Upwork: Remote Workers Are a Promising Solution for Talent Shortages


First came “telecommuting.”  Some pioneering fulltime company employees got the option in the 1990s to work from home by personal computer and telephone either a few days a week or most of the time.  Now it’s called teleworking, or working remotely, perhaps because daily contact with the office, even electronically, may be unnecessary for getting the job done well and on time.  And virtual teams that include fully remote freelancers can be very dynamic, diverse and agile, especially freelancers hired on a platform like Upwork.

Some enterprise businesses such as IBM have recalled most of their teleworking employees in the interest of more accountability, collaboration and camaraderie.  Decisions on whether, when and how to use remote workers are of course up to individual companies, non-profits and their own managers. But there’s no question that millennial employees and others are increasingly clamoring for and securing more flexible work/life arrangements.  Many offices are becoming less frequented anchor points for occasional meetings, rather than daily physical destinations for the entire staff. That can translate to big savings on urban real estate costs as well. By one survey estimate, business managers predict that in the next 10 years, 38% of their workforce will work remotely.

As the demand for advanced computer skills like programming and data analytics has grown, so have labor shortages in corporate America across many diverse industry sectors.  Re-skilling and re-training programs are underway, but enterprises need people with more specialized skills now, and that’s another increasing trend. Meanwhile, overall demographic trends are revealing less and less inclination among working age populations to re-locate geographically for a job.

Freelancing platforms like Upwork make top talent with specialized skills available to businesses in short order, regardless of geographic location. A distributed workforce can be a more socially equitable one as it pulls in talent from outside major urban centers and between the U.S. east and west coasts.  Workers who reside in remote rural areas or even resort areas can be very valuable to the productivity of many teams and projects. Tapping into that talent online might be thought of as leveraging access to a “human cloud.”

Unfortunately, most companies’ HR and procurement policies have not kept up with these trends toward hiring independent contractors.  According to a recent study commissioned by Upwork, even those companies that increasingly embrace remote workers in practice here and there, have not updated their administrative infrastructure accordingly.  The independent study surveyed over 1,00 U.S hiring managers in late 2017 who overwhelmingly believe that dynamic team structures will become the norm.  A majority of them observe that remote work (by freelancers, temps and agency-placed workers) is more commonplace today than it was just 3 years ago. They report that 63% of their company departments employ at least one person who works remotely a significant portion of the time.

Maybe the time is right for more American companies to adjust their internal procedures and policies to accommodate increasingly diverse, mobile and ad hoc team structures, including skilled freelancers. Normalizing the flexible remote worker model might just be a good solution to shortages of skilled talent.  So business enterprises facing dozens or even hundreds of unfilled positions and job postings on a daily basis should take notice:  On demand remote hiring is poised to become a big part of human resources recruiting in the future.

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