What Stakeholders Want in the New, Flexible Workforce

If headlines are to be believed, it’s time to rethink everything. Business leaders are being asked to examine how their organizations work, who does the work, their business goals, their technology, their partners, their brand, and more.

That rethink request also applies to the flexible workforce. Blind faith in status quo processes and relationships for managing contractors, freelancers, and staffing suppliers is not only unwise, it is a risk to the organization. The educated guesses of the past about where to find talent, what to pay, what kind of worker to engage, and how to manage them can create cost overruns, delays in projects, and related issues that companies have little room to tolerate.

Women at desk looking at laptop

Report: Achieve a Stronger Workforce Strategy

But what does it really mean to rethink and enlighten your contingent workforce strategy? Even before the pandemic, this portion of the workforce represented a robust 43 percent of the total workforce, and it is expected to rise. When it comes to adjusting to the prominence of non-employee workers, where do you begin? The answer does not have to be complicated. A transformational workforce strategy does not start with technology, processes, or industry trends. It starts with people.

Those people are the stakeholders who make progress happen by connecting great workers to the challenges companies need to solve. And those stakeholders are no secret. They are:

• The people who do the work, such as contingent workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and consultants
• The workforce decision-makers, from hiring managers to Procurement, HR, and executive leadership
• The staffing agencies and outsourced services providers that provide a critical link by helping companies and workers fulfill their potential

What matters to each of these stakeholders? How is the current business climate influencing their needs? What must they do to survive and thrive in a changed, and eventually post-pandemic, world? Here are some insights on the values associated with these stakeholders, and the ideas companies are embracing to address their needs and position for a better future.

What Do Flexible Workers Need?

In working with clients and colleagues, we frequently talk about the expectations of talent in terms of a great candidate experience in seeking an opportunity, or a positive work experience in relation to a project or assignment.

Today, those worker expectations are core career and life requirements. Consider the basics of those wants and needs:

A Living: Workers are people first. They seek to pay their bills, care for their families, and live life outside of work. Where the government and society can’t provide a safety net, they will look to the employer to fill in.

Increasingly, companies recognize that the pay, flexibility, and support traditionally afforded to employees also apply to the extended workforce. This means the ability to take time off, as well as a connection to benefits, are part of the picture. These benefits are not luxuries; rather, they are a part of what it takes to survive.

Access to Continuous Work: Flexible workers may have finite terms for each gig, but that does not mean they want to be discarded after the assignment is done.

Give them visibility into opportunities within the company, or across the enterprise, permanent or otherwise. If you are a supplier, give them visibility to opportunities across the client base, and do so well before the time is up on the current assignment.

Career Advancement: Learning and skills development are as important to non-employee talent as they are to employees. Consider that the approach to skills is shifting, as flexible workers are not seeking a promotion to the next level, but looking to gain skills that open doors to a broader array of opportunities across the organization.

For today’s workers, the traditional linear career ladder can branch into many directions. Give them the tools to develop and use opportunities to their fullest potential, and they will be more engaged and more valuable to the organization.

Internally, a company may do this by providing access to employee development resources, such as mentors or online education modules, particularly for more tactical, micro-learning assets that would apply to the near-term needs of a flexible worker who is on board for a limited time.

More generally, a talent solutions partner may have the capability in place, such as Allegis Group’s technology upskilling provider CareerCircle, to support a gig worker continuously across different assignments with different clients. For the client, the result is a worker who is more engaged and more capable than an unsupported contractor.

An Inclusive Culture and Diverse Workforce: Traditionally, the inclusion and diversity (I&D) conversation among hiring companies focused on promoting awareness, embracing a commitment to principles, and an emphasis on culture. Today, workers are growing wary of words and ideas.

This skepticism is understandable as many organizations, feeling social pressure from unfolding unrest, began speaking up in support of I&D. Naturally, the lens of social media began to scrutinize how organizations backed up their words, and many are found lacking. As a result, workers seek evidence of action, not just commitments, and companies feel compelled to deliver.

Businesses and suppliers need to take an active role in fighting the biases that challenge I&D every day. Technology helps level the playing field for bringing diverse workers together. Best practices in inclusion help keep them working together.

Consider employee resource groups, bias-free screening tools, and the use of suppliers and MSP guidance as a way of engaging diverse workers. Likewise, bringing focused practices for boosting inclusion in the remote environment will go a long way toward enhancing the worker experience under the rising culture of virtual work and communication.

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What do HR and Procurement Decision-Makers Need?

Whether we are talking about Procurement, HR, or hiring managers, workforce decision-makers have a basic need: they just want to have one less worry.

Thanks to COVID-19, they likely had some of their markets stripped away. Their organization probably waited to see what happened with the pandemic. Then, they finally accepted that they had to reduce their workforce, change their plans and structures, and adjust their business strategy.

It’s a new day. The buyer is challenged to know what’s in store. Providers of MSP and related workforce solutions are increasing their focus on helping clients see the road ahead and position for success. Specifically, Procurement and HR, as well as C-level leaders, all require three things: understanding, agility, and recognition.

Understanding: Companies need to know everything they possibly can about what’s happening in the workforce today. That includes the demands on skills, the going rates, the best path to talent, the right person or resource to get the work done, updates on new regulations, and the pitfalls and opportunities ahead.

Internal teams can only spend so much time keeping an eye on talent supply and demand, and they have limited technology for connecting to talent. Today’s workforce solution provider is expected to fill that need for understanding. To do so, a great solutions partner draws on technology that is up to par, with advisors who understand the questions to ask, the places to find the answers, and the actions those answers entail.

Agility: Decision-makers need to know they have the means to adjust to any change in market conditions or business strategy — and not over the next six months or year, but this month, or this quarter, as soon as a change is required. And they need to be able to tell others in the organization, management, and leadership how that adjustment is going to happen.

Once again, internal teams are usually not fit to shoulder the entire burden of sustaining a nimble workforce strategy alone. Do you have a group of recruiters on the bench to help you target a new skill set or reach workers from a different industry when the need arises? Do you have an extensive network of contacts who can share how they adjusted to change, or, more to the point, do you have experience navigating the specific type of change?

For companies that struggle with these demands, and that includes nearly every organization in business today, a solutions provider brings the flexibility and tools to tackle changes quickly. New skill sets, new ways of working, and access to different worker types are all a part of the equation.

Recognition: Finally, HR and Procurement leaders must know that they are being represented in the company’s decisions. This need is more than a wish for a “seat at the table.” It is the knowledge that the people at the table are not making talent decisions in a vacuum.

The decisions a company’s leaders make have far-reaching effects on the day-to-day success of Procurement and HR. Are leaders looking to align work with the people to accomplish their goals? Are they looking out for the regulatory implications? Are they setting their workers up for success? And, are they getting the costs right? Armed with data, backed by credible and consistent processes, and pushed by expert input based on workforce management experience, talent decision-makers can provide a voice that will be heard at the C-suite level.

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What Do Flexible Workforce Suppliers Need?

While the non-employee workforce includes a growing ecosystem of freelancers, services providers, and independent contractors, the staffing company remains critical to overall success. Today, the contingent workforce supplier faces challenges that are just as urgent as those experienced by their clients and the workers they place. The demands on the supply chain and the fundamental requirements of suppliers to address those pressures are two-fold: speed and relationships.

Speed: For workforce suppliers, there are no shortcuts to change, and there is no time for hesitation. In the past, suppliers have had to deal with changes in the marketplace, where the people they recruited suddenly took much longer to find and became more tentative in their responses to opportunities or more fickle in their attachment to the assignment.

Now, there is no “gradual” realization. Last week is different from this week, which will prove different from next week. Flexibility is everything. If you are a staffing supplier and do not provide data-driven insight to clients, and if you last talked with your candidate a month ago, you’re too slow. Pivot by building real insight into your processes – and not just data, but fresh data and expert analysis to know what the data means. And, if you are working with an MSP program, you will want to be represented in a way that puts vital facts and data in front of the client when they emerge — not next month, or next quarter, but as it happens. The same need applies whether you are a contingent workforce supplier or an outsourced services provider participating in the program.

Relationships: Compared to the past, today’s suppliers need to be more responsive to candidates and more connected to their workers on assignment. Great agencies have realized that they can’t trust candidate relationships to sustain themselves, and they had to determine where and how they could practically take action to better sustain worker and client connections.

Workers are more grateful than ever to have work today, but they are more cautious than ever about being caught without work tomorrow. And when work is remote, they have no way to take the temperature of their current environment and the people around them other than what happens in their scheduled virtual meeting.

Suppliers must bridge the gaps, keep workers up-to-date on next opportunities, and be ready to hear their concerns and their victories, too. Whether bringing workers together through talent communities or by providing a path to learning and career development, the contingent workforce supplier has the means to boost relationships with workers, improve loyalty, and expand their access to available talent as a result.

Rx for Workforce Readiness: Rise Above the Pressures of the Moment

The needs reflected here represent a small sample of the conditions driving the proverbial rethink of workforce strategies and processes. Everyone in the network of relationships that make up the extended workforce will find themselves focusing on the concerns of others around them. Companies need to help workers make a living. HR and Procurement will push to better connect to workers and business leadership. And, suppliers must reinforce their connections to workers.

To be sure, the world will not likely transform as completely as the strongest predictions; reality typically unfolds somewhere between the extremes. Likewise, none of the demands on the stakeholders are entirely new. However, the urgency for addressing those demands is greater than ever. As a workforce solutions partner, we find ourselves at AGS helping companies tackle the challenges of change while keeping an eye on the fundamentals.

Making life better for everyone is the priority. Processes and technology are only a means toward that end. With that understanding, companies can turn the rethink into a lasting positive influence on the people they touch. That’s what makes rethinking worth the effort.

Report: Achieve a Stronger Workforce Strategy

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    Adele Alvarez
    Written by Adele Alvarez
    As the Operations Executive Director for AGS’ procurement solutions, Adele Alvarez has led the transformation of procurement solutions operations globally, playing a key part in AGS’ performance as a leader in its industry. Alvarez is a founding member of AGS’ Diversity & Advocacy Group, Women’s Leadership Council, and the All4 Diversity Initiative. She was named to SIA’s Global Power 150 Women in Staffing List in 2019.