The Freelance Effect

Organizations Shouldn't Take Shortcuts with Short-Term Hires



The gig economy keeps growing. Researchers estimate that half of the U.S. workforce will be part of the gig economy by 2020 (compared to more than 33 percent in 2015), according to entrepreneur services firm Spera. The trend in the U.K. is similar—and project management talent is no exception. More than 40 percent of project professionals working in the U.K. identified themselves as contractors in a 2017 report by recruitment firm Arras People.

Organizations love the flexibility and cost savings that come with swelling the ranks as needed. But this tactic can leave companies struggling to empower freelance project talent, hold them accountable and capture any knowledge before they leave.


“We've seen a number of people put in the contract that knowledge transfer and lessons learned were an expectation within the deliverable.”

—John Thorpe, Arras People, London, England

“Some organizations are very organized and have clear demarcations of responsibility and accountability and expectations,” says John Thorpe, co-founder and managing director, Arras People, London, England. “Others don't think about that as clearly as maybe they should.”

Not that project managers are to blame—most are more accustomed to working with employees than freelance talent. Overseeing employees entails managing people who have been onboarded to the organization's project management methodologies, who understand how their role fits into the larger team and who are naturally inclined to capture lessons learned for future projects. “But when you bring in a freelancer, they're not up to speed because they're not actually a part of your company,” Mr. Thorpe says.

To help smooth the speed bumps that can accompany a temporary hire, organizations should pay particular attention to three areas.

Hire a project manager more skilled in waterfall approaches for a two-week agile project, and he or she might spend more time struggling to adapt than getting the job done. But preferred project management approaches aren't the only thing to question during an interview—no matter how short-lived the gig will be. Hiring managers should apply the same rigor to interviewing a temp team member as a permanent hire, making sure motivation and enthusiasm levels match the team's needs.

For projects with sensitive or security-related deliverables, a thorough screening might be in order. As Mary O'Loughlin, vice president of global customer experience at HireRight, told the Society for Human Resource Management in January: “As freelance job opportunities continue evolving, it will be much more acceptable, and the standard, for employers to screen gig and contingent workers. [Screening] is a critical risk mitigation tool, regardless of the worker's classification.”

Onboarding: Calibrate and Accelerate

A lengthy intro to the organization doesn't make sense for quick hires, but throw project managers into the deep end with zero context and they'll drown. Give an accelerated onboarding instead, says Mr. Thorpe: What are the levels of responsibility temporary hires have? What are specific examples of issues or questions that would require escalation? Whom should they seek out for a procedural question or a budget or schedule concern?

Knowledge Transfer: Make It Mandatory

Once the project is complete, many temporary hires will have one foot out the door. But capturing any lessons learned is vital to the success of future projects—and that should be made clear at the very start of the initiative. “We've seen a number of people put in the contract that knowledge transfer and lessons learned were an expectation within the deliverable,” Mr. Thorpe says. —Kate Rockwood


“As freelance job opportunities continue evolving, it will be much more acceptable, and the standard, for employers to screen gig and contingent workers.”

—Mary O'Loughlin, HireRight



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