Microsoft and Upwork Create a New Way For Companies to Handle Freelancers

December 6, 2018, 5:00 PM UTC

Microsoft and enterprise software company Upwork have partnered on new tools to help companies manage freelance workers.

The new software is intended to help companies more easily give temporary workers who need to access certain Microsoft Office-related tools, like the Teams workplace chat app, for limited amounts of time.

When projects end, the new software automatically cuts freelancers’ access to Microsoft-related products including any associated data. Typically, companies must manually block freelancers from access, which can be a time-consuming hassle.

Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel hopes that the new free product, called Microsoft 365 Freelance Toolkit, will eventually attract more customers to Upwork’s paid products that include freelance screening services. The company typically charges businesses a 20% fee (10% for freelancers) that is based on the value of projects.

Upwork teamed with Microsoft on the new tools because of Microsoft’s huge list of corporate customers, thereby giving Upwork an opportunity to get more business from them. Kasriel said that many freelancers who use Upwork to connect with companies work on projects that involve Microsoft technology, like a developer who builds corporate intranets using Microsoft’s Sharepoint software.

With the new tools, companies can more easily search for freelancers who specialize in Microsoft-related projects and hire them more quickly, he said.

The new tools underscore a trend in enterprise software in which companies embed each other’s products into their own tools, primarily through partnerships. For instance, Microsoft competitor Slack recently debuted a way for companies like customer software specialist Zendesk to more easily integrate some of its services into Slack’s workplace chat app.

The idea is that not all companies can specialize in multiple products, so it would better serve customers if their products contained features from other companies.

But these product integrations and partnerships could prove tenuous down the road if one company decides to build a competing product. Kasriel acknowledged that Microsoft’s workplace social network LinkedIn has a product for freelancers called ProFinder that isn’t entirely like Upwork’s hiring board service, but it could eventually be a competitor.

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However, it’s a risk he’s willing to take to grow his business, which he said is still “in its infancy.”

Kasriel said that Upwork doesn’t plan similar deals with Microsoft competitors like Google’s G Suite workplace software or Slack.

“Right now that is not the plan,” Kasriel said.

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