How to quickly onboard and offboard a fast-growing freelance workforce

American workers are embracing independence in this era of remote work, with freelancers expected to reach 86.5 million by 2027.

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Image: iStock/fizkes

With the help of a fast-acting, competent information technology department, businesses made a rapid switch to remote work last year, as the enterprise did its role in helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Despite a few snags—related to connectivity and security that were quickly addressed—remote work was a success. Both employer and employee conquered trust issues and demonstrated comparable or better productivity while away from the familiarity of being in each other's line of sight. 

It's a model that not only worked, but worked well enough for companies to give employees the option of continuing a remote schedule or adopting a hybrid one. Sixty-two percent of working parents said they'd quit rather than give up remote work. If that becomes the case, it would create a new, large-scale adaptation for organizations and human resources divisions. 

SEE: IT pro's road map to working remotely (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Statista estimates that 50.9% or 86.5 million people of the total U.S. workforce will be freelancers by 2027. Businesses should be cautioned that they are or will be expected to comply with regulation standards; it will start with freelancers being properly onboarded (and later offboarded).

The process of onboarding freelancers differs significantly from traditional employees in terms of documentation (legal, tax and payment). It has both the potential to allow flexibility as well as become a big challenge for companies, which could become exposed to significant compliance risks.

SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The upswing in the freelance/contract world has set developers to create platforms and programs for the very purpose of ensuring a proper onboarding process. Tuesday, Stoke Talent launched the customizable and automated Workflows for Onboarding and Offboarding non-payroll workers which it described as freelancers, contractors, consultants and agencies, to make this process easier and risk-free for companies. 

Stoke Talent's new program automates the signing of legal documents, payment information and tax documentation. It can conduct background checks and track provided equipment (i.e. laptops, company badges). The platform also automates the offboarding process for the end of a contract/assignment and will ensure the contractor won't have any access to sensitive materials upon project completion. 

"As the freelance revolution moves forward, companies need to be able to manage freelancers at scale," said Shahar Erez, CEO and co-founder of Stoke Talent in a press release. "Our automated workflows will not only increase productivity and reduce company risk, but they will also make finance and legal leaders more open to embrace the freelance economy. " 

SEE: 7 steps for onboarding remote employees (TechRepublic Premium) 

In a Pepperdine University study, researchers found many case studies that indicated a successful and thoughtful onboarding can increase productivity and reduce unwanted turnover in the first two years by as much as 50%. Despite how vital the onboarding experience is, under a third of companies have a formal onboarding program.

Clockwise, in its recent blog, "5 can't miss best remote onboarding best practices," reported "tech companies onboarding new remote employees tend to focus most heavily on more formal onboarding efforts like training sessions, orientation sessions, one-on-one meetings, and group meetings," but Clockwise stressed how important it is to "prioritize culture during onboarding," acquainting new hires with the company's culture will help "them contribute to your success faster. Onboarding that emphasizes culture can help foster a feeling of belonging and avoid feelings of isolation going forward."

The process of onboarding has already undergone changes and throughout the pandemic, nearly all hires experienced virtual onboarding. A Hired study found that 97% of employees served were either "very open" or "somewhat open" to remote onboarding, "as long as they have the resources and support."

Another Hired study showed that despite employers finding some challenge in remote interviews, convincing candidates to take a position without an in-person meeting and virtual onboarding, "it's still possible to develop a world-class remote hiring process that can be just as effective as in person interviews, without sacrificing a company's candidate experience."

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