2020 was the year that changed everything, and the lessons in contingent workforce management were many.
The unprecedented events of the past year introduced many organisations to the undeniable advantages – and the power – of a flexible, agile workforce. In an uncertain economic environment, business leadership sought flexibility in their workforce and lower business overheads.
The contingent workforce offered both.
What we continue to call ‘the gig economy’, has become all-pervasive.
In 2020, businesses learned that the ability to scale up and down based on tenuous market conditions bought them strategic advantage. Contractors, freelancers, consultants, and a host of alternative non-employee workers allowed businesses of all sizes and stages, the ability to maximise their investment in talent.
It was a major shift.
Now, as we head into another year of uncertainty at the hands of the global pandemic, there’s an opportunity for organisations to even better leverage their talent spend. By taking heed of the lessons in contingent workforce management in 2020, your organisation can make 2021 more predictable, profitable and manageable.
This means continuing to think more laterally about your workforce.
It means you can meet workforce and business goals, with a mix of full time and contingent workers.
It also means being willing to accept change – as market fluctuations occur, by engaging new and different types of workers, suited to your business needs.
Today, I’ve prepared a number of observations that I believe your business can benefit from in 2021. These are just some of the lessons in contingent workforce management that our clients experienced last year, and that is universally adaptable to your organisation – no matter what your business size or structure.
Contingent Workforce Management Strategy
This may sound a little short-sighted… I mean, who doesn’t have a contingent workforce strategy? But hear me out.
Of all the lessons in contingent workforce management we observed during 2020, the most important was the undeniable need for a robust strategy.
As the engagement of contingent workers continues to rise, so too does the complexity of managing this workforce. And without a plan in place, you’ll soon see that the benefits of these workers will be unrealised. There’ll be hidden costs, poor rate management, rogue hiring and even random vendor selection.
The inefficiency of a zero-strategy approach will completely mitigate any benefits you may draw from your contingent workers. Not to mention the very real statutory risks. I’ve seen it first-hand. The first step to getting your contingent workforce right in 2021, is to set your strategy in place.
Workforce Data: The Right Arm of your Contingent Talent Strategy
The prevalence of workforce data really came to the fore over the past few years. But in 2020, it was perhaps, one of the most pivotal lessons in contingent workforce management. This fact became apparent for both strategic and administrative reasons.
When the pandemic hit, organisations were directed by governments to change the way they do business. The mandated ‘work from home’ (WFH) initiative was just one. This meant organisation’s reliance on workforce data became a priority.
First, in a strategic framework:
- Contingent worker’s outputs and achievements were heavily reliant on reporting and analysis
- Business leadership utilised data from workforce management software to better determine time-to-completion and cost of projects on which contingent workers were assigned
- In the absence of face-to-face engagement, the ‘single source of truth’ when it came to the productivity and profitability of contingent workers, was HR and workforce data
On the administrative side of things, data played an equally crucial role:
- In the early days of the pandemic, when WFH was a new concept, it was the workforce data that enabled line managers to know where contingent workers were based, what they were working on, and when their contract was due to expire
- Data also informed organisations about what access contingent workers had to company assets and software
- And, it was the role of HR data that informed organisations about worker insurances, rights and the breakdown of workers on their books, for strategic consideration as the year progressed
Another critical role of contingent workforce data in 2020, was for the purpose of cost savings; when the pandemic first hit, it was common for organisations to lay off contingent workers. Now the opposite approach is at play, as organisations seek to offset the commercial impact of the pandemic, by engaging more contingent workers.
When we were working in the office, five days per week, process management could sometimes be less robust – and sometimes not even documented – particularly with contingent workers. Now as remote working becomes the norm (even if only for part of the week), your process efficiencies may look somewhat underdeveloped.
When you’re in the office, getting approvals, scheduling last-minute meetings and discussing projects was a lot easier; understanding each worker’s role in a project was also easier.
Now, there’s a real requirement for better processes and increased efficiencies to ensure on-time, on-budget completion of projects. And to better leverage your company spend on contingent workers.
Processes are a key component of a well-operating, efficient organisation. And in the era of WFH with more contingent workers on the books, there’s never been a more important time to review, update and document all business processes.
Procurement and HR: Key Business Partners
In times of economic uncertainty, a flexible workforce is a business leadership’s secret weapon. These workers are inherently attuned to responding to change, taking on new responsibilities and pivoting in their work life.
And looking back on 2020, it was these workers that really enabled greater stability and continuity for many organisations.
With a contingent workforce strategy in place, HR and procurement become crucial members of the organisation’s leadership team; providing the data, insight and workforce flexibility to keep the organisation productive.
Workforce Engagement: Critical for Contingent Workers
With WFH or partial WFH policies likely to be in place in your organisation, it’s even more important to establish protocols to ensure your contingent workers are engaged with their projects.
The feeling of inclusion, access to information, transparency, a healthy feedback loop and consistent contact, all go a long way to ensure you’ve got engaged (and therefore happy) contingent workers in your organisation.
Most importantly, it’s critical that workers feel they have a sense of purpose, and being valued in the project team and the organisation.
In 2020, we observed contingent workers who felt disconnected, uncertain and insecure in their gig, when the opposite was in fact the case. This is one of those lessons in contingent workforce management that you can easily avoid. Here are some tips:
- Establish regular meeting times with your contingent workers, to test the pulse of their engagement and to keep them on track with their project
- Make sure they have a clear understanding of the chain of command in the business, and who they engage with for specific purposes
- Provide them with a team ‘buddy’ – preferably a full-time employee – who can ensure their work is on course and in order
- Provide the relevant technology for team engagement such as Zoom, instant message, email, etc.
Step-Up your Onboarding Game
Having a clear and thorough onboarding plan is essential when introducing contingent workers, remotely.
Sadly, even when there isn’t a pandemic, first days on the job in many organisations are often a bad experience.
Consider this list of ideas for onboarding contingent workers remotely, in 2021:
- Provide preliminary project information via email at the commencement of their contract. This offers an introductory overview of the project, its goals and parameters
- Provide updated HR and company information, with personal commentary and insight from the line manager, as a means of giving the new worker ‘the inside word’
- Send the contractor company swag: coffee cup, notebook, pens, lanyard – make them feel part of the team
- Host a welcome Zoom meeting with all members of the team who will work alongside the new contingent worker. Allow each member of the team the opportunity to convey their role in the project and their expected relationship with the new worker
- Set-up individual Zoom meetings with any senior executives, related to the contingent worker’s project. This establishes a sense of purpose and credibility for the worker
- Arrange for all co-workers directly involved with the new contingent worker’s project, to meet with the new worker via Zoom in the first couple of days of their tenure
- Provide time and space for the new worker to ask questions and provide feedback with their line manager
- Introduce them to the relevant people in IT so they can hit the ground running and avoid time-wasting technology hassles
- Schedule calls at the end of the day, during their first week. Then weekly thereafter, once the worker is fully engaged
These are just a few of the lessons in Contingent Workforce Management we observed during 2020.
There were many more.
As one of the world’s leading providers of contingent worker management solutions, CXC is well positioned to optimise all elements of your contingent workforce strategy. With operations in more than 50 countries across five continents and decades of experience, we can assist with every aspect of your program.
If you are interested in discussing our learnings and would like to find out more about how we can help, please contact us here.