The freelance workforce may soon grow by 10 million people, according to recent research from UpWork, bringing the number of freelance workers to almost 70 million. Compared to 2019 – when 57 million total freelancers existed – this would constitute a 17% increase.
This could just be the start, as the “Great Resignation” gains steam. In April 2021, 4 million Americans quit their jobs. In August, roughly 4.3 million people – almost 3% of the workforce – handed in resignation letters. In November, a record 4.5 million walked away from their positions.
The influx of freelancers offers an opportunity to revisit how your organization works with freelancers and avoid the resource issues and security challenges that can accompany these workers. Here’s how to ensure your business is properly prepared.
1. Manage resources to avoid overlapping skills
Businesses turn to freelance work to access quality skill sets on an as-needed basis without geographic limitations.
While working with freelancers may help your organization reduce potential skills gaps, you must first properly evaluate your entire workforce for the roles and skills you need. Ultimately, you want to maximize the value of freelance workers while retaining a core group of full-time employees and avoiding unnecessary redundancies or gaps.
Start by targeting, compensating and investing in the full-time employees who fit into your long-term vision and move away from those who don’t. You also need to consider who might be essential in the event of a crisis; what if you had a critical position covered by a freelancer?
Strategically invest in your top performers. Remember, competitive compensation is only a small piece of the puzzle – things like career progression, training, work-life balance and public acknowledgement can go a long way as well.
2. Plan for a greater IT security risk
More freelancers means more cybersecurity risk for the organizations hiring them.
While employees working from home have already expanded the attack surface outside the realm of the direct corporate network, freelancers can further complicate the situation and will require appropriate system controls to securely access your data and applications.
If your organization works with freelancers, make sure you can manage their access throughout the entire engagement – this includes both onboarding and offboarding. You must limit access only to what they need to do their job, while also ensuring that access doesn’t remain open once the period of service ends. And if you provide them with hardware, how do they return that to you?
This sounds simple, but it becomes more complex depending on the resources you provide to freelancers, where they work, what they need access to and what you need to keep them out of.
Start by ensuring they’re only accessing data and systems through a virtual private network (VPN) with multi-factor authentication (MFA) or single sign-on (SSO). From there, you can leverage more advanced options, like integrating software as a service (SaaS) offerings in the cloud and not retaining data locally. You can also deploy security tools and work with managed service providers (MSPs) to monitor the environment and act if there is any suspicious or malicious activity.
If you work in an industry with considerable regulations regarding data, it will be more challenging to leverage freelancers. Be sure you know the rules you must follow, how well you’re set up before introducing freelancers and how well you’re positioned to maintain governance after the fact. If you already have problems with security and access control, it will be harder to remediate issues once you add freelancers to the equation.
Preparing for a new shift in the workforce
The workplace is evolving, and organizations must now be ready to account for a growing number of freelancers. If you don’t want to be blindsided by the burgeoning gig economy, don’t overlook these areas.
Identifying your long-term business goals and properly investing in workers – both full time and freelance – who can push your organization forward, while also addressing security vulnerabilities, can help you successfully navigate this shift without putting your company at risk.