What do companies gain by supporting independent knowledge workers?

Financially speaking, a company gets to hire a specific expertise with no increase in headcount, salary, benefits, or other salary related expenses (e.g. unemployment insurance, social security contribution, etc.).  In companies that are pressured to reduce or maintain headcount this could be a great way to manage peaks and valleys in the workload or to infuse a company with the knowledge of an expert for a limited investment.

That brings us to benefit number two – flexibility.  There are some talents that you need for a limited period of time to work with your team.  They may be used to help build a new competency in your organization or to offer a different perspective on a strategy, issue, or opportunity.  Whatever your reason, you don’t need to make any long-term commitments.

Small companies may use an independent to fill a basic business need for which they don’t have enough work to hire someone full time.  Attorneys and accountants have been providing their expertise in this way for decades.  In fact, I have a CFO.  His name is Gene and I love him.  I see Gene about once a quarter and I call him when I have questions – works for me (and I’m pretty sure it works for Gene too)!

Personally, I think the best reason to hire independent knowledge workers is to cross-pollinate ideas.  Companies can get themselves into a habit of repeating (or only recognizing) familiar patterns.  They often run strategic projects and initiatives utilizing “the usual suspects”.  These people are likely bright and motivated, but they are also often entrenched in a specific product or service view.   They can be spread so thin that they don’t have the time to stay in touch with other industries that might have similar challenges or opportunities to their own.

Someone from the outside can offer a different perspective, connect you with a larger network of independents, and can help you customize your workforce to achieve a specific goal.

Why and where do you think companies can use independents? Where can’t they be used?  Are there other benefits that aren’t listed here?  What are the biggest drawbacks?

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