Australian companies are leading the world in their use of online freelancers. Here's how having access to millions of skilled job seekers internationally on a never-ending work search could change your approach to recruiting employees.

Cost-effective freelancers

Australian business owners have been quick to recognise the benefits of using online freelancers rather than hiring people on a permanent basis. They're typically cost-effective and can plug skill gaps to drive business growth.

“Australia is the world’s number-one country for hiring online talent when the figures are adjusted per capita,” says Kyri Theos, Australian Country Manager of Upwork, an online freelance talent marketplace. “About 200,000 businesses are using our platform.”

There’s nothing new about using freelancers or contractors as a cost-effective way of hiring staff when they're needed. What’s new is the speed and ease with which business owners can access them. Millions of freelancers with computer-based skills seeking employment, from a freelance web designer to a software engineer, programmer, accountant, customer service specialist and more.

“This levels the playing field for people who have limited access to talent because they’re based outside major commercial centres,” Theos says. “It also helps to fill nationwide skills gaps – for example, about 40 per cent of all jobs posted on Upwork by Australian businesses are for IT and programming roles.”

A McKinsey Global Institute report, 'A labor market that works: Connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age', suggests online talent platforms can help to improve efficiency and productivity. The authors have calculated that companies adopting these online jobs platforms could increase their output by up to nine per cent and reduce the cost of recruiting talent, and of human resources generally, by as much as seven per cent.

Getting started

Once a request has been posted online, bids from freelancers can start to flow in within a matter of minutes.

“You can see the history of people who express interest in your job, including feedback from previous contracts,” Theos says. “You can also chat to them by text or video link."

Once you’ve made your choice the employer employee contract is locked in place and the agreed price is paid into an escrow account.

"This is only released when the freelancer has met your brief and you’re happy with the final product," Theos says.

Ways to improve efficiency

Bluewire Media, a web strategy consulting firm, has been using online freelancers since 2008. Typically they’re used for projects such as video and podcast editing, graphic design and social media management.

“It’s hugely beneficial for us to tap into good people on demand,” Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Toby Jenkins says.

“Having people in different time zones means we can get things done quickly when we need to – for example, we can send work off to Europe at night and get it back the next morning. It’s also a really efficient way of finding people with very specific skills. If we want someone to work with a particular program, we enter that into the search rather than a job description and go straight to someone with the really deep technical knowledge and experience we need.”

The importance of employee engagement, on and offline

“When we find good freelancers we do our best to keep them so they can get to know our business and what we want to achieve,” Jenkins says. “And, although it sounds counterintuitive, Upwork actually helps us retain talent. One example was a freelancer who did fantastic work for us while she was on holiday in Brisbane. When she went home to Mexico, the platform made it easy to keep on working with her.

“There’s a perception that using online freelancers is all about saving money, and it’s certainly a very cost-effective alternative to retaining full-time staff. But, for us, that’s just one of a range of benefits.”

Important information

The information contained in this article is correct as of July 2018 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.

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