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Will Online Staffing Work For You and What’s Next, Flying Cars?

OK, so we’re a little more tuned into the staffing business than the average Joe out there, so don’t feel bad if you don’t know about all the fuss around online staffing. In case you haven’t heard, online staffing is set to take over the staffing world.

Not really. But you can’t ignore what Staffing Industry Analysts predicts will be a $46 Billion business by 2020. Yes. That’s billions. In short, online staffing is companies like oDesk and, that match consultants with companies that need some type of work to be done. And there’s lots of buzz around it – like someone just perfected the flying car or something.

So what is the reality of online staffing? Basically it’s nothing new. The online companies have been around for a while and companies have known about them and used them for years. It used to be mostly creative types (as in, I need a web page and I don’t want to hire my neighbor’s 15-year-old son), but it’s grown to more jobs than that. The question is: Will online staffing work for you?

The answer is probably yes, if you’re careful and it fits your culture, your risk profile and the type of work you need to get done. But, like any staffing engagement, you should do your homework.

It’s like my flying car analogy. You wouldn’t get into one until you knew it was safe, reliable and would get you where you wanted to go. The same goes for online staffing and here are a few things to consider before you jump in and fly away with online staffing.

Are the people real? – Yes. They are real and I’m not saying they aren’t. It’s just that the whole concept is really based on never meeting the people who work for you. That’s different than a staffing company who sends someone to work in your office. I get it – maybe you don’t want to deal with people. Maybe you’ve had too many calls from brick and mortar staffing companies. But just make sure that you, your employees and your HR, procurement and legal departments are OK with that setup. And read this story about the guy who got more hits as a bearded Ashton Kutcher look-alike than without a beard. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

What’s the real cost? – We’ve seen this before with independent contractors. They (the consultants) are supposed to pay their own taxes. Their responsibility – that won’t come back to haunt you. The costs seem fairly low because they are just charging for making the match, or processing an invoice or charging a certain fee per type or amount of the gig. But you need to know what you are getting for that fee and what you aren’t. And what other resources do you need to manage, approve, and direct the work being done – and how are you going to be sure you get what you paid for?

Who sees the whole picture? Lastly, as I alluded to in the last point above, if this takes off and you or your company uses a lot of online staffing, in many areas, by many managers, multiple locations, for multiple types of projects, through another system you don’t own or control, how will you know it’s working? Enough said there.

On the consultant side, we’ve heard for years that some freelancers don’t like the idea of going through a staffing company. There’s also others who don’t like going through some of the online staffing companies. When oDesk and Elance announced their merger, there was understandably some consternation on the part of freelancers. TechCrunch covered it well in a recent article. So it remains to be seen if freelancers will prefer online staffing or traditional staffing.

In the end, it’s like flying cars. There are some people who will never step foot in one.

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