Let’s say your organization needs a writer to create website content and marketing materials. You could hire a writer to join your team on a full or part-time basis. You could pay an advertising firm to take on the project. Or you could go online and find a ‘virtual worker’ for a fraction of the cost. Which would you choose?

According to a recent report from Policy Horizons Canada, online work platforms are having a significant impact on the way that companies hire, pay and retain people.

There are several online work platforms that connect organizations with workers. Freelancer.com, for example, allows companies to post projects and receive bids from individuals in over 240 countries. At fiverr.com, individuals will write website copy for as little as $6.58. Need technical support? You can hire some at Upwork.com for as little as $10.00 an hour. And that’s just a small sample of the many virtual worker programs online — the World Bank Group estimates this market is growing by 33% each year.

At first glance, a free market model may seem appealing. What a great way to cut costs and get access to a wide range of talent! But scratch below the surface, and you’ll find a structure that has a significant impact on job security, pay levels and our social net. If you can hire a freelancer, why would you offer full-time employment and all the benefits that go with it? How do Canadians maintain standards around minimum wages, work hours and timely payments when competing globally? What does this mean for our next generation, and their quality of living?

There are no easy answers to these questions. As organizations struggle to remain competitive in a global market, it can be tempting to focus cost-cutting strategies on human talent. But there are several other factors that come into play, including the value of employee engagement, valuable relationships for supporting your goals, and the quality of the output from freelancers who have no foundational knowledge of your company or a stake in its success.

It can be tempting to join the race to the bottom, forever chasing the cheapest rates for goods and services. But at what cost?