The scope to do freelance work in India has been on a constant rise. One of the leading factors of workplace changes within organizations, it is slowing becoming a vital part of sustaining and growing business across industries. As companies become agiler, flexibility and high response rate become critical for a business process to maintain productivity. Further supported by the growth of the startup economy, freelancers are now entering mainstream industries to provide their expertise in various fields like research, marketing, and consultancy services. Freelance work has indeed had a long journey to reach where it has today, with its scope to mature growing every year.
The term freelance originated as a way of referring to a hired lance, a soldier who offered to fight for the highest bidder during the 13th century. In simple terms, it’s defined as someone willing to offer their unique and much-needed skills to those willing to pay for them. Within the Indian context, the trend of freelance work initially had a negative connotation to it. Often being cited as being lazy and not efficient enough for the traditional ‘9 to 5’ jobs, the trend has evolved over the years. Employers are now beginning to pay serious attention to the skill sets that freelancers have to offer today. And this, in parallel, has helped created a strong supply as trained professionals are now slowly moving on from fixed time-based performance roles to freelance work; a role which helps them balance productivity and job satisfaction more closely. With the ability to have more control over one's time and schedule, professionals are highly motivated today to contribute to business productivity but on terms that suit them. Some of growing trends can be clubbed as the following.
Redefining the boundaries
The scope of freelance work has evolved significantly over the years. With the advent of internet and cloud bases systems of working, freelancers have been able to increase their reach to businesses. They can today contribute to businesses more efficiently and on a real-time basis. This has expanded the scope of work traditionally given to freelancers. Nowadays, company heads often find themselves working with a bunch of freelancers, with their own respective fields of expertise, to undertake business processes that require agility and quality in delivery. It often proves to be more cost-effective while also making businesses agiler and focused towards productivity as traditional workplace hassles are overlooked. And startups are central to this shift. Working in a highly competitive business climate often leads to startups to take decisions which are leaner and more efficient. Most prefer to hire people on a project basis that can bring in quality to their business delivery. With factors like technology, globalization and access to capital becoming relatively easier for these companies, working with freelancers has been an effective solution for them to maintain productivity.
This growth in demand has helped the concept of freelance work diversify in the kind of fields it operates in. “The typical definition of a freelancer used to be a young person in a creative or tech field,” said Chandrika Pasricha, Founder and CEO of FlexingIt, a job board for experienced freelancers, in an interview to the Mint. “But now we find that the top three categories for hiring freelancers are marketing, strategy and human resources. Most of the freelancers on our site have already spent 10-15 years in mainstream roles.” As per a survey undertaken by FlexingIt, professionals from core functions like strategy and business development, general management, marketing, sales, research, academia, human resource, and finance together account for close to 70 percent of the independent talent pool in India today.
A culture of collaborators
The increasing employability of freelancers has led to more collaborative workplaces being formed. Traditional employees are now being replaced with more efficient freelancers, although this trend is mostly localized to startups and other lean new age companies. This is bound to have a profound effect on how modern workplaces are designed. Companies have started to use technologies like a cloud-based platform to work more collaboratively with professionals across the field. This also provides HR professionals today the opportunity to create innovative and flexible workplace policies that allow business heads, from line managers to senior leaders, work more flexibly and prioritize efficiency over creating employee motivation and engagement programs.
Shifting workplace culture has given an impetus to HR professionals to redesign workplace structures to allow for more flexible and freelance work. Due to the rising number of freelance professionals and consultants in today’s globalized workforce, office spaces that allow collaborative work are being set up. Office communities or co-working spaces are slowly but surely gaining popularity. Co-working spaces are popping up across Indian metros as well as tier-II cities and are helping many startups get flexible working options at prices they can afford. These spaces offer desks at cheaper rentals and some also allow a rent-free period to tenants apart from utilities and an office-like look-and-feel to potential start-ups. This trend is slowly and surely catching up in India.
Shifting to highly nuanced roles
The other important trend that has evolved over the years has been the kind of opportunities that freelancers have been getting over the years. Initially, they looked at plugging and pitching in to perform the most basic and transactional of task like data entry. But over the years with more and more experienced and trained professionals across the job spectrum choosing to freelance, the quality of work that companies are ready to offer today have grown significantly. Across organizations, freelancers today are taking up critical roles. From senior management roles to strategic consultations, freelancers are increasingly obtaining key roles to provide their expertise. And they are bound to do so in the future.
Irrespective of the journey till now, it still remains localized mostly to tier I cities and to companies that are willing to relook at their way of maintaining business productivity. Freelancers are often considered ideal for ‘gig’ based work like creating cheap content but with some today bringing highly developed skillsets, companies need to take a look at their job descriptions to attract the best talent out there. As workplaces modify into becoming something which is more fluid and flexible, companies need to redefine their internal functioning to leverage opportunities that freelance professionals today provide. Albeit the high variation in the quality of freelancers out there in the market, creating strong EVPs for good quality freelance professionals would help HR professionals attract the right talent to meet business needs. For this, it’s important to brush off the existing layer of dust and relook at workplace structures to incorporate freelance work. By striking a proper balance between the need to maintain a core team of dedicated employees and the need to business agile and cost effective would help HR professionals to understand the role of freelancers in their workplace.