With uncertainty in the business environment amid COVID-19, companies are trying to move their cost structures from fixed to variable. All new overhead investments - new utilities, additional office space - are put on hold. Firms have also frozen all new hiring. But, to wade the firm through unsettled water, organisations are getting freelancers on board instead of hiring full-time employees.
This is not a new phenomenon. Even after the financial crisis of 2009, the growth in jobs came from non-traditional sources, such as gig and contract workers. Flexing It's cofounder and CEO Chandrika Pasricha says, "Over the last few months as companies were forced to work from home they started seeing the benefits of remote work. This changed mindsets of several traditional companies who are now proactively looking at the option of hiring consultants."
No wonder the demand for freelancers is growing. Pasricha says the numbers of firms looking at hiring consultants on their platform has increased by a whopping 75% in FY20, driven largely by large corporates and enterprises clients. Unlike popular perception, firms are not outsourcing volume-based, low-value work but highly skilled projects. The value of projects outsourced through Flexing It increased four times in 2019-2020 as compared to prior year.
Sairee Chahal says the revenues of their remote work programme Managed Remote Solutions (MARS) increased by 200 per cent in the last three months. In fact, she says from the current 10,000 women remote workers, they are scaling it up to over 1,00,000 to meet the rising demand.
"Companies don't have the wherewithal to manage the distributed workforce so they outsource an entire process to us, such as sales, digital marketing, customer support, content. We manage the remote workers to ensure the deliverables are timely and meet the desired quality," says Chahal. Companies such as Delhivery, Bira, Paytm and IIFL get work done through remote workers on MARS platform.
As Wadhwani Foundation scaled up its Sahayata Business Stability programme to provide SMEs with business consulting, they tapped into freelancers to meet the sudden spurt in volumes. Its Executive Vice President for Wadhwani Advantage Samir Sathe says that from five last year, they are now using 100 gig workers who are sector-specialists.
"We are not hiring full time employees as we don't want to become another management consulting firm so we got consultants on board to help us build in-house capability in certain sectors," says Sathe. He says that they prefer hiring freelancers for individual roles that require high-end expertise but don't need extensive interaction with other team members.
He adds the challenge however remains in getting all consultants to work together as a team. What works is to use them full time for a specific period of time. "Don't commoditise talent to such an extent where working with internal people becomes difficult," he says.
For start-ups too flexible talent is an attractive value proposition. When Meghana Narayan, co-founder of millet-based kids food brand, Slurrp Farm, wanted to create a white paper about the importance of forgotten grains in children's diet, she sought out a content expert from Flexing It. "Getting a consultant helped us get access to a high-end talent that we otherwise can't afford, given the size and scale we are at right now," says Narayan. Now they are looking for an inventory management specialist to help them build their digital supply chain platform.
As companies get comfortable with remote work, freelancers and flexible workers will become an integral part of the talent solutions for many more firms.