NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For better or for worse, the U.S. job sector is turning away from full-time, salaried positions to a temporary or project-based workforce. That "freelance nation" trend is a double-edged sword for U.S. workers. On the plus side, temporary or freelance workers have more flexibility and are better insulated against layoffs so long as they have more than one client project in the pipeline. On the negative side, the hours aren't guaranteed, and few employers pony up perks such as health care and retirement funding for freelance or "contract" workers. According to Statista.com, U.S staffing companies tapped into 12.9 million temporary and contract employees in 2011. That's way up from 2009, when the figure was 9.7 million. An Accountemps survey says the upswing is all about companies wanting "targeted expertise." Chief financial officers interviewed by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Accountemps say they value contract workers for their specialized skills and their help in maintaining productivity in the workplace. So while 76% of CFOs say it's useful to bring contract help in, especially for absent workers, 72% say the best benefit in hiring temporary staff is the unique skills they bring to the table. "There is a structural shift occurring in the labor market as businesses rely more heavily on a flexible workforce," says Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps. "Working with temporary professionals allows companies to be nimble and access specialized expertise when -- and for as long as -- needed." Meanwhile, "many skilled and experienced professionals choose project work because of the freedom and flexibility it affords. For companies, that means being able to access high-caliber talent at a moment's notice," Messmer says. What's the best way for companies and contract workers to maximize their time together? Accountemps has some pointers. Get everyone on the "same page." Contractors often feel like they're parachuting into uncharted territory with new employers. Companies should make them feel more comfortable by not only letting the contractor know where he or she stands, but by letting the staff and close team members know why the temporary worker is on site (or working offsite), what his or her role is, and how the contractor will contribute to the company. Set goals and criteria. Contractors want to know project details -- all of them. Accountemps says part-time workers are more valuable when they have clear direction. If they don't get it, that value plummets. Firm deadlines are especially important. Simplify the chain of command. Contract workers do best when they have one manager to answer to. Ideally, that "single point of contact" is someone who "thoroughly understands the scope of work
and can oversee the interim professional's progress," Accountemps says. Be in the loop. "Checking in" with part-time workers is often overlooked by management. Without regular feedback from the decision-maker (or decision-makers), a project can easily go south.