Why engaging freelancers isn’t just good for companies, it’s good for communities too

Cheryl was a stay-at-home mom, living with her family in a rural, Midwestern town. A cancer diagnosis shattered their peace, then whipped them into another tailspin when Cheryl needed to find a job to pay for treatments. Work was scarce in her small town, so Cheryl knew it would be difficult to find an office job, let alone one that would accommodate her many medical appointments. That’s when she decided to work remotely as a freelancer.

Cheryl registered as a customer support specialist on Upwork, a freelancing website. Freelancing opened her to work opportunities outside of her Midwestern town, and enabled her to choose contracts that matched her schedule.

“Upwork gave me the flexibility to work from home while I recovered and be there for my children. I have now been freelancing for almost eight years and I plan to continue as long as I can,” says Cheryl.

Cheryl is one of many examples demonstrating how freelancing does more than benefit companies. Freelancing benefits the people and their communities too by enabling people to earn a living without sacrificing their personal needs. Getting and giving help on your own terms

Of the things companies and freelancers want, and provide for each other, is flexibility. “It can be challenging for companies to maintain an in-house team that has the capability of handling things that maybe you only need once or twice a year,” explains Melody Richmond, owner of remote creative agency, Richmond Concepts. “We’re on-demand, and usually there to help fill a void. When clients have a big idea and need help rolling it out, we’re there.”

Like her clients, Richmond also relies on freelance talent. The agency has a bench of talent located worldwide, who they bring into projects as needed. “But [the freelancers] are able to do it on their own terms. It just makes for a very happy work environment, and it creates better results for our clients. It’s just a win-win overall for clients, freelancers, and our core creative team,” says Richmond.

In 2017, IBM made a surprising move by telling its remote workers that if they want to keep their job, they must move back into city centers and work from central offices. Not only did this ultimatum contradict workforce trends, it also affected 40% of IBM’s workforce. Stephane Kasriel, CEO at Upwork, believes IBM’s decision was a terrible mistake.

Kasriel reasoned that the people being let go and who move back to urban centers will negatively affect local economies. The job loss will reduce local tax revenues and may create a multiplier effect by reducing local support jobs. It makes sense when you consider there’s one less customer stopping by the local coffee house each week, splurging on a home remodel, or enrolling their children in camp.

Being forced to work within urban centers has its downfalls too. In the Bay Area, the median price for a single-family home soared to $1.4 million. Fed up with the congestion, stress, and high housing costs, 16,000 residents left for more affordable towns over the last few months. Distributed brainpower

Not only do people want to work outside urban centers, companies may benefit from searching for talent outside their location too. This is no secret among Fortune 500s as companies like Samsung and GE posted 30,000 projects on Upwork in 2017. In fact, individuals to large companies completed $4 billion of cumulative work via the freelancing website. The freelancers who worked on those projects were located across 180 countries.

The ability to tap into a global talent pool can determine a company’s success. As in the case of software startup, Rancher Labs. Freelance specialists are so important to the company that without access to their skills, “It wouldn’t be possible for us to grow the way we did,” says Shannon Williams, co-founder and VP of sales at Rancher Labs.

“The cost savings are great, but the real value is getting distributed expertise. I get so many more brains working on a problem than I could ever get hiring full-time employees,” says Williams. “We’re continuously looking for ways to connect with talented people wherever they’re located, so they can help us reach our customers and build better products.” Talent is in the cloud

As talent shortages continue in the U.S. and U.K., access to skills remain a major reason why companies rely on freelancers. In urban centers, competition for talent may raise wages so high, companies can’t afford to hire all the talent they need.

If you have the budget to hire, you may still be out of luck. When Erik Allebest, co-founder at Chess.com, was growing his engineering team in Silicon Valley, he found top talent were either working for another great company or working on their own project.

Allebest favors sourcing talent through freelancing websites because, “You can find super talented people for less money, who are usually able to start working soon. There may be a little language barrier or issue communicating between different time zones at first, but they’re easy to work out. In the end, you get great people who are willing to work and who want to build stuff,” says Allebest. It’s not just about the money

Perhaps Allebest sums it up best saying, “At the end of the day, we want freedom to live our lives. Pay helps give people freedom. Some of our people moved out of Russia. Some spend winters in Thailand. I’m a huge believer in the distributed workforce model. I love how [it] gives companies like me freedom, and how it allows me to give others the freedom to choose how to work.”