Using online talent in your business

Australian companies are leading the world in their use of online freelancers. Kyri Theos, Australian Country Manager of Upwork, and Toby Jenkins, co-founder and CEO of Bluewire Media, discuss how having international access to millions of skilled people could change the way we do business.

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Australian business owners have been quick to recognise the benefits of using online freelancers.

“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 talent when it’s needed. What is new is the speed and ease with which business owners can access millions of freelancers with computer-based skills ranging from software engineering, programming, graphic design and accounting to customer service.

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

The June 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, A labor market that works: Connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age, suggests online talent platforms can help improve productivity. The authors have calculated that companies adopting the platforms could increase their output by up to 9 percent and reduce the cost of recruiting talent, and of human resources generally, by as much as 7 percent.

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,” says Theos. “You can also chat to them by text or video link. Once you’ve made your choice we lock in the contract and the agreed price, which you pay into our escrow account. This is only released when the freelancer has met your brief and you’re happy with the final product.”

An efficient way of sourcing skills

Bluewire Media, a web strategy consulting firm, has been using online freelancers since 2008 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,” says Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Toby Jenkins. “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.”

Jenkins believes that staff retention is as important online as in an office.

“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,” he 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.”

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