HR, Time To Embrace The Freelance Revolution: Your Career Depends On It


HR, it’s time to embrace the freelance revolution. Freelancing isn’t new, but the rapid, global, growth of freelancing is new. The tech that enables freelancing is new and, together with remote work and flexibility trends, its changing the way we build a workforce and manage talent. HR has never been more important, but only if it plays a larger and more strategic role in embracing the freelance revolution.

Here’s why.

Because the freelance revolution is more than gigsters. What you’ve heard about the freelance revolution is incomplete. Yes, gigsters are out there combining multiple jobs to make a living on TaskRabbit or driving for Uber. But, while gigsters get most of the publicity, it’s the other group – highly qualified and experienced, independent experts and specialists, or freelancers – who are changing the way organizations obtain needed expertise and staff critical projects.

Because freelancers are a large and growing population, and offer unique advantages. Mary Meeker and others estimate approximately 8-9 million full-time freelancers working through online talent marketplaces in the U.S., and growing as a population. In our research for Agile Talent, executives explained why over 90% of organizations now depend on freelancers, and 75% are increasing their reliance: (a) access required expertise, (b) reduce startup time, (c) attract top experts who are unavailable or too costly if full-time, (d) manage cost and scope, and (e) teach and transfer experts’ best practices to internal staff. In combination with remote work tech, enabling access to truly global talent on a cost advantaged basis, a flexible blended workforce provides a powerful talent quality and cost advantage.

Because full-time employees are acting more and more like freelancers. Employee loyalty is all but dead, but then so is employer loyalty as indicated by GM’s plan to lay off many thousands of employers simply in anticipation of a recession. No surprise then to learn from Deloitte that half of millenials will leave your company within two years, and from Gallup that 60% of employees are open to a better offer from a competitor. In fact, a third survey found that 45% of employees applied to a competitor’s opening within their first year. Add the importance of flexibility to a majority of employees. Millenials and gen Z’s are increasingly freelancer in spirit, and open to working as part of a flexible blended workforce.

Because the blended workforce needs HR leadership but will happen nevertheless. It’s already here. Upwork estimates the total U.S. freelance population at over 50 million individuals. McKinsey sized the freelance population at over 150 million individuals world-wide. Deloitte and PwC both predict that organizations in the future will have large contingents of freelancers supporting them and Accenture asserts that future organizations may have only a small minority of full-time employees. As the American folk expression goes, this horse is out of the barn. HR leadership can make a substantial difference; after all, HR knows how to manage talent and change. But, the function must step up and embrace a larger vision than traditional employment in a traditional organization. After all, as a function we’ve talked about the blended workforce ever since Charles Handy described the “Shamrock Organization” in the Age of Unreason.


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