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Many growing businesses are increasingly turning to the UK’s burgeoning freelance economy to access specialist skills and increase their strategic agility. However, in order to unlock the operational efficiencies these employees offer, business leaders must move to integrate freelancers into the wider working culture. By utilising innovative technology systems, intelligent office design and flexible working arrangements such as hot-desking, firms can promote the communication, collaboration and knowledge transfer required to ensure maximum business benefit.

According to Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed there are now approximately 1.6 million freelancers working in the UK, and this number is rising. For businesses, the use of freelance staff has a number of advantages – firstly, it allows firms to bring in subject matter specialists at short notice and on a project-to-project basis, increasing flexibility and enhancing the range of services they can offer clients. Mobilising a temporary workforce during periods of high demand also means that businesses can reduce their cost base during quiet periods such as Christmas or the summer holiday season, maintaining profit margins. Although access to a contingent of freelance workers provides numerous opportunities, it is vital that employees are managed and supported effectively.

Communication

The completion of any project requires effective and open communication with staff, a sentiment which is especially relevant to freelancers, who may have been brought onto the team at a later stage of delivery. Making sure that the brief, task and outputs are clearly outlined and agreed upon is essential, however, it is promoting access to advice and feedback during the project that can help to ensure the highest quality of work.

While the use of technology is instrumental in granting remote access to shared resources, freelancers should also have sight of ‘live’ progress reports and have means to communicate with their peers and project leaders, whether this be by Skype, email, or face-to-face in an office environment. This ability to seek advice and to bounce ideas off other employees will reduce frustration, prevent the work from deviating from the brief and promote collaboration. In larger organisations it may be useful to virtually pair each freelancer with a seasoned employee to ensure they have a single point of contact for any query.

Integration

Businesses wishing to take things a step further may wish to invite freelancers to work on site at their offices for a proportion of, or the duration of the project to fully integrate them into the organisation. Giving the employee a feel for the culture of the company and allowing them to build relationships with its permanent staff can often promote loyalty and improve productivity due to improved team working and buy in. While this may at first seem impractical, businesses with a regular contingent of freelance workers can utilise intelligent office design to accommodate temporary staff.

Mobile desks, moveable partitions and workstations that allow employees to bring their own device can be implemented to create a versatile working space which can be reconfigured to adapt to workload, changing project teams and partnerships. Hot-desking can also prove useful in allowing the firm’s freelance contingent a temporary space in the office, however, in this case other equipment such as personal storage spaces or lockers should be provided so that employees can securely store their belongings for ease of access.

If the nature of freelance work or preferences of the individual mean that work would be better undertaken remotely or in a private space, inviting freelancers into project meetings or giving them leave to use company break out areas or meetings spaces is often a happy medium where productivity can be maximised while maintaining the ability for ad hoc interactions and collaboration with permanent employees. Ultimately, seeking feedback from freelancers and the in-house project team on what practical arrangements are most beneficial for them is essential in establishing an efficient and effective working partnership.

By Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot