Staffing Management

Why Companies Should Rethink Their Approach to Freelancers

By Kristine Dery

Aug. 1, 2018

Companies today need a new approach to managing digital talent.

Gone are the days when they can easily recruit and retain full-time employees to staff every project. When you look at the employment landscape, a lot has changed from even five years ago — and it’s only going to change more over time.

For starters, there is a shortage of talent with the necessary digital and social skills required by a lot of companies, especially in the tech sector. Companies need flexibility to scale their workforce up and down, depending on project requirements. Having expensive talent sitting on the bench is not a sustainable option.

We’re also seeing more interest among workers in freelance work. According to Forbes, up to 35 percent of people are choosing freelance work in the U.S. However, constantly onboarding new freelance talent for every project isn’t efficient.

Companies facing these changes need to become “future ready.” This means focusing on creating an employee experience that will attract the sort of talent you need when you need it. The most successful companies will take a flexible approach to work and workers. Rather than only assigning full-time employees to projects, companies with a hybrid workforce can curate talent depending on their project needs. They can engage people — both employees and freelancers — to both broaden and reinvigorate their talent pools.

But those freelancers need to be part of their community. Just going to market and partnering with third parties to bring on contract workers to fill in gaps won’t build expertise and knowledge.

It’s important to build ongoing relationships with freelancers and provide similar capabilities across a hybrid workforce. Companies like Deloitte and PwC are building talent platforms to enable freelance communities to engage with their teams in more seamless and continuous ways. The way companies build those relationships will be a predictor of success.

To do this companies also need to devote resources to creating a great employee experience. Without that, they won’t have the option of a hybrid workforce and will be stuck in the old world.

This focus on employee experience takes effort and time, but it’s worth it. Companies in the top quartile for employee experience have twice the innovation, double the customer satisfaction, and 25 percent greater profitability. Not only do these companies perform better, but they have a very different mix of digital talent with an average of 60 percent employed full time compared to the lower quartile, where the majority of employees are drawn from the contingent labor force.

What does a good employee experience look like? These companies focus on both delivering an adaptive work environment to make it easier for employees to do their job, and also building collective work habits that empower people to be more naturally collaborative and innovative. Companies ranked highest for employee experience provisioned 66 percent more digital capability to employees, especially in areas like mobile access to work, support where and when needed, and the ability for employees to search for and connect with people and knowledge in the organization.

Digital capabilities will appeal to people who want to work from home, but it also helps teams who are spread around a large corporate facility, city, or even parts of the world. Companies must provide the capability for everyone to be part of the employee experience regardless of where they work.

These are early days and not many companies have fully embraced a hybrid or curated digital talent model, but it’s clear that everyone should start thinking about their future workforce. It’s time to focus on employee experience to build opportunities to work with talent in different ways. Without that investment, it will be hard to compete for digital talent, which will impact your future bottom line.

Kristine Dery is a research scientist at the Center for Information Systems Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management. This research is part of an ongoing research project at CISR on the employee experience with research scientists Nick van der Meulen and Ina Sebastian. Comment below or email

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