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Full-time work? No thanks, I want to be a freelancer

Workers today want more freedom and flexibility. Employers want a more agile workforce in a tight labour market. Why not put the two together?

Photo: Bloomberg

Photo: Bloomberg

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Workers today want more freedom and flexibility. Employers want a more agile workforce in a tight labour market. Why not put the two together?

The fact of the matter is that the talent mindset has shifted. Work-life balance and flexibility are becoming increasingly valued. According to the latest Kelly Services Global Workforce Index, 55 per cent of workers in Singapore would consider giving up higher pay for the opportunity to learn new skills, 45 per cent for a more flexible schedule and 57 per cent for improved work-life balance.

Rapid advancement of technology is making it possible for both employers and employees to gain more freedom and flexibility without losing out on productivity.

With more companies offering Uber-style models where employees can set their own schedules, employees are finding this type of contract work more attractive. Some groups, such as women with young children, find the flexi-work arrangement and telecommuting more aligned with balancing career and family.

And with the Government taking the lead by adding an extra week of paternity leave and subsidising private companies to do so, perhaps we might see more fathers working from home or enjoying flexi-hours, too.

A Kelly Services global Free Agents survey conducted early this year found three out of four respondents voluntarily choose to do contract work because they want the flexibility it provides, allowing them to enjoy project-to-project work that strengthens their skillsets.

We are starting to witness an increase in the pool of freelance talent in Singapore, particularly among Gen-Y. At the end of 2014, there were 37,000 registered freelancers in Singapore on

While there may be some concerns around keeping employees engaged while working from home, technology and social-enterprise social platforms help to create an inclusive working culture, regardless of location.

Yet, Singapore companies have been slower than those in Europe and the Americas to adopt more creative and flexible talent-management, including contract talent.

Part of this has to do with the stigma associated with holding a contract versus a permanent position in a company. But companies should start exploring these options if they want to stay competitive in the global market.


Given that Gen-Y will be in the Singapore workforce for the next 50 years, companies need to recognise this mindset shift now to harness their full potential.

With that, nine-to-five jobs may become less of the norm. What will be more common is flexi-work arrangements, hot-desking — a workspace-sharing model where employees outnumber desks — and collaborative work systems where employees in different locations can access and interact with each other using video or voice-messaging and shared whiteboards.

One interesting idea is to put upcoming projects on the company intranet and allow workers to bid for them, rather than allocating tasks centrally.

Think of it as talent supply-chain management. The principles used in traditional supply chain management can be equally applied to talent management. It is about having the right talent at the right time at the right place.

As an example, Kelly has worked with a global automotive company to ensure the company’s workforce-planning efforts include a thoughtful approach to work-style preferences. If the pool of potential talent for a specific role is likely to include highly qualified millennials, jobs will be redesigned to think about what they might need — such as a virtual office — and how to handle that need.

By understanding worker preferences in advance, particularly those of high-demand specialised roles, the company is more prepared to make the most attractive offer for the most sought-after positions.

The key to talent-planning extends beyond the immediate need to fill a specific role — companies must consider the talent it is likely to need in the future, and past talent.

The talent pools would be a combination of full-time, part-time and flexi-time workers, and the contingent workforce comprising contract talent (six-to-12 month tenure), freelancers (project basis), former employees, retirees and interns.

Leveraging analytics will enable organisations to gather data and insights to optimise talent-planning and identify available talent.

The automotive company mentioned above also engages in longer-range talent supply-chain planning to understand what the company will need to meet its business goals over the next two to three years.

In the automotive industry, where technology advancements are fast moving, futuring exercises allow the company to begin the recruiting process substantially earlier and get better results, whether it is about training existing talent or recruiting outside talent.

Once organisations have adapted a fresh approach to talent planning, it is equally critical that they integrate the extended, contingent workforce into their businesses. This involves a cultural shift from both the employer and employee, and the breaking down of psychological barriers between full-time and non-full-time employees.

The key to success is to ensure that the external workforce is aligned with the corporate culture, and integrate it into the company.

Contingent workers should be included in team and department meetings, have access to employee benefits, be provided opportunities for learning and development programmes, and even performance appraisals.

Only then will the extended, contingent workforce be equally invested in the success of the business it is a part of.

Forward-looking companies are already starting to leverage the talent supply-chain management approach to help them meet their staffing needs in both the short and long term.

By tapping into both the full-time and contingent talent pools, companies are able to secure the best-fit talent for their needs.

To ensure Singapore keeps its spot as the global hub for professional services in the increasingly volatile global market, companies must evolve and relook at how they are attracting and retaining talent if they want to hire the best.

By embracing talent supply-chain management, Singapore companies will have a highly skilled and motivated workforce with the agility to respond to evolving market opportunities.


Natalia Shuman is senior vice-president and general manager, EMEA and Asia-Pacific regions, Kelly Services

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