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Free agent workforce on the rise

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By Mark Atterby

There’s a growing trend towards what is being termed as a “free agent” workforce. A free agent works independently for themselves, including self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors and temporary workers. These free agents can be employed to create teams to manage specific projects and tasks.

Global economies and tight labour markets have driven the increase in the number of individuals classified as ‘temporary workers.’ This has generated a tremendous pool of talent for employers, one that can help a business to scale, grow, and diversify in new and creative ways. The rise of the ‘free agent economy’ can also signal an empowering and gratifying change for workers, but the transition from full-time to freelance can be a tough one.

Organisations are increasingly relying on teams of free agents to tackle particular jobs. The teams formed can operate within an organisations existing environment or join a virtual environment. These virtual teams work interdependently and with shared purpose across space, time, and organisational boundaries using technology to communicate and collaborate.

Virtual team members can be located across a country or across the world, rarely meet face-to-face, and can include members from different cultures. More and more people, in Australia and overseas are choosing to work this way, because they seek the freedom, flexibility and entrepreneurial benefits associated with an independent working style.

Utilising online portals such as freelancer.com and odesk.com, employers can create and dissolve teams of professionals as and when they are needed. The benefits to employers include:

  • Reduced labour cost and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • Manage skills shortage and access to critical capabilities
  • Align development capabilities with business priorities
 

However, according to a recent report in the Australian Financial Review, some business leaders consider the current mechanisms to have significant limitations.

Susan Ferrier, KPMG’s national head of people performance and culture, was quoted “In order to stay competitive and increase our productivity we need to constantly look for different ways to have talent come in and out of our business in a way that’s nimble and agile,” she said.

The problem, Ferrier highlights, is how does one ensure quality and the right talent is being brought in when people are being engaged through a faceless online service.

And how do organisations integrate these ever changing teams of contractors, not just from a functional point of view but in terms of culture and are fully engaged with the values and the mission statement of the organisation.

Though they offer flexibility and reduced costs, the management of these teams makes the HR function more complex.


September 5, 2014
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