The Rise Of Freelance & Fractional Employees

I’m excited to see all the positive articles regarding freelance and fractional employees becoming more popular with companies these days.

According to, more than 75% of US businesses prefer to hire freelancers/fractional workers in an uncertain economy. That’s a huge number and points to a major shift for employers and employees alike.

Upwork’s recent article “Future Workforce Report 2022: Leveraging Independent Talent as a Key Workforce Strategy” does an excellent job summarizing why this strategy has become more the norm than the exception. A few notable reasons resonated with me, such as:

Businesses are hiring but struggling to source talent, and freelancers help solve that talent shortage.

Independent talent provides access to specialized skills that the business may not have on staff.

Organizations that work with independent talent are more confident about withstanding turmoil.

In another article in MarketWatch, “More than half of the U.S. labor force will be freelance by 2027. Here’s what that’s a good thing for workers and businesses alike.”

As the author states, one of the driving factors (outside of the list mentioned above) is the acceptance of remote or hybrid work by businesses.

“One of the lasting legacies of the global pandemic is the way it has accelerated workers’ ability to deliver regardless of distance and location and forced managers to focus on output rather than time (such as the conventional 9-to-5 workday). Think of it as the rise of the Talent Cloud: a robust independent workforce specializing in a range of disciplines, available anywhere and anytime to businesses that need them with quick deployment and minimum internal operation and overhead.”

My last 20+ years doing project work and serving as a fractional manager for my clients seem to support this statement.

Inevitably, I would go into an organization and build a growth strategy, execute it, and then find myself needing to roll out of that project to allow operations to “catch up” with the new business flowing in. Then, about 10 years ago, a client CEO asked me if I ever considered moving over to the operations side and helping fix the operational constraints that my growth strategy caused. I hadn’t up until that point, but he encouraged me to step outside of my normal new business development role and help him scale his company operationally.

That encouragement led me on a new journey, learning more about organizational development and project management, and to my delight, I found the process orientation I apply to new business development transfers almost seamlessly to OD. Then I learned how to pop in and out of various projects over the years that helped the company more than double its output. I’m not sure who benefited more from this, me or my client, but from my perspective, it opened my eyes to a different way to approach organizational effectiveness and scaling approaches.

I think this experience illustrates what more and more business leaders are seeing. Instead of trying to get employees who are on staff to do things outside of their wheelhouse, hire experts who can come in and design and execute a strategy and “bring” the staff along with them on that ride. It teaches new skills to its employees that they wouldn’t learn organically, keeps engagement high, and protects against the “quiet quitting” we discussed in an earlier article.

While a bit unique 20 years ago (and a tough sell to employers), today you see firms popping up all over offering fractional work. From CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, and Sales Management, as well as dozens of other disciplines, the growth in this market has been tremendous.

When I first started to see this growth I was initially concerned with all the new competition I’d be sure to face in the market. That concern disappeared almost immediately as I noticed my discussions with business leaders became immensely easier the more this market grew. They almost immediately began to see how this model makes so much more sense than traditional employer/employee relationships. This “acceptance” has opened up discussions and opportunities for multiple projects that I can help with within an organization.

Beyond the efficiencies and practicality of this fractional model, it makes a ton of sense to employers financially as well. Employers can bring on expertise previously untouchable due to the wages, experts command in the marketplace and historically reserved for Fortune companies. Additionally, employers don’t bear the costs of sourcing, selection, onboarding, employer taxes, benefits, turnover, etc. To an employer, they get the best of both worlds; top talent, and a fraction of the cost associated with full-time employment.

Employees aren’t going away; they will always be needed and make sense for many reasons. However, for specialized skills, temporary projects, and flexibility during uncertain economic times, such as we’re in today, therefore the need for the fractional worker will continue to grow.