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6 predictions for 2020 that anyone working with freelancers need to consider.

As more people move to freelancing - what will we see happening in 2020, and what do businesses need to do to lean into the modern workforce?

January is traditionally a time where many hand in their resignation, having the Xmas period to reflect and plan, and this coming year, more and and more will be considering freelance as an option for how they work. 
We've built a community which supports people who are changing the way they work, and the mental health of the self-employed, and from over 1500 members, research projects, anecdotal insights and two years of conversations, here is our view on what the next year has in store for agencies as the dramatic growth in self-employed talent continues to climb, and as more and more businesses work with ad-hoc team members. 

More Freelancers=More Freelancers.

More people will move to freelancing as their main model of work. Some reports say 50% of the workforce will be freelance by the end of 2020, but whilst I don’t believe the number will be anywhere near that, within the creative industries, the proportion of businesses using freelancers is increasing, and the proportion of freelancers to perm staff is also increasing, upwards of 40% in some businesses, closer to 95% in a handful of new model networks like Fawnbrake and Craft. This trend is set to continue grow over 2020-2022, with more and more attracted to autonomy over their work, control of their time, and the flexibility which independent work can offer, that many businesses are struggling to provide their employees.

What can you do about this?

Develop a clear strategy around how you intend to use and work with external talent, rather just turning to it in times of need. Is it an approach for diversity, or just overflow? Do you have targets for the balance between perm and freelance hires? Are you going to talent to freelancing, and is that a risk for you? If you’re increasing the number of ad-hoc hires over the year, how are you measuring effectiveness and profitability? Do these people form part of your business, and how do you treat them as part of your team? Are you creating a community, or just on-demand people? Don’t be reactive to working with freelancers, be strategic about how it forms a critical and scalable part of your workforce.

Effective Working Relationships. 

This shift towards more freelancers creates a new set of challenges for businesses who are building teams around people they don’t employ: regularly sourcing and hiring diverse talent; on boarding effectively, creating high performing teams of people who don’t know each other; trust and quality of work; feedback and ongoing relationships, managing a distributed and on-demand workforce, training and development, and pay. 
Many organisations have not truly looked at their approach to work with freelancers in a more effective way - with a risk of time, money and quality being lost in the process. No individual has responsibility for the freelance engagement and experience within a business, and accountability can fall between the gaps, causing frustration on both sides. 
I think we’ll start to hear many more stories about how the increased use of freelancers is leading to increased friction to work, but also we’ll start to see service providers and platforms popping up which look to ease the relationship and create better working processes - platforms like YunoJuno and Worksome will take increasing parts of the process, from invoicing and payments, hiring process and strategy, and training and development. 
We’ll also start to see more transparency over the companies who welcome their freelancers, and those who don’t - via platforms like Freelance Circle exposing feedback on agencies and IPSE’s recommendations around a traffic light system for good payers.

What can you do about this?

Develop a set of accountabilities internally around freelance effectiveness, engagement and experience - make sure there are people who have responsibilities for defining how your business works with external talent, and holds people to account. It might not be an individual who needs to deal with everything, as the experience touches HR, IT, Ops, managers, individuals, Finance and more - but without someone leading a connected approach, it’s hard to do a good job. Review your internal policies and contracts. Look at how you’re sourcing and supporting freelancers, and work with partners who specialise in creating better working relationships with people you don’t employ.

From suppliers to competitors

This shift to indy work will be across the board, so it not only creates more people you can work with, but also more talent your clients and competitors can work with. Your clients can access the top talent directly, and are increasingly working with independent marketing consultants to build their internal capabilities, at lower costs and more rapid pace. By the end of 2020 we will have seen more major pitch wins from indy collectives, and in 2021 a client turning it's roster in its head by creating an on demand creative marketplace for activation briefs, challenging the very notion of pitches. 

What can you do about this?

Create a more welcoming and receptive environment for freelancers, so they choose you over other businesses. Turn your freelancers into to partners, so if they're advising their clients strategically or creatively, but not able to bring production or implementation, you can play a role. Build alumni of your talent and connect them to create a community of people close to you, rather than leaving them at arms length. Train your own staff on how to be effective independent workers, so when they leave, you have a distributed group of champions and fans of your business. 

Anxiety / Complexity over IR35.

IR35 responsibilities for the private sector comes into force in 2020, and it is creating confusion, anxiety and headaches for both the individual and the businesses. Many organisations are simply enforcing all of their contractors to go on payroll, many organisations are stopping any form of contracting, and many organisations are not clear on their responsibilities or the impact it might have. But neither burying your head in the sand or closing the shutters is an effective strategy. 
For those organisations who do actively want to support their freelancers and provide fair remuneration and reward beyond simply paying their invoices on time, it is feeling harder than ever to create and provide a supportive working environment for freelancers.

What can you do about this?

Get advice - don’t wait until someone asks the question, review your contracts and working behaviours (as HRMC will look not only at the paperwork, but also the actual behaviours of the worker). Look at how you can advise the people you’re working with so they understand the risks or the status of the project, and engage early with your freelancers to communicate clearly around what is changing and what it means for them and you.
There are also lots of indirect ways you can invest in your freelancers without putting them at risk, such as supporting organisations like Leapers, NABS and other bodies which provide help, advice and support to the self-employed.

Mental Health and Responsibilities. 

The workplace wellbeing agenda has been growing from strength to strength within businesses for their employees, but the growing freelance workforce is being neglected, and at risk of mental healthcare gaps, as they have no workplace support. 
Whilst much of the responsibility must lie with the individual, a large proportion of the stressors that the self employed face are created by bad practises by clients, whether they are intentional or not. Late payment, lack of communication, projects being pushed back, no feedback, no clarity of scope, contract issues, no on project support, the list goes on. In time, as more people move to employer-less work, millions of people will be without workplace mental health support - which we know directly translates to a hit to your profitability, productivity and quaility of work as a business. 
For the agencies who believe the future of work is more flexible, more fluid, more diverse, more dynamic, but are not actively considering their teams' mental wellbeing, regardless of contract, the talent pool you fish in will shrink.

What can you do about this?

Look at your behaviours and working practises, and consider the impact they have upon your entire workforce, not just those you employ. Engage with your workforce, and understand the stressors you're contributing to, not just the fixes which feel mental health related. Fruit on a Friday is great, but paying your invoice on time is more beneficial. Offering access to a Freelance Assistance Programme is amazing, but remove the causes of the stress, rather than softening the impact of them. Speak to your cohort, and find where the challenges are. Run an internal survey to build a panel of advisors, and listen to those who don't normally have a voice in your process, or work with a group like Leapers to uncover the insights and engage with your network on your behalf. 

Pioneers lead the way. 

Finally, we will see more wonderful work from the pioneers who are leading the charge on better engaging with a diverse and independent workforce. Businesses like HudsonBec who put freelancers at the top of the payments pile. Businesses like TheDoers who run work together sessions for their community to tackle isolation. Businesses like MediaCom who are piloting freelancer support groups. Businesses like MrPresident who are hosting mental wellbeing workshops for their freelancers.
It can be hard to know where to start, but from small conscious actions, to big investment in the future of talent, pioneering businesses are making alternative employment models a sustainable and supportive way of working. 

What you can do about this?

Share the good things you already do with others, so we can all learn from the small steps to create more supportive workplaces. Steal ideas from fellow businesses which demonstrate more effective ways of working. Run small tests to see what works. Register as a Freelance Friendly workplace to provide your freelance workforce with access to good you support them. Ask for help, and work with us to create a more sustainable and more supportive way of working with the self employed, which we all benefit from. 
Matthew Knight is the founder of Leapers, a community supporting the mental health of freelancers - which provides tangible support to individuals, and actionable advice to organisations who work with freelancers. 

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