Matt Barrie, Chief Executive of Freelancer.com, the world's largest freelancing marketplace, is an award winning technology entrepreneur and the co-author of over 20 US patent applications, Matt has also been Adjunct Associate Professor in Electrical and Information Engineering at a leading university in Australia where he taught Cryptography and Technology Venture Creation.
In conversation with People Matters, Matt spoke about how the pandemic has accelerated C-suite plans to grow the cloud-based talent pool, enabling performance tracking for freelancers by setting productivity standards, and highlighted how freelancers are key to closing the ever-growing skills gap and remaining competitive and future-fit.
Read on for highlights from the interview.
What are your predictions for the gig economy this year as 2022 unfolds?
In 2022, the gig economy will be defined by large enterprises who are pushing to grow their cloud-based workforce.
This shift was already beginning to happen prior to the pandemic, with many c-suite executives from Fortune 500 companies looking at how to grow 10x without having to add headcount or new office locations. The pandemic only accelerated these plans. Throughout the year, we’ll continue to see more and more enterprises grow their workforce through freelancers.
Technology has leaped ahead, enabling the work-from-anywhere model all around the world. How has this evolved hybrid working ecosystem, backed by technology, impacted the job market for the gig economy?
The work-from-anywhere model is not new – it was always possible through our Freelancer.com platform ever since we started the company over a decade ago.
We have over 58 million users posting more than 21 million jobs available to freelancers all around the world. Even prior to the pandemic, you could have an Australian freelancer working out of a holiday destination such as Thailand for a client based in the UK.
The only recent change has been the wide-spread adoption of working-from-home by organizations to maintain business continuity throughout the pandemic. Now we’re seeing hybrid working with businesses encouraging employees to return to the office.
The impact that the adoption of hybrid working is having on the gig economy is that it’s showing enterprises how simple and affordable it is to adopt cloud-based workers and freelancers. For example, large organisations, such as Deloitte, NASA, IBM, and Infosys, are turning to Freelancer.com to help them source the world’s best freelance talent to work on their projects and jobs. Increased appetite from large enterprises will continue to drive more demand and job opportunities on our platform.
With skilling being core to employee relevance and growth, what are some ways organisations can engage the broader gig economy in becoming future-fit?
Freelancers are key for organisations to remain competitive and future-fit.
The skills gap, particularly across developed nations, is ever growing and could impact the economy. Research from McKinsey finds that 87% of companies are conscious of this skills gap or believe they will have one within a few years.
Organisations need to engage freelancers from around the world who can help close the skills gap and work on specific projects, particularly with jobs relating to technology. For instance, it’s more efficient to hire a freelancer to work on a niche tech project as opposed to teaching a current employee a niche skill they might only use once. This applies to many jobs, projects and skills.
The future of the workforce will be a blended workforce of full-time employees working alongside on-demand freelancers. We’re already seeing large enterprises adopt this model and towards closing the skills gap.
Has the access to greater flexibility in permanent roles fueled a dip in individuals opting for freelance work over permanent roles?
Flexibility through working-from-home or hybrid working models offered by permanent roles isn’t causing a dip in freelancing. In fact, we’re seeing a continued growth for freelancing all across the world on Freelancer.com.
Our data shows that in just the US, freelancing grew by more than a quarter (28%) over the last 12 months.
There will always be a balance between permanent roles and on-demand freelancers used by organisations. The workforce for certain permanent roles in their business will remain in-house, while some roles by project basis will continue to be, in an increasingly way, awarded to talented freelancers.
Hybrid working models or flexible work structures are only more proof that all remote workers, whether they are freelancers or full-time employees, can contribute to the success of an organisation.
What are some best practices for leaders and managers to drive and assess performance of their contractual staff?
Best practice involves setting up the freelancer for success. This can be achieved in a number of ways. First, provide them with all the tools needed for the task or project to help them work effectively. These can be as simple as ensuring they have proper time management and tracking tools. Collaboration is key, so remote workers should have a dedicated shared document platform where clients can offer feedback and collaborate on projects together.
Businesses should also establish and maintain regular communication with the remote worker – whether this is through email or direct messages/chat features. It’s important to keep an open line of communication, as open as you would have with a full-time employee. Setting a regular cadence of catch ups, especially on longer projects, is vital to keeping the remote worker on track.
Setting expectations and productivity standards is the key to performance tracking.
By setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals at the beginning of a task, managers can ensure goals are being met through freelance work.
What is your advice for gig employees and employers as they gear up to survive the ongoing talent crisis?
For gig workers, building and maintaining your reputation and networks in the freelancing industry is imperative. If you want to make freelancing as a career, treat it as such. Always sharpen and upgrade your skills - never miss any updates in your fields and industries, hence you can always provide quality services to your clients. Meanwhile, as we continue to navigate the future of work, companies need to focus on adapting with technology and changing the way they deliver work on their projects.
Organisations have already matured into an understanding of the close relationship between well-being and employee performance. How are organisations catering to these two elements for the gig workforce?
Loneliness, isolation, or burnout are challenges faced by the entire workforce, not just gig workers or remote workers. To support the well-being of remote workers, organisations need to understand their challenges and help them manage well-being.
Encouraging remote workers to set boundaries between work and personal time is a good way to promote healthy work-life balance.
Creating regular check-ins and one-on-one meetings are also a good way to help keep the remote worker connected and on-task. If possible, another method to maintain well-being for remote workers is to offer them some of the same well-being activities provided to permanent staff, such as accessing free online fitness classes or mental health sessions.