Thanks to a transitioning marketplace, businesses need talent but shaky stability makes them gun shy to hire. The result? A rise in outsourcing work to consultant-based professionals that posess the expertise a company needs. Teleconsultants are independent contractors who work on a per-diem or fixed-term basis to provide a wide range of services.
In order to help companies fulfull their need for staffing, a range of startups have been launched to become the middleman between teleconsultant talent and the businesses that need them. Some of the service categories that have seen a tremendous increase in freelance work include:
- Editorial (proofreading, copywriting, editing)
- Accounting and financial
- Website design
- Social media development and content management
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Technical support
- Project management
- Regulatory reviews and submissions
- Event and marketing management
- Employee recruitment
- Human resources logistics and management
- Travel planning
- Call centers
- Virtual assistants
Unlike traditional consultants, teleconsultants almost never work on company premises, and typically provide specific expertise on projects that require quick turnaround (although a series of projects might constitute a longer engagement).
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The Growth of Teleconsulting
The growth of teleconsultants parallels the disruption caused by technology in the modern office. More work is performed from home, and employees are used to communicating primarily via computers and smartphones. Many employees no longer have a walled office of their own and often they don't even have their own cubicle.
At the same time, companies are downsizing, in part because technology eliminates jobs, and in part because during times of economic uncertainty, job cuts make one of the biggest impressions on the bottom-line. When the economy rebounds, companies are hesitant to bulk up their staffing levels again. At the same time, people with valued skill sets, while not required as full-time employees, are needed to deliver short-term projects. The trend toward reducing staffing levels creates greater need for teleconsultants.
Since companies are no longer guaranteeing lifetime employment, workers with certain skill sets are increasingly attracted to taking their futures into their own hands. At the very least, uncertain employment makes people eager to find side work.
According to Fortune, Elance (a website that acts as an auction block for freelancers to bid on posted freelance assignments), reports that "21% of its subscribers started to freelance after they were laid off from their jobs, while 40% started taking contract work to supplement income from full-time jobs."
This is particularly true of the so-called millennial generation that is just entering the workforce. According to a 2013 survey commissioned by Millennial Branding and oDesk, a job marketplace for remote workers, more than half of millennial considered themselves independent entrepreneurs. Of those freelancers who have a "regular" job, 72 percent hope to quit to become independent.
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Temporary Teams Tackling Bigger Projects
Typically, freelancers have been solo practitioners. A rising trend is the formation of virtual teams that bring together various teleconsultants on an ad hoc basis.
As Gary Swart of oDesk puts it, "teams come together like a movie crew, in order to deliver on a project. Each person will bring their specialized skills to bear and, once the 'movie' is complete, will move on to their next project."
One consequence of this trend is an increase in the value of project managers. During the recession, a lot companies let go project managers because they didn't have enough work to keep them on. Now that they have more projects, they're nonetheless reluctant to bulk up middle management ranks after doing without. So the project manager category of teleconsultant has become more valuable. At the same time, all those laid-off project managers may find freelancing more rewarding and lucrative than continuing to look for a regular job.
According to Freelancing Matters, "we can expect to see an increasing demand for project managers in 2014; indeed, $1.6 million was spent hiring for project management on oDesk last year -- up from $300,000 in 2010."
The economy, downsizing, and uncertain employment have caused a sizeable number of people with highly marketable talents to pursue teleconsulting. For the foreseeable future, teleconsulting continues to grow both because people no longer see a "job" as a lifetime commitment, and because companies have fewer reasons to offer that commitment as they once did.