By Daniel Hunter

A survey of 560 businesses using Elance’s platform for online work has suggests that the online freelancer trend is set to grow significantly. Nearly half (49%) of UK businesses polled said they had seen more than a 51% cost saving from hiring online. In a clear sign of intent, 84% said they thought online work platforms would revolutionise future working practices.

The research reveals clear benefits for UK businesses using online work platforms with 88% having experienced shorter time-to-hire online than through previous hiring methods. In addition, 80% said they had experienced faster project cycles using online freelancers than previous methods. Nearly three quarters of respondents (72%) think that hiring freelancers gives them a competitive advantage and 74% said online contractors are now important or extremely important to their business.

“We are witnessing a revolution in the way businesses are using the web to punch above their weight,” said Kjetil Olsen, VP Europe at Elance. “Not only do online workers save businesses money and increase efficiency, they allow companies to bring in talent for short projects without having to commit to full time contracts. It is clear that once companies start integrating online workers, the benefits become apparent very quickly.”

Marketers in demand

When asked about the talent they had hired in the last year, UK businesses revealed that web developers (60%), graphic designers (50%), content creators (26%) and online marketers (13%) are the online workers that have been most valuable to their business.

It is clear that businesses value high standards of work with 86% citing this as the most important quality they would look for in a freelancer. This was followed by professionalism (64%), good communication skills (60%), expertise (59%), reliability (57%) and experience (53%).

“Hiring people is a big financial commitment and it is important not to put too much strain on our budgets by paying full-time wages when we don’t know from one month to the next what projects have coming in,” explains Mike Barnett, Director of Media Lounge, a digital agency that has used Elance to help grow its business by 40%. “Elance takes the pressure off, allowing us to take on bigger projects knowing that we can always resource client requirements. Elance has been instrumental to our success and the best thing is that it will continue to benefit us, no matter how fast or far we grow.”

A freelance future?

The online freelancing trend seems set to continue, with 34% saying they have increased their use of online contractors because of the economy, 65% saying they prefer hiring talent through an online process compared to the traditional hiring process via phone or in-person and 44% planning to hire 90% of their workforce online in future.

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