After the events of 2020, remote work shifted from being a fringe practice for a few lucky people to a normal way of working worldwide. The shift didn’t just free people from their cubicles, it also freed business leaders to rethink how work gets done and who does it.
To that end, businesses of all sizes are adopting a hybrid workforce made up of employees and independent professionals. The model goes way beyond just contracting more freelancers; it’s a strategy for remaining competitive long term.
To decide if a hybrid workforce is right for you, start by understanding the fundamentals:
- What is a hybrid workforce?
- How it works
- Examples of how businesses are using it
- 7 benefits of the model
- Finding a hybrid balance within your own team
What is a hybrid workforce?
A hybrid workforce is one where teams are made up of employees and independent professionals working together. This definition may be different than what you’ve seen elsewhere because the term is often used interchangeably with hybrid workplace, but the two are different:
- Hybrid workplace: Employees split their time between working remotely and in the office. Some employees may be permanently remote.
- Hybrid workforce: A company’s workforce consists of employees and independent professionals working together.
How does a hybrid workforce work?
A hybrid workforce is similar to any other team in that hybrid teams can tackle projects so companies meet their objectives. Unlike a traditional team, however, a hybrid workforce enables more flexibility and capabilities because you can access skilled, independent professionals on demand so that your workforce adjusts to your needs, almost in real time.
What many businesses do is have employees focus on the work they love and do best—work that’s core to the business. Independent talent handles the rest, including work requiring specialized skills that aren’t available in-house.
When Ryan Vestby, CEO at CompuVision, shifted his company to a hybrid workforce model, he explained the change to his employees like this:
“This is not about replacing jobs. This is about changing the way we deliver things, so you can do your best work. There's got to be things in your job description today that you don't like doing. What if you could focus on the work you love? The reason why you're in this role? So now you’re spending 90% of your time doing what you love to do. Then you can have independent talent handle the rest, which expands your capacity and output.”
Understand that you’re not just contracting more independent talent to work from the sidelines. In a hybrid workforce, independent talent are valued and respected contributors.
Once you shift your mindset around what makes up a workforce, you can succeed with a hybrid model at scale. At Upwork, we fully embraced the hybrid workforce model. Nathan Galteland, our senior sales operations and systems manager, says:
“To me, independent talent are key contributors to our success as a team. They feel part of our community and are bought into the success of our sales team and organization.”
Watch the videos below to see how Upwork gets more done—and done faster—with hybrid teams.
Hybrid workforce examples
There are endless ways for businesses of all sizes, in all industries, to stretch their budgets and magnify their potential with a hybrid workforce. Perhaps these examples will inspire ideas for your business.
PGA of America works with independent development and IT experts to rapidly and cost-effectively test new ideas that employees come up with. That allows the core team to innovate without getting pulled from their core work. Once an idea proves feasible, the team can pick it up again and invest resources into it with less risk.
During their early startup days, Touchnote grew quickly but couldn’t hire customer agents fast enough to handle their rising service requests. So, they scaled with independent customer support talent in order to maintain the responsive and thoughtful service levels that Touchnote is known for.
Nasdaq’s lean marketing team scaled its digital media arm to gain an advantage over their competitors. With a hybrid team, employees led the creative vision, and independent video and digital content experts executed on key projects.
Digicel works with independent creatives located in different geographic markets so that their messaging connects authentically to each audience. Having skilled specialists who also intimately understand their markets contributed to Digicel’s success when they launched a rebrand across 32 markets.
7 benefits of a hybrid workforce model
Benefits of a hybrid workforce model range from reducing environmental impact (independent talent work remotely) to taking complex initiatives across the finish line. Here are just some of the benefits you can expect.
- Gain a larger talent pool. You can search for talent well beyond your local market. This increases the chances of finding the ideal person and staying within budget.
- Create happier teams. Having access to the right help—and enough of it—can lead to happier employees because they avoid burning out and can focus on work they enjoy. Employees who feel fulfilled are more engaged with the work they do and loyal to the company.
- Do more with your budget. Work marketplaces, such as Upwork, provide cost-effective ways to access talent. So, you can contract several specialists with different skills to get multiple projects done.
- Scale up and down on demand. With a hybrid workforce, you can quickly add independent talent with needed skills to meet changing demands. Such as how Pixc, an online photo editing platform, uses Upwork to quickly and easily engage the right number of designers to meet their fluctuating project needs.
- Get more great work done. There’s no mystery in being able to do more when you have more help. But productivity also increases because everyone is spending time on work that they do best. So they’re not just optimizing their time, they’re also optimizing their effectiveness.
- Greater diversity of backgrounds, expertise, and ideas. Increase ideas and creativity by engaging people with different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. “The high-quality work, new ideas, and perspectives are what attract me the most [to working with independent talent],” says Kaiyi Chu, the former head of growth at Lady M.
- Easier access to specialized skills. When you search for talent through platforms like Upwork, you can fill skill gaps within days instead of weeks. This includes finding your purple squirrels and golden unicorns.
Finding a hybrid balance within your own team
How you adopt a hybrid workforce depends on your business’s goals and culture. Some businesses, like Flexera, understand the potential value of implementing this strategy across the company. So, they adopt a systematic framework, which includes updating internal processes and having a dedicated champion gain buy-in across functions.
Other businesses, like Singularity University, start smaller, with just one team. As that team gains success, they share their results and tips with other teams. Then the process repeats, spreading almost organically across the company.
If you’d like help figuring out the best approach, or want tips for getting started with your team, reach out to us at Upwork. Our workforce experts will provide guidance and answer your questions based on Upwork’s more than 20 years of experience.
You can also check out our online guide: “Hiring and Working with Independent Talent.” The guide is a collection of articles covering topics from how to determine your hiring needs to vetting talent and managing remote teams.