Introducing Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit—a solution to launch and scale your freelance workforce

With increasing participation in the gig economy—the contingent labor market made up of independent workers who contract for short-term engagements—enterprises are beginning to test and include freelance talent to support projects. According to the Future Workforce Report, 47 percent of hiring managers at enterprise organizations utilized freelancers (up from 44 percent the prior year), while roughly 9 in 10 hiring managers say they are open to engaging freelancers rather than temporary workers through a staffing firm. To help enterprises digitally transform or complement their conventional contingent staff solutions, we’re launching Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit, a curated set of tools, templates, and best practices to help our customers launch, execute, and manage freelance programs at scale. 

The gig economy, which includes freelancers, consultants, contractors, and solopreneurs, is on the rise. According to Staffing Industry Analysts, the total spent on gig work in 2015 was $792 billion. Experts believe that within 10 years a larger proportion of the U.S. workforce will participate in the gig economy. In addition, according to Field Nation, 86 percent of independent workers intentionally choose freelancing.

The implications for enterprise companies are profound. To thrive in a highly competitive environment with rapidly changing technology and customer needs, enterprises must be agile and adapt to new business models to get work done with external talent. While adding on-demand freelance talent to the mix offers measurable results in speed and efficiency, the path to transforming existing policies and processes is largely undefined.

Our launch partner for this toolkit is Upwork, one of the largest online global marketplaces with over 375,000 freelancers in over 180 countries. We specifically are partnering with Upwork Enterprise, their end-to-end compliance and freelance talent sourcing solution.

The Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit offers solutions for the main friction points enterprises encounter when deploying a freelance program, including: internal communications and awareness, team-wide collaboration, data analytics, and workflow automation.

Internal communications and awareness

One of the major challenges of launching an enterprise freelance program is driving awareness and education among internal stakeholders and adopters. Employees need a place where they can get started to learn how the program works, access required training, and review best practices for engaging with freelancers.

Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit solves for this with the SharePoint communication site template—a “one-stop shop” for program details to help accelerate freelance adoption and onboarding, including:

  • Repository for relevant documentation and presentations about the program.
  • Use cases to show employees the kinds of projects they can get done with freelancers.
  • FAQs seeded with the top questions from enterprise employees.
  • An engagement template to help you connect with freelancers in the SharePoint expert talent pool.

See our SharePoint communication site infographic to learn more.

Team-wide collaboration

The nature of enterprise freelance projects requires team members to collaborate on multiple files, manage varied tasks, and communicate across time zones. To keep cross-functional, multi-geographical teams moving in the same direction, the Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit provides guidance around using Microsoft Teams as a powerful hub for teamwork that brings chats, meetings, calls, files, and apps into one shared workspace.

With Teams, enterprises can manage their freelance communication and collaboration needs, specifically through:

  • Communication—Public and private teams for members to engage in discussion.
  • Task management—One place to track progress and align each team member’s workflow via integration with project management tools like Microsoft Planner.
  • File storage—One place to store shared files and retrieve them through intelligent search.
  • External guest access—The ability for external users worldwide to collaborate in all aspects of freelance projects through the free version of Teams.
  • Security—External guest access to project-specific teams keeps your information safe without giving wholesale access.

See our Teams infographic to learn more.

Data analytics

A major challenge in scaling an enterprise freelance program is capturing, tracking, and communicating performance KPIs. The Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit leverages Microsoft Power BI, a business analytics service that deliver insights by collecting real-time data from multiple sources, simplifying data prep, and producing customized, easy-to-understand reports and dashboards.

Power BI helps enterprise program managers to:

  • Make data-driven decisions.
  • Compare freelance program results to conventional staffing solutions.
  • Identify the teams within your organization currently leveraging freelance talent by discipline type to help identify future opportunities within your company.

To enhance the core functionality of Power BI for a freelance environment, the freelance toolkit offers:

  • A Power BI template with sample visualizations.
  • A Power BI connector to pull data from disparate sources into dashboards.
  • An engagement template to help you connect with freelancers in the Power BI talent pool.

See our Power BI infographic to learn more.

Workflow automation

An enterprise freelance program requires provisioning, compliance, and monitoring, all while providing a frictionless process for your employees. To reduce the need for manual completion of repetitive tasks, Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit uses Microsoft Flow to create automated workflows between apps and services that send notifications, synchronize files, and collect data.

For example, Microsoft Flow can help business decision makers automate the following scenarios:

  • Employee training and compliance. By visiting the freelance program SharePoint communication site, employees can sign up for the pilot by completing a compliance training video supported by Microsoft Stream.
  • Internal community signup. After an employee completes the compliance training video, the employee is automatically added to an internal Teams channel where employees can collaborate with others who are part of the program and share experiences.
  • Upwork account creation. After the employee is added to the Teams channel, their account information, which includes their name and email address, is sent to Upwork for account creation on their platform, so they can start posting jobs on the platform.

In addition to core Microsoft Flow functionality, the freelance toolkit offers:

  • Case studies to show how you can use Microsoft Flow within an enterprise freelance program.
  • An engagement template to help you connect with freelancers in the Microsoft Flow talent pool.

See our Microsoft Flow infographic to learn more.

Our journey and what we learned

Like many of our customers, Microsoft is also in the process of navigating how to responsibly weave freelance engagements into our enterprise environment. Over the past year, we completed over 2,000 freelance projects across writing, research, video editing, translation, design, and data science—spanning 25 internal teams and hundreds of employees.

But getting to this point was not easy—we had to internally transform ourselves, and we needed to build an infrastructure that could support the complexities of an enterprise freelance program. This led us to develop the Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit, which combines our leading enterprise productivity apps with curated tools, templates, and best practices to address the specific needs of enterprise freelance programs. The work has paid off. To date, we’ve seen measurable cost and time savings.

Get started

Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit is available for no additional cost as part of an Office 365 Enterprise or Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscription. Learn more about Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit and a Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscription.

Please note: Each enterprise will need to evaluate and determine its own needs—including such things as data handling and compliance requirements—and should use their existing Microsoft 365 investments they determine appropriate.

Learn more about the freelance toolkit journey with Upwork.