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Navigating the gig economy

by Lee Ali

Lee Ali, MD of Expo Stars, explains how to work effectively with freelancers around the world.

The number of people going self-employed is growing fast. Recent stats from TUC indicate the self-employment market in Britain has more than doubled in size over the past three years and now accounts for 4.7 million workers. It’s not just in the UK we are seeing this, but also in many other countries around the world.Self-employment options vary greatly, from those working in the gig economy and zero-hour contracts to specialist freelancers and consultants who are experts in a certain skill or sector, as well as people starting and growing their own businesses.

Working in the conference and exhibition industry, we would find it difficult to operate without freelance support. Due to the global nature of our own business, we currently work with a network of 2,500 freelancers and specialist promotional staff, which we’ve carefully built up since the business was founded in 2007.From the very start, it was essential that we built a strong, engaged and talented network to ensure we can best serve our clients. But, like with many things, this is something you have to dedicate time to and, as time has passed, I’ve learnt there are a number of factors and potentially challenges to take into consideration to work effectively with freelance and temporary staff.

Your team – whether permanent, full-time, temporary or freelance – represent you and your business. It’s therefore vital to invest time in selecting the right people. We have a thorough interview process, which usually takes place over a video call due to location and time differences, so we can determine their suitability. Testing candidates so we can determine their personality and communications styles is also important, as so much of working in exhibitions is to do with effective face-to-face engagement. We’ve also developed our own internal booking system over the last five years, which allows us to streamline how we allocate staff to jobs, taking into consideration psychology profiling, communications style, location, experience, languages and previous feedback.

To ensure everything runs smoothly at the event, detailed briefings are essential. It’s worthwhile briefing the team before the event and setting aside time every morning to run through roles and responsibilities for the day, as well as answering any questions the team may have, so everyone feels confident in what they are doing.

Understand local laws

The law is continuously evolving to protect workers, and legislation will differ from country to country. Key players in the gig economy like Deliveroo and Uber have led to many countries changing their rules, and these laws also apply to traditional employers working with freelancers or specialist consultants. In the UK specifically, the IR35 rules will be extended to the private sector from April 2020. Making sure you have up-to-date contracts that are tailored to each location you operate in is essential to make sure you can work fairly and legally internationally.

Take care of your freelance staff

Working in events can be both physically and mentally demanding, so regardless of whether you employ permanent or freelance staff, you need to look after their health and wellbeing. Encourage your team to eat well and drink lots of water, schedule in regular breaks and make sure they are taking time out to rest. To ensure you have an efficient and productive team, managers should strive to create a stress-free environment where everyone feels relaxed. I’m a big believer of practicing mindfulness and meditation to achieve this, and it’s something we encourage all of our core team to learn and develop.  

Freelancer rates and the local economy

As with permanent staff, payment rates for freelancers differ depending on location. Be mindful if you are working in countries with a more expensive economy like Scandinavia, Singapore and USA, as freelance rates tend to be substantially higher compared to the UK and some other European countries due to high local tax rates, the cost of living and sometimes even a lack of availability of freelancers. Research your costs at least four-to-six months in advance and look at all available options. You might in some cases find it’s cheaper to fly local staff out rather than hiring them locally. But make sure you’re taking in consideration the criteria of staff you need – for example if they need to be aware of certain cultures and customs or speak specific languages.

With freelancers, if you take the time to carefully select your staff, give clear briefings, offer a reasonable rate of pay, and work with your legal team to ensure your paperwork is in order, you’ll have a strong, motivated workforce for every event, allowing you to focus on achieving the best possible results.

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