Freelancers on your team? Here’s why they suck, and here’s why they rock

The dynamics of IT workforce management are undergoing a transformation. Like every transformation, this force is also a result of the broader changes in the way the industry is progressing. Core forces of open source, citizen developers, SaaS, DevOps, BYOD, virtualization, and IoT, among others, have changed the way enterprises manage IT staffing. In a surprisingly high number of cases, it becomes a prudent decision for organizations to consider hiring IT freelancers to get their projects off the mark.

hiring IT freelancers
Flickr / Travis Isaacs

In this guide, we will talk a little on the scenarios where enterprises find it viable to engage freelancers. Then, we’ll go through the pitfalls that a IT leader must be aware of when hiring IT freelancers.

Why hiring IT freelancers makes sense for enterprises

Here are the major scenarios where enterprises would benefit from the choice of hiring IT freelancers:

  • Sudden requirements to deliver IT projects that depend on technologies that the enterprise is not competent in.
  • Promoting an internal employee to fill the vacant position will cause strong resentment in the team.

hiring IT freelancers

We have all seen “Horrible Bosses” when Bobby Pellit promoted himself to become the CEO when he did not deserve to be the CEO. He did not even deserve to be the business’s janitor! This business did not do well under Pellit’s leadership or lack thereof.

  • The existing team does not have the skill sets to fill the open position quickly.
  • The legal framework around IT staffing practices, including providing health care and paying taxes, is strict on the employer.
  • The project/requirement is of a known short duration, with no foreseeable rollouts or extensions.

Apart from these situations, enterprises prefer IT freelancers when the cost-benefit analyses of hiring a freelancer as compared to recruiting somebody full time is skewed toward the former option.

Why companies need to be careful about hiring IT freelancers

Considering the benefits of hiring IT freelancers, it’s surprising that there can be concerns around the practice. However, for a CIO or any IT leader involved in strategy, freelancer hiring needs to be managed carefully. That’s because of the highly critical nature of IT in the modern business’ operations.

Every enterprise has a well-stratified set of practices around IT project delivery, IT security, operations, and quality. Then, there are concerns around data security and organizational process secrecy when there are freelancers on board. Combined, all these factors can make freelancer management an additional concern for IT leaders.

To prevent any of these issues from damaging the firm, and to leverage the real power of freelancers for enterprise IT, you’d do well to understand the pitfalls of hiring IT freelancers, and finding ways to steer around these pitfalls. Let’s understand the most noteworthy potential problems of hiring IT freelancers for your enterprise.

Freelancers and shadow IT: An unavoidable side-effect?

Shadow IT is the emergence and continuation of IT operations and delivery practices that are not aligned with the basic framework, policies, and protocols in place in the enterprise. From bypassing standard operating procedures to the use of tools that the IT security team is not aware of – a lot could contribute to making shadow IT a problem. Invariably, freelancers have their preferred tools for web development, programming, communications management, calendars and events management, and data storage.

Not all these tools and operational procedures would align with the enterprise IT practices and could create more headaches for IT security, apart from resulting in issues around non-compliant data formats, issues in data reconciliation, and other problems.

Solution: Create specific guidelines for freelancers to help them access and adopt the tools and processes your organization prefers or simply must use.

Data and process information security

hiring IT freelancers
Flickr / Dylan

A freelancer will, in all likelihood, move on, leave the team after delivering on the agreed requirements. During all this time, he or she will have access to your company’s systems, data repositories, and process documents. Now, in spite of firm controls over access and duplication of information, it’s possible for freelancers to end up with copies or have data with very sensitive information. As an IT leader, it would be naïve of you to ignore these risks.

Solution: Set clear expectations on the data security practices you want the freelancers to follow, and conduct regular checks to ensure things are on the up and up.

Dissolution of culture

Your enterprise’s work culture is an invaluable intangible asset, especially because it has helped you stay strong all these years. It’s a hard truth that even for large enterprises, IT is essentially a cluster of small teams, each managing different parts of the whole IT machinery. So for any of these teams where the proportion of freelancers becomes more than 15 percent to 20 percent, there are real possibilities of the work culture being eroded, or at least altered in undesirable ways.

Solution: Sessions to introduce freelancers to your enterprise work culture, and setting out strong messages about cultural alignment will help you control the stability of the work culture.

Unplanned costs

Apart from the hourly or milestone-based billing plan that you will agree on with a freelancer, there are always additional costs that become evident only later. For projects on tight budgets, these costs can become a headache for the IT project managers. Some instances are:

  • Procurement of additional software licenses to help the freelancer leverage necessary tools to do their work.
  • Extra usage of IT resources that are billed by third-party service providers to your business.

Solution: Based on past experiences, consider these costs and ensure there is a discussion with the freelancer that helps you decide on how the costs can be mitigated and absorbed.

Lack of commitment

This does not imply that employees on your payroll are inherently more motivated than freelancers, or vice versa. However, your employees are contractually obligated to deliver services within an agreeable service quality range. Then, there are mechanisms of supervisor feedback and periodic appraisals to keep employees’ performance up to the mark.

Solution: Create a mechanism of evaluating freelancer performance, and convey constructive feedback as soon and as regularly as possible.

Take advantage of the advantages

This guide intends to give IT leaders the lowdown on the often hidden pitfalls of working with freelancers in their IT teams. This understanding will help you plan ahead so that you can leverage the immense cost advantages, skill pool access, and scalability of freelance hiring to quickly deliver IT projects on time and within budget.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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