In-house Incites: Contract Worker World

In a recent opinion piece, noted columnist and author, Thomas Friedman discusses the freelance phenomenon. Not being in the design industry, we should all forgive Tom his naiveté when he considers freelancing as a relatively new trend. Many of us freelanced at some point in our careers well before the new millennium ushered in the massive downsizing and outsourcing that has forced other professions to follow our lead.


I would propose, though, that the newest iteration of freelancing, the on-site contract workers model, has begun to have a significant impact on the in-house design community. In 2008, many companies, in their panic to cut costs in the midst of the great recession, cut their creative teams back to levels where they could no longer service the design needs of those companies. The need for the services they provided did not go away with their departure and clients went to agencies to fill the gap. The beancounters discovered that this was even more costly than the in-house designers and writers their companies had employed. There was a quick about-face as these same companies rehired the “right-sized” creative crew.

But there was, and is, a difference. Rather than bringing their creative staffers back as full-time corporate employees, they brought them back to the fold as full-time on-site contract workers. This has allowed companies to have access to the same talent and services as they had before but without the headcount and accompanying HR and benefits overhead.

There are many varieties of contract worker engagements. Some are salaried, some are hourly. Some involve engaging workers as independent freelancers, others have their teams come in through specialized temp staffing agencies.

Having worked within this new paradigm early on, I can honestly say, that if structured properly, it is the best solution for most companies who need  design and copywriting services on site.

Whether your team has weathered the downsizing storm intact, been gutted or is in danger of being outsourced, it’s in your best interests to educate yourself on the many options available within the contract worker model and determine which one is right for you and your team.

3 thoughts on “In-house Incites: Contract Worker World

  1. Charles Greacen

    This becomes a regressive issue when the host company offers none of the company benefits and yet demands to hold all creative rights to the work created by freelancers. In this new frontier, customers have even dusted off the arcane work for hire contract, a one way instrument that puts the creative in the positioin of indentured servitude.

    1. Andy Epstein Post author

      Agreed, Charles. But it’s important to note that the model I’m seeing take hold (because of co-employment laws) is one where designers work for companies through temporary staffing firms. Very often these firms provide benefits to the talent they place, pay weekly and even offer vacation based on hours worked. Granted, the benefits may not be as good as those provided to employees of the host company but contractors are often eligible for overtime. One other disclaimer is that a contractor doesn’t receive the entire amount being paid by the company for their services.

      Your work for hire issue is a valid one, especially if a designer is working on a per project basis.

  2. Geoff Strehlow

    Well, that is EXACTLY what is happening to me. Having been employed in-house for almost 16 years, our financial got bought and the new company has given our group pink slips, but the third-party design firm that executes a lot of the collateral for the new entity has entered into an agreement to hire us as “freelancers for the immediate future”. I will still be collecting severance and getting an hourly until the time is up. I have set up shop at home knowing that this is a temporary gig and that I will have some additional learning to do as a freelancer. I am concerned, excited, apprehensive, but at 50, it is time to find out what I am made of!