How to Ready Your Business for a Flexible Workforce

Two words that often put up resistance at work are “new” and “change.” Because employees often associate those words with added stress and disruption of their workday. However, some changes and new ideas bring so many advantages that once adopted, employees can’t imagine going back to the old ways.

One such change is adopting the flexible workforce model. That is, utilizing freelancers as part of your strategy to not only get more done but also to extend capabilities so you can get bigger projects done.

During Upwork’s Work Without Limits™ Regional event in New York, business leaders who successfully utilize flexible workers shared tips on how to prepare organizations to embrace a flexible future. Below are highlights that can benefit any organization.

Overcome resistance by bringing people along for the journey

Adam Hofmann, VP of marketing at Singularity University, said that early on, it’s important to sit down with people and help them understand the value freelancers can provide. Each department has their own concerns, so show how freelancers and freelancing platforms, such as Upwork, can make everyone’s workday easier.

For example, engineering may be relieved to learn how they can access in-demand specialists that they can’t find locally. HR may resonate with the speed of engagement and the time saved with streamlined onboarding processes. Once people see how the new work model can make their lives easier or more productive, they’ll be more willing to give it a try.

Shift perspectives from fear to excitement

“Most humans are really, really scared to give some of their work away—especially with creative work,” said Cara Bedford, director of strategic marketing at CompuVision. She encourages people to begin shifting perspectives by focusing on the increased productivity and opportunities of freelancer help instead of the fear. Bedford suggests starting with a small project, such as writing an article or research, to ease employees into finding and working with talent.

In her experience, people are usually surprised at the wide variety of skills available through platforms and the level of work quality they receive. “Once you unlock the talent world that you’ve never had access to before, you can really change the game for yourself and the company,” said Bedford.

Break work down into digestible pieces

We’re hardwired to think about work in a specific and rigid way, so employees often need help breaking work down into projects. Bedford suggested offering employees assistance to help them think about how work can be broken down and to understand what could be done by freelancers and what should be kept in-house. One large tech company provides training and forms for employees to fill out: the form acts like a decision tree that clarifies what work should be done by which resource.

Once people see how easily they can delegate work, they can begin spending more of their time working on tasks that speak to their strengths. And dreaming of accomplishing larger projects that weren’t possible before.

Try it before asking for permission

If you’re still waffling about utilizing flexible talent, the consensus is to just try it, don’t ask for permission to launch a whole program. Start small and get a couple of experiences under your belt before you approach an executive sponsor within the business. Everyone agrees it’s important to secure an executive sponsor from the beginning of a program. They can help unlock resources and act like a voice “endorsing” flexible talent, which gives people more confidence to try something new.

No more “I can’ts”

When teams successfully adopt a flexible workforce model, “I can’t” and “That’s not possible” are removed from the company language. Instead, they’re replaced by specifics such as when and how something will get done.

With flexible talent, teams have options beyond traditional resources, which enables them to dream bigger and work faster. “If I need a special skill, I can get on the platform and have somebody starting on the project within two days instead of the three-to-four weeks it would take using other means,” said Chris Elliott, VP of human resources at Colibri Group. “For us, the change in mindset makes our organization more flexible, nimble, and responsive to a customer’s needs.”

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