OnForce, a pioneer in the ‘gig economy,’ at the forefront of what’s next

<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-110672432/stock-photo-closeup-of-fiber-optical-network-hub-and-cables.html?src=Lt0uSLKOXQx9eNMKqdwW_Q-1-28">Image 'closeup of a network hub' via Shutterstock</a>
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Ten years ago, Lexington-based OnForce established itself as one of the first companies to take advantage of a shift in how organizations balanced in-house workforces and outside contractors needed for more specific and challenging tasks, often in the information technology field.

Today, OnForce is at the crossroads of a generational shift in how workers and businesses connect amid a surge in freelance careers.

Founded in 2004 in New York, the company initially built a platform for businesses to manage independent contractors and freelancers. Specifically, OnForce offered companies the ability a service that had been lacking over the years: a single place to find a highly skilled contractors, manage their projects, and pay the individuals for their work.

OnForce has been a resource for small businesses to get on-demand, skilled workers for tasks they couldn’t complete with in-house staff, and also served as a way for companies like Apple, Comcast, and Pitney Bowes to supplement their workforces to cover tasks they didn’t have enough employees to manage. In the last decade, OnForce has augmented the workforces of more than 6,400 companies, assigning 2.2 million jobs through its platform.

Celebrating the 10-year milestone, OnForce chief executive Peter Cannone believes that while the company has been at the forefront of the “gig economy” (in which companies like Care.com, HourlyNerd, and HandyBook are leveraging technology to connect individual workers with jobs), OnForce is poised to continue to grow as the freelance marketplace evolves.

Cannone, a UMass-Amherst grad and native of western Massachusetts, moved General Catalyst- and Accel Partners-backed OnForce to the Boston area more than seven years ago. Since then, the company has grown into a leader in independent contractor/freelancer management. It’s also secured multiple patents for its technology that features, among other capabilities, the ability to negotiate with and pay workers online, as well as “real-time clarification of work order requirements” and work order updates.

Cannone said that “the OnForce model” is ideal for handling a variable workforce by individual task.

“IT has evolved to the point where it’s changed the way people look at their workforces,” Cannone said. He added that now, companies look to “match a skill set to a task rather than a skill set to a person.”

Cannone said that you can observe the change in the task workforce model here in Boston, as younger workers are turning to the flexibility and work/life balance that many freelance jobs offer. “Businesses are also thinking differently,” he said. “It’s not so much about a full-time job anymore.”

Assisting with the big shift

To help companies in this new workforce climate, the company launched OnForce Converge, what Cannone called a “freelancer management platform for business.” The new cloud software service allows businesses to take their own private networks of freelancers that they already have in place and add them to OnForce’s platform to manage their freelancers and independent contractors.

As businesses large and small are looking at their workforces differently, Cannone said, they are hiring a smaller fixed number of in-house employees and using the OnForce platform more and more to hire for specific work. OnForce Converge allows companies to manage their workforces in “a highly efficient and cost effective way,” Connone added, to create a variable workforce that they can manage by event.

Noting that recent studies predict that “talent-for-task” workers will account for up to 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020, Cannone believes that OnForce’s current position as an industry leader and its continued development of ways to help companies manage freelancers and independent contractors puts it at position to play a key role as the ideas of company workforces and individual careers change.

“You see this evolution happening right now,” Cannone concluded.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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