key projects."

Employees freelance for a variety of reasons, including the flexibility to make their own hours (37 percent), make more money (39 percent), and achieve a work-life balance (32 percent).

Businesses also benefit from this arrangement by getting access to highly skilled workers they need for special projects, Ringel explained.

"We expect the freelance economy to continue to grow. The survey found nearly one in four employees currently work as a freelancer in some capacity, and this number is expected to rise over the next few years," he said. "Also, 44 percent of employees who freelance part-time say they would consider leaving their primary, traditional job to freelance full-time for several reasons, including to be their own boss, improve work-life balance and make their own hours."

He explained human resources and procurement officers at businesses considering contracting with freelance employees should develop a strategy that balances efficiency, effectiveness, and risk when vetting, managing, and compensating freelancers and contract workers in line with the market.

Ringel also said most freelance work should involve some sort of face-to-face interaction, whether the freelancer sits in the office for the duration of the project or has a mix of virtual and in-person work.