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Want Innovative, Successful Teams? Embrace Remote and Freelance Workers

Rob Biederman, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Catalant

Rob Biederman, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Catalant

The world of work is changing. While some employees still prefer commuting to an office and sitting with their team in a traditional, on-site workspace, it’s becoming increasingly common for highly-skilled, digitally-savvy and connected workers to seek out positions in which they can have greater flexibility. Whether that’s taking advantage of a remote working program at their company, or becoming independent and working remotely as part of the developing contingent workforce trend, the options are growing for those workers who crave flexibility.

The demand for remote and/or freelance workers is growing as well amongst companies, and for good reason: Most great people, ideas and capabilities lie outside the walls of any given organization. Businesses need to develop an “outside-in” lens, but many still look at talent in a traditional way. This traditional model is rapidly dying, however, as this Intuit report also suggests that full-time, full-benefit jobs will become harder to find over the next five to 10 years. Smart executives have begun to adapt to this cultural shift and, as a result, view talent as a much more flexible and connected resource.

"Smart executives have begun to adapt to this cultural shift and, as a result, view talent as a much more flexible and connected resource"

Breaking Old Conceptions

Businesses traditionally hesitated to embrace a remote workforce, assuming that remote work only applies to their internal employees being able to work from home. The root of traditional employers’ arguments against remote workers is the challenge of communication. These companies are entrenched in the idea that effective teamwork requires face-to-face connection.

There is also concern and confusion about what “remote” actually means. For companies who allow their employees to work from home occasionally or as a need-based benefit, it raises questions like: How often can they stay home? How can remote working be approached fairly across teams when some people make sales calls and others create marketing collateral or process invoices? How can you ensure employees are really working?

From an employee standpoint; however, working remotely often means a distinct, and often negative, blurring of the work-life boundaries. Calls can come in at all hours. Work starts when you wake up and there’s no “going home” to wrap up your day. In fact, employees end up working harder and longer than those in the office….and they’re frustrated by it.  

The New Remote Reality

Skilled, experienced workers have worked hard to gain the experience they have and the lives they’ve built. And finding a better balance between work-life is becoming increasingly important to employees of all ages. Luckily, there are new technology platforms–like Slack and Google hangouts-that companies can use to take the place of in-person or face-to-face meetings. And, bringing remote workers in to meet the team from time-to-time can eliminate communications problems and keep remote workers engaged.  They are open to coming into the office–a recent survey found that while 92 percent of people wanted the option to work from home, zero percent wanted to exclusively work from home. For HR leaders, this presents a tremendous opportunity. They can and should offer the flexible benefits, but they will still reap the rewards of face-to-face and in-person meetings.

The Newest Approach: Freelance

The word “remote” is taking on an inherently different context within the freelance market – a group that is growing at scale and offers a new relationship between people and companies. An Intuit report estimates that by 2020, contingent workers (or independent contractors) will comprise at least 40 percent of the American workforce. This is a group that, by its nature, is remote; however, it gives companies access to the best and biggest pool of candidates.

Why is this so important? Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh estimates that bad hires cost his company "well over $100 million." According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a bad hire can cost at least 30 percent of the employee's first-year earnings—and, for a small or medium-sized business, a wasted five-figure investment is a massive hit.

Today, companies also face challenges in finding—and keeping—the right talent for the right job. Forty percent of U.S. companies can’t fill vital open positions, estimates the McKinsey Global Institute, and analytical, engineering and management roles are the hardest to fill. The Boston Consulting Group found that labor shortages will be common across 25 major economies from 2020 through 2030. As a result, $10 trillion in GDP will be lost. This is for a variety of reasons – limited talent in the geographic vicinity (or willingness to move), competitive salaries and people no longer interested in true 9-5 jobs.

Rising to meet these challenges are flexible talent-access platforms such as Catalant;  McKinsey estimates that up to 540 million people could benefit from such platforms by 2025, generating up to $2.7 trillion in economic effects—equal to the GDP of the U.K.—and improving company profit margins by up to 3 percent.

These platforms are rooted in data and are capable of matching a person to a project or task based on their experiences and merits, and they recognize that these experts could be located anywhere. Remote, freelance workers across the world can fix a product’s bugs overnight, ensuring that an in-house team can get started as soon as they arrive in the morning. Local freelancers can help a department double its efforts by concurrently working on projects for which overburdened internal workers do not have time, helping to meet end-of-day goals. It’s the ultimate compliment to full-time employees and it’s proving that a remote, freelance workforce not only supplements existing skills but also drive value for a company.

Embracing the Workforce of the Future

The way people want to work is changing. Hesitations around a remote workforce must give rise to an increasingly flexible workplace and even a freelance talent strategy. Companies that don’t capitalize on the opportunities that the shifting workforce presents will move too slowly, miss out on new prospects, and ultimately fail to innovate.

By contrast, companies that adapt to this new mindset will be able to take advantage of capabilities, no matter where they are located. They will access new markets more readily than in the past, and they will enjoy newfound agility in seizing strategic opportunities. They will quickly tap into new ideas and unleash fresh energy and thinking inside their organizations.

In short, they will win.

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