How to manage a contingent workforce

10 May 2018 By Anne-Marie Botha

Anne-Marie Botha outlines the best ways for HR professionals to engage with and motivate beyond the employee base

We’re experiencing a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Market conditions have become more dynamic and, to remain competitive, organisations need to be more agile to respond to change. This also involves looking for other ways to access talent that may otherwise be difficult to source.

Businesses have traditionally acquired skills by employing people, the only distinction being full time or part time. Automation is now replacing jobs and changing the skills that organisations are looking for. These changes raise huge organisational and talent challenges.

PwC, in its report, Workforce of the future – The competing forces shaping 2030, looks at how businesses can think about future-proofing their workforce strategies. Some clear trends emerged, one of which was the increasing use of contingent workers (a temporary or contract worker, hired for one job or project). The report also focuses on lean organisations with a core group of high-performing or pivotal employees, but otherwise a liquid talent pool where skills will be bought in when needed. This is largely driven by innovation, which requires companies to be agile. Similarly, it is predicted that people will move frequently, staying only as long as a project lasts.

Enter the millennials. They value a good work-life balance and a sense of purpose beyond financial success. That is very different from those from previous generations, who are used to the more traditional hierarchy of large corporates – staying at the same company and working steadily to progress, with a strong focus on remuneration.

The benefits of a contingent workforce are simple. For organisations, it offers the ability to buy in niche skills for specific, short-term projects, resource abnormal spikes in workload or cover short or medium-term absences, and can even be used as a ‘try before you buy’ mechanism. Meanwhile, there are resource cost savings like office space and other costs associated with permanent employees.

Contract workers can often benefit from improved work-life balance and the ability to select jobs they’re interested in, without compromising development and building their skills.

As the world has developed, organisations have looked to harness the convergence of this highly skilled and mobile talent pool with the demands of globalisation, automation and a drive to be more efficient. The contingent workforce has developed as a force to be reckoned with.

This presents HR with a new conundrum – how to engage with this population when they’re resisting being part of the ‘normal’ workforce, but still need to feel motivated. Practical areas to consider include:

Onboarding and induction 

All new workers bring unique talents and skills. If, at the start of their contract, they are properly introduced and inducted to their teams, this will create open and trusted lines of communication that facilitate productivity. Similarly, providing them with all the relevant information or access to resources through training and orientation will get them up to speed quickly.

On-the-job coaching and feedback 

Contingent workers bring a valuable outside perspective. Ensuring they continue to develop and have open, two-way feedback conversations in real time, will mean they deliver in line with project objectives.

Performance metrics 

All staff have performance targets of some sort and this should include contingent workers. This will help them understand how they fit into the wider team and business strategy.

Risk and compliance 

Managing a contingent workforce presents its own risks to the business and this must be carefully considered within a governance framework agreed by key stakeholders.

Engagement and communication 

Working remotely has a risk of making people feel technologically connected but personally disconnected. It’s important to include contingent workers in your organisation’s communication strategy from the outset to ensure they feel part of the team identity. This is also true after ‘offboarding’, when organisations can benefit from creating communities of non-permanent employees as part of their (perhaps adapted) employee engagement strategy. In large companies this may well extend to providing a platform for individuals to foster their sense of identity with people of similar skillsets, interests or goals.

The contingent workforce is here to stay and organisations should embrace the benefits that come with this new breed of talent to remain competitive and agile.

Anne-Marie Botha is chief operating officer at PwC Flexible Legal Resources

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