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Making personnel more personal: Why HR is essential when hiring freelancers

By Hilde Haems - CHRO, SD Worx

August 23 2018 - "You're only as good as the people you hire", these wise words were spoken by Ray Kroc, the man who popularised McDonald's. He knew instinctively what it took to run a business and, moreover, what that magic ingredient was that made businesses truly successful. People are the core of any business and the HR department has traditionally been the beating heart of the hiring process, helping firms of all shapes and sizes find, interview and recruit the top talent - enabling them to be the very best they can be.

The modern workforce has changed dramatically over the last few years, in the United States it's been predicted that freelancers will be the workforce majority within the decade. This trend rings true across Europe, as the rise of the gig economy continues to shift the dial not only in the way that we personally choose to work but the type of people and skill sets that companies look to bring on board.

In this changing environment, where freelancers are playing an increasingly important role in business, it's imperative that the HR department is included in every stage of the recruitment process. However, we recently conducted research with Antwerp Management School that showed that, counter to received wisdom, HR departments are being cut out - with more than half of European businesses leaving HR out of the loop when hiring self-employed workers. This cannot continue, so what does the current employment landscape look like and how can HR teams increase their influence?

Skills to pay the bills

Agility is key for businesses. Large industries like retail are being fundamentally transformed by technology and being able to react quickly to trends and shifts in the market helps firms remain competitive. As a result, businesses of all sizes are increasingly looking beyond their internal workforce to stay ahead of the curve.

The specialist skills, knowledge and experience that freelancers bring are highly sought after and in demand by organisations keen to boost their agility. Our research found that only 36% of European businesses believe that the majority of their employees have skills that can be used outside of their specific role. As a result, firms are on the hunt for the right freelance workers to help plug the skills gap. We found that nearly half (44.9%) of UK businesses are employing self-employed workers, especially for highly specialised tasks to capitalise on their unique skills that aren't available elsewhere within the organisation. The HR department's role in this process cannot be underplayed, and it needs to be involved from the start, as it's the frontline for bringing in the right skills, talent and knowledge to the business.

Short-term benefits...

Freelancers are clearly prized for their specific and varied knowledge, providing the necessary boost for businesses when they need it most. Our study found that just under half (44.9%) of UK businesses use self-employed workers for short-term assignments, with IT teams hiring the most freelancers. Additionally, businesses with a higher turnover are working with self-employed workers more than those with lower turnover rates. In an age of increased flexibility, it's clear that freelancers can help companies complete time-sensitive or one-off projects, achieving specific short-term goals.

Traditionally, freelancers may have been brought into businesses but kept on the periphery. This has shifted, and we found that over a quarter (26.3%) of UK firms are involving self-employed workers in core business tasks. Freelancers are operating at all levels in a business and the old perception of them dealing with admin or acting as reception cover are long gone, as more skilled workers like IT specialists and management consultants embed themselves in businesses.

...Long-term gains

Though less common than short-term contracts, a significant amount of businesses use freelancers for long-term assignments - with nearly a third (29.3%) of European firms doing so - highlighting that independent workers are having a positive impact and influence in the businesses they work in.

What's clear is that the roles, responsibilities and input that freelancers have within organisations is changing, as such the HR department needs to be steering this change - and not be dictated to by it. We found that across Europe the executive board is the most influential (34.1%) when deciding to recruit freelancers, with the HR team having significantly less sway (only 9.7%). Businesses know they need to be flexible and understand the important, strategic role that freelancers play in this. HR departments are crucial as they know the business inside out and, by being involved at all stages of freelance recruitment, they can share and act on the real-time view of the skills currently in the firm.

HR departments are the custodians to talent and skills in an organisation, irrespective of whether that talent is permanent or freelance. As such, they need to act as internal gatekeepers - communicating with all departments on the specific skills of workers and ensuring that they're utilised to the best of the person's ability, and for the wider benefit of the business.


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