Off-site and Online

A study forecasts an increase in a contractual virtual workforce.
 

By Matt Cooper
 
 
We may be recovering from a difficult recession, but hidden behind the headlines about unemployment and layoffs a different story is taking place—one in which skilled employees are wooed and fought over, and companies struggle to retain their star employees.
 
 
The war for talent is on.
 
 
The truth is that talented workers are worth their weight in gold, yet they are extremely difficult to identify, attract, and retain.
 
 
As a result, an increasing number of businesses are realizing that they need to try something new. In fact, online workplace oDesk’s fall 2012 Online Work Survey (conducted by independent research firm Genesis Research) found that 64 percent of businesses surveyed were actively looking for a new way to hire when they came upon a new solution—online work.
 
 
Online work enables businesses to build on-demand teams of contract workers that can deliver any task or project that can be done via the Internet. Savvy HR executives use online work to supplement their existing staff in a cost-effective, flexible way—which translates to a significant competitive advantage.
 
 
Why Now?
There are three forces that are ushering in this new era in which businesses can remain agile and staff up or down as needed with on-demand, online workers:
Globalization. As the world becomes increasingly global, businesses are increasingly freed from the limitations of local hiring. Online work enables employers to find the best possible candidate to fulfill their job, not just the ones that are able to commute to a physical office.
 
 
Technology. Technological advancements now allow people to work together seamlessly in ways never before possible. With tools like Skype, for example, you can video chat with someone in Russia and simultaneously instant message with someone in Japan.
Economy. As economic shifts have forced business to do more with less, this has caused them to seek out smarter, innovative staffing solutions.
 
 
These factors have led to a perfect storm, which has in turn fueled the growth of online work. In fact, oDesk forecasts that by 2020, one in three workers will be hired to work online and that the online work market will reach $1 billion by the end of this year.
 
 
Why Online Work?
Online work also allows businesses to hire more rapidly than ever before. Survey respondents reported that the median number of days it took to hire an online worker was 2.8, as opposed to the 23.9 days it typically takes to hire on on-premise worker. Of those who had hired both on-premise and online workers, 82 percent reported that online hiring was easier.
 
 
Respondents reported an overwhelmingly positive impact on their businesses, with 88 percent saying that online work allowed them to be more competitive, and 85 percent stating that it helped them to launch products faster. Eighty percent agreed that hiring online had helped their businesses to grow their revenues.
 
 
For HR executives, online work increases the amount of hiring an organization can do by adding an extended team of contractors supporting the in-house team. The survey’s results showed that online work is boosting the number of job opportunities rather than shifting employment away from on-site workers. When asked what they would have done if online workers weren’t available, most (83 percent) said that they would not have hired locally. Instead, existing team members would have worked longer themselves, or had to delay or cancel their projects altogether.
 
 
The Best Is Yet To Come
The organizations surveyed believe that online work is here to stay and made some bold predictions on the future of hiring:
• By 2020, the majority of contract workers will be working online (86 percent agreed)
• Within 10 years, the majority of businesses will have blended teams of online and on-premise workers (94 percent agreed)
• In the future, getting hired would be more dependent on having the right skills than on location (95 percent agreed)
 
 
Online work is poised to become an integral competitive strategy for most businesses, not just an optional staffing approach. As the online work industry continues to grow, savvy businesses that start integrating online hiring into their business practices will find themselves especially well-positioned to out-execute their competitors tomorrow.
 
 
Matt Cooper is vice president of enterprise and business development for oDesk.