The rise of the blended workforce
The rise of the blended workforce: 8 critical areas of focus to build and maintain a sustainable blended workforce
Turbulent market tendencies and a rainy forecast
There is probably little doubt that the scarcity of talent is a critical issue in many organizations. Throughout countless studies, CEOs describe talent gaps as a significant impediment to company growth. For example, in a recent PwC study, 77% of CEOs reported top talent as the biggest barrier to growth. Businesses struggle to find the right talent, especially on their own. Whether we’re talking about finding just the skills, scaling teams fast, having the ability to scale operations to meet fluctuating demands, or wishing for a more diverse workforce, managing talent is harder and more important than ever. Yet, we’re seeing an increasingly fierce competition to attract and retain employees at times when too few workers are available to replace those that are departing the workforce in advanced economies, as well as a vast number of new jobs being created continually. And that provides a true competitive crisis.
On top of this, the past few years have been filled with unprecedented challenges. The Covid pandemic completely changed the way we work and then came what many calls a recession. The ensuing business turmoil and record-low unemployment may have temporarily distracted some organizations from their chronic struggles to find and retain top talent, but the scarcity is only expected to increase as COVID-19 triggers an acceleration of digital transformation in most organizations. That leads to hampered growth potential, innovation capacity and employee satisfaction.
The pandemic not only unleashed what we call “the Great Resignation” but also a Great Realization, meaning a reawakening of what it means to work and live in today’s world. Today’s workers have more choices. Some would like to work at the office, some at home and some hybrid. Some work full-time, some work part-time. More and more people are breaking out of the employer-employee mold, and the balance of power has shifted, and continues to shift, in favor of the workers. Today’s organizations and enterprise leaders now have an opportunity – to go beyond traditional labor sources to consider how to best recruit and retain not just the best employees, but also the best talent overall. Including independent and self-employed labor.
The key: A blended workforce
For businesses, the key to withstanding constant changes is to stay flexible. For candidates, the traditional 9-to-5 job is quickly becoming a thing of the past, and people are to a much greater extent taking greater responsibility for their own careers and well-being. And the answer to that? The blended workforce is emerging as a strategic advantage in the war for talent with the potential to boost productivity, drive innovation and reduce costs as well as provide a healthier work-life balance and unlock greater levels of engagement.
If you refer to a traditional workforce, consists of full-time personnel and employees on fixed salaries. A blended workforce adds independent contractors, contingent staff, temporary staff, freelancers, interims and part-time workers into the mix.
Benefits of building a flexible and blended workforce
According to research from e.g. Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group, there are several significant benefits of building a flexible and blended workforce:
- Access to a broader talent market
Teams no longer need to be in the same location to work together, and hiring flexibility allows organizations to use talent with specific skill sets in any geographic location at the time of actual need. That also increases creativity and innovation in the organization.
- More control over expenses
Freelancers and interims, companies can reduce overhead costs significantly (benefit packages, office space and inventory, etc). It might be both cheaper and faster to find and hire flexible talent and with blended workforce capabilities, companies can meet clients’ and customers’ needs through contractors.
- Access to specialized skill sets
Some of the best specialists work independently, and the pandemic only accelerated this trend. By hiring freelancers and interims, you’ll chime into skill sets that can be outside of your company’s full-time knowledge base.
- Scalable operations to meet fluctuating demands
Hiring flexible talent allows one to adapt to specific needs and hire accordingly, rather than employing someone full-time that is perhaps only needed six months in the year.
- A flexible and agile workforce
By making the most of an agile workforce that takes advantage of employees who can be engaged in an on-demand manner, organizations will have increased flexibility when it comes to staffing.
- Ability to attract a more diverse talent pool
There have never been so many independent workers as today and this trend will most likely continue. On the back of the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, talents are taking charge of their careers more than ever. Rightfully. They want to design their careers in a hybrid, flexible and fulfilling way based on their interests, natural skillsets, life events and changing energy levels. If you create the paths that lead them there you will have a great advantage.
Building and managing a blended workforce
Organizations that utilize or want to utilize a blended workforce need to ensure they are hiring workers from a variety of sources and engaging all employees, whether remote or in-office, full or part-time, independent or contingent.
These areas of focus are needed to build and manage a blended workforce:
- Enact the blended workforce as a core competitive advantage, not a one-off tactic
The blended workforce must be understood as a strategic capability and not simply as a tactic. It is or can be critical strength of an organization and a key element of the overall strategic plan, and that relies on a combination of well-designed and well-executed people and business systems.
You could start by developing an understanding of what you want to achieve by leveraging a blended workforce, identifying key current and future resource gaps, and identifying which of the three options listed above best aligns with the business strategy of the organization. Organizations that view the blended workforce as a strategic capability will establish deep partnerships with trusted talent agencies, have strong organizational processes to support the discovery, onboarding, management and measurement of agile talent, and develop an overall organizational culture that is naturally collaborative and welcomes external expertise.
- Don’t be afraid to hire flexible talent
There’s a reason that some of the largest companies in the world at times are made up of more than 50% freelancers. The talent is out there.
- Focus on onboarding
We cannot stress this enough. Even though you are hiring onboarding contingent workers, they need to be onboarded to keep them engaged and committed to working for the organization. A clear and consistent onboarding program will help communicate clear expectations for work product, communication and the company’s culture.
- Set clear expectations
Managing a blended workforce requires your attention to setting expectations and performance criteria – especially for remote workers. Make sure you communicate the same expectations to all workers, both internal and external, from the outset of the hire.
This could include focusing on work schedules (when you want team members to be available and accessible), setting up consistent check-ins and when remote workers might need to drop by your office.
- Provide the right tools
A blended workforce will typically also include workers in the office as well as others working remotely. No matter location, everyone needs to work together and communicate, which is why digital communication tools are essential. Make sure you add everyone to your Microsoft Teams, Slack or other communication hubs that you use.
- Create an inclusive environment
A successfully blended workforce includes everyone. Remote employees often feel forgotten which can cause a decline in motivation and productivity. You should aim to create an environment that fosters teamwork and includes both local and remote workers in meetings and functions. An inclusive environment is a happy and desirable environment that attracts good people, both full-time and contingent.
- Focus on outcomes and performance management
As with most things your organization embarks on, you must define and align on the desired outcomes. The capabilities that drive your ability to leverage the blended workforce are no different. You should define what you are trying to accomplish, align it to your overall business goals and define measurements to gauge success. Here, you should not only aim to measure individual performance but also teams and partners as well. Ideally, you should track outcomes and manage performance at four different levels:
- The organizational level: How well are you leveraging blended teams and agile teams?
- The project level: How well are outcomes being delivered?
- The partner level: How well are different talent providers doing?
- The individual level: How well are individual agile talents performing?
- Develop strong network partnerships
It is considered extremely important to build a strong network of key partnerships with agile talent sources. Such is the case whether you work with outsourcing providers, consulting partners or agile talent providers. Each has its place in an organization, and each has a unique value proposition. Developing, maintaining and using trusted network partnerships will provide you with:
- Higher quality: Draw on a history of documented results to find the best providers of talent, best suited to the task at hand.
- Lower friction: Deep partnerships allow for easier onboarding since agreements are in place, communication norms are established, and processes are perfected.
- Increased speed: With clear performance metrics and an established list of partners, different people from your organization can move quicker on talent needs, and those people can use experience and organizational context to quickly find the right talent.
Agile talent platforms make it possible to identify expert resources on a much broader scale than what organizations are used to, and as a trusted partner, you are better set for success in the early stage of the process.
The time is now for a blended workforce
For a business to be agile and flexible in a rapidly evolving marketplace, so too must its workforce strategy be agile and flexible. The momentum is undeniable, and the emergence of a wide range of freelance and independent talent discovery platforms and supporting collaborative technology advances have made the blended workforce powerful as a core competitive advantage.
The pressure facing organizations is larger than ever, and strict requirements exist to innovate, adopt new technologies and take advantage of opportunities in a matter of weeks instead of months or years. It is truly a new reality, and organizations must have quick and easy access to deep expertise and experience, ensure effective operational management and a flexible adjustment of the workforce.
Viewing the blended workforce as a strategic imperative will without doubt provide a competitive advantage to most companies. Talent platforms and new technology gives organizations the right tools to identify and source some exceptional talent, and it is up to the companies themselves to leverage the opportunities that have arisen.