Some Australian businesses are turning to the gig economy to support flexibility and efficiency in these unprecedented times. Gartner research found that 40% of CEOs are planning on outsourcing roles to freelancers.
Whether you call it the gig economy, the contingent workforce, or freelancing, it is a significant segment of the workforce, expected to grow to 40% of the workforce in the next 15 years.
Commtract is a platform that started up in 2016 to connect a specific segment of the market – communications and marketing specialists – with short-term employment opportunities. The shift toward freelance use was already occurring; she says changes due to COVID simply moved the timeframe up.
"The marketing, communications and creative industries are rapidly shifting to a contract and project model. COVID-19 has accelerated a shift that was already happening as companies seek the best talent on-demand," said Commtract’s managing director Vanessa Liell.
Liell joined the organisation in April of this year – the same time she took on the role of chief strategy officer at Crescent Wealth Super. She says they’ve worked with many different organisations in that time to help them deal with the sudden changes caused by the coronavirus.
"While many businesses are slowing down, COVID has meant [large organisations have] had to scale up quickly to communicate both internally and externally. Coles, for example, has over 100,000 employees from delivery drivers to checkout workers, so communicating to their workforce is not as simple as sending out an email."
The value to business
In Q1 of this year, digital sales grew by 18% year-on-year, a figure that is expected to continue to grow as more businesses shift their operating model to deal with restrictions, lockdowns, and border closures.
Liell says that the companies that are able to make changes quickly are the ones that are going to excel. "Companies who are the fastest and more flexible in adapting to the new reality will have a huge advantage in the market."
Using a qualified freelancer is one way to respond quickly, says Liell. "It allows them to be agile to the demands of a market. COVID-19 is a perfect example of this.
"Many businesses are requiring digital skills in their business that weren’t needed a few months ago. By using a freelancer, businesses can scale their business up and down easily, and fill short-term skills gaps."
There is a traditional wisdom that communications specialists need to have a deep understanding of the business. Liell says that mindset needs to change. "Freelancers need to remain competitive in the market, so they’re constantly upskilling and looking for new ways to approach a problem. We vet the talent on our platform to deliver a curated list of experts to businesses. Many of these experts have experience working at senior levels for global companies. In this way, using a freelancer allows businesses to access talent they may not otherwise be able to afford."
While there is a budget line for a freelancer, it can be a project or one-off cost, rather than an ongoing item. It’s scalable.
The value of flexibility
There are many reasons an individual would prefer the gig economy over traditional 9-5 full-time employment, however it generally boils down to flexibility. From the ability to work remotely to choosing work hours at a time that suits them, more people are going gig. "Research suggests the vast majority of Australians want to continue working from home post-COVID, and businesses that were forced into adopting more flexible workforce solutions, are now discovering that it's working for them too," says Liell.
There's a benefit to the individual as well, says Liell. "Beyond the obvious benefits like flexibility and the ability to work autonomously, freelancers are able to get exposure to a wide range of companies and sectors they would otherwise not get in a full-time role. In some ways, being a freelancer allows you to progress much faster in your career given there are no limits to the amount of opportunities and skills you can acquire."