The main worry around Brexit for most business owners is seeing our strong bonds with Europe being severed and the possible loss of a valuable cross border workforce. Will Brexit make UK businesses less competitive and therefore less attractive in the global market? We simply don’t know yet.
Now that Article 50 has been triggered and we have begun negotiating our exit from the European Union, many businesses are looking at an uncertain future that is going to be hard to predict. We have no real idea how this will impact on us, from concerns about the demand for our exports to finding enough seasonal workers to pick fruit from our fields and orchards or to staff our hotels.
According to figures coming from the Office for National Statistics, migrant workers in Britain reached a record level of 2.15 million during 2016. These figures account for over half of all new workers, so who will fill the gaps in the market for these workers should they stop coming here? There are many businesses both small and large from all sectors that may suffer as a result.
Top bosses from the ever-growing tech industry in the UK says that there are insufficient numbers of home grown engineers to fill their needs, so they actively source talent from across Europe who come here on working visas. Most tech companies have to do this to remain competitive, and any reduction in overseas staff will mean they cannot grow as fast as they need to. This could leave the UK tech industry lagging behind its competitors.
Despite claims from the Prime Minister that she is making workers on EU visas in London a top priority, nothing as yet has been put in place and any failure to do so will be disastrous. Companies across all sectors who rely on European workers will struggle to fill essential roles and would find it hard to attract workers from the EU, especially those who may feel like they are no longer welcome to work in this country.
Could the solution to Brexit be the Freelance Economy?
The freelance economy has grown by 25% since 2009, and is now estimated to generate £109 billion per year in turnover. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, self-employment grew from 3.8 million in 2008 to 4.6 million in 2015, with around 2 million of those currently self-employed working in a freelance capacity.
Being able to fill a variety of roles across a wide range of industries and carry their existing knowledge, experience and expertise with them is looking like a very attractive option for business owners looking to fill the gaps left by missing EU workers.
Although freelancers are often seen as part of the ‘gig economy’, this isn’t strictly true! The ‘gig economy’ in it’s true sense is made up of quick tasks, and a gig worker is someone that may work for Uber or Deliveroo collecting and delivering things on your behalf for example. A freelancer on the other hand is able to offer businesses essential skills, talents and support no matter where they may reside in the world. They can provide employers with short or long-term flexible support for project developments and can often bring new skills to the table that the company don’t yet have.
Did you know for example that major brand names such as ASOS and Google hire freelancers that make up half of their UK based workforce? Many large organisations hire remotely based freelancers to make up their workforce and have done so for many years. The most obvious benefit of hiring a freelancer over an EU worker is that a freelancer doesn’t need a visa to be able to work for you. Freelancers are going to be far less susceptible to the outcomes of Article 50 and therefore are going to be a more reliable source of talent when making short term or long term plans for the future.
With Brexit will come a whole new raft of restrictions regarding working visas for overseas workers, so business owners are going to have to think long and hard about how they are going to manage their talent with regard to geographical borders. Managers are now looking at ways they can use to attract and retain talented freelancers while still moving their plans for growth forward. A lot of this is going to be down to good management of their freelance pool and knowing which person is going to be the best fit for each new project or role as it arises.
Business forecasters are predicting a shift in focus for many hiring managers. This will involve moving away from bringing in overseas workers and helping them to find accommodation, fit in with the company culture and feel at home to a more hands-off approach with freelancers. Here they will need to put in place a system that makes on-boarding new freelancers more simple, and helping them to integrate smoothly without causing disruption to their current workflow. Focus must also be placed on ensuring that all freelance staff are treated well, paid fairly and most importantly, paid on time. If they want to retain the best workers, they cannot afford to neglect the basics that freelancers rely upon = good communications and regular pay.
Outsourcing tasks that can be done virtually anywhere to professional freelancers has been growing in popularity over recent years. Outsourcing jobs and hiring freelancers is also a great way of keeping business running costs to a minimum. With an unpredictable few years ahead, many small and medium enterprises in the UK are getting ahead by using professional freelancers, hiring virtual offices and personalised call handling services.
With so many uncertainties surrounding life in post-Article 50 Britain, it will pay business owners to embrace the professional freelance economy to support their plans for the future.