a woman working alone outside at a coffee shop

What’s the key to a growing company’s success? According to a survey conducted by Bredin, it’s access to the right talent. But here’s the rub: those surveyed worry about competing against larger companies with bigger budgets for that talent. What’s a business to do?

If you follow workforce trends, the answer is simple. Access the talent you need by engaging freelancers. It’s an efficient way for companies to gain the wide range of skills they need, while stretching every dollar. But some companies are uneasy about that.

*The Upwork SMB Survey was conducted online by Bredin, a research firm specializing in SMBs, from January 16-19, 2018, and polled 503 principals of U.S. businesses with 500 or fewer employees.

They’re uneasy because most freelancers work remotely. This chafes at their comfort zone as many companies believe talent should work onsite to maintain productivity and work quality.

While these are valid concerns, a growing number of companies are turning these concerns into myths—here’s how.

Productivity fear: How can I make sure they’re really working?

When people think of freelancers, they may think of someone playing video games in their bunny slippers instead of working. But one British study suggests this may be a truer image of your fellow cubicle dwellers.

The study found that the average office worker is only productive two hours and 53 minutes each day. That’s less than three hours of actual work during a typical workday.

The main reason? Distractions.

This study supports findings from a survey of professionals who say their biggest productivity killer in the office is handling distractions (44%). It’s no surprise that a significant number of those surveyed believe they’re more productive when they work from home than in the office.

The time sink doesn’t end there. Each time we’re interrupted, our productivity takes another hit. Researchers found it takes time for our brain to switch from one task and get into the groove with another task, like answering a co-worker then going back to a spreadsheet. Some call this context switching, which can affect up to 40% of our productive time.

You’d probably rather pay someone to be productive, rather than just busy. This is one of many reasons why companies are ditching the 9-to-5 for flexible working arrangements. And why freelancers can be a cost-effective way to get work done.

Why Freelancers Want to be Productive

Freelancers operate like a business. The more efficiently they work, the sooner they get paid. The more work they complete, the more money they make. Moreover, their project reviews affect their reputation and possibly how easily they attract future business.

The VP of development for one software startup says, “We’re able to produce the volume we do with freelancers. Without them we wouldn’t be close to where we are today.”

Keep in mind that like employees, the quality of the freelancer you engage depends on how well you vet them. Small businesses often contract talent through freelancer websites where talent profiles include a project history, reviews, ratings and more. For extra safeguards, some websites, like Upwork, include built-in protection to ensure you only pay for the time worked and approved.

Now that you see how productivity can be handled, let’s look at another common concern…

Quality fear: What if I can’t maintain the same work quality as we have in-house?

It’s easy to think someone outside your company can’t understand the work as intimately or care as much as your staff does. Even Upwork’s creative team had that concern when they needed to scale quickly with freelance help.

Jonathan Cofer, executive creative director at Upwork, worried that freelancers couldn’t maintain the company’s high production quality. He also wondered how they’d cultivate creativity and collaboration with a remote team. In the end, freelancers helped Cofer’s team double their creative output while seamlessly maintaining quality standards.

Vet for Quality

As mentioned before, the quality of your results depends on how well you vet talent. Quality is more predictable when you review talent profiles thoroughly.

Profiles give you an efficient way to check the talent’s work against their claims. Look at the rating system, make sure the project history shows they can do the work you need, and scan client feedback, badges, and other certifications.

Holly Cardew, founder and CEO at Pixc, also suggests starting small. Contract new talent with a smaller project to assess work quality before giving them larger projects.

Freelancers Update Their Skills More Frequently

Nearly seven in 10 freelancers say they freelance as a choice. Many rely on their skills every day, so they keep them updated.

“We may not have a full-time need for their specialty, but it’s great for our employees to have a specialist available who understands the topic a lot more than we do,” says Shannon Williams, co-founder and VP of sales at Rancher Labs. “The cost savings are great, but the real value is getting distributed expertise. I get so many more brains working on my problem than I could ever get hiring full-time employees.”

Erik Allebest, CEO at Chess.com, echoes that experience. He says by contracting freelancers, he can access “people ahead of the curve, even more so than people we might have been able to find locally.”

Not where, but who

Rancher Labs is a software startup that became an industry leader within three years. They grew quickly by creating high-quality content about niche topics that required a variety of technical specialists. To optimize their budget and their staff’s time, their strategy is to hire a core team, then find the experts on Upwork to execute specific needs. Needs like creating the highly specialized, niche content.

“Our success is very much tied to how we use freelancers every day,” says Williams. “Freelancers give us a competitive advantage and allow us to be more successful than what we otherwise would have been.”

For companies seeking to grow while controlling costs, it may be time to adopt a new way of thinking. It’s not about where the work gets done, it’s about getting it done by the right person.