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Crowdstaffing featured as Rising Star and Premium Usability HR platform in 2019

Crowdstaffing has earned the prestigious 2019 Rising Star & Premium Usability Awards from FinancesOnline, a popular B2B software review platform. This recognition is given out annually to products[...]

May 13, 2019

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How Digital Platforms Unite Contingent and Traditional Workforces

Even businesses outside the staffing industry are no strangers to the contingent workforce. We are increasingly integrating these skilled contractors into our primary workforces. Yet, we still haven’t integrated them into our internal knowledge systems. And that’s a missed opportunity to tap into their intelligence and ideas, according to Molly Anglin of Nonlinear Creations. As she writes in Medium, contingent workforce leaders can evolve “the intranet” to meet the needs of today’s complementary professionals, especially as the gig economy’s reach continues to expand across all facets of business.

More Complementary, Less Contingent Professionals

In April 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a definitive study of non-traditional employment, focusing on the population of contractors, temps, part-time talent and freelancers. The GAO estimated that over 40 percent of the labor force is now fueled by these contingent professionals. In a few short years, that number could surpass the 50-percent mark. Deloitte supports these findings, reporting an ongoing surge of contingent talent in companies of all types, with steady year-over-year growth. As we discussed in a March 2015 article, the reliance on contingent workers to perform core company tasks begs a new definition: complementary talent.

Years ago, the term “contingent workers” made a lot of sense. Gifted contractors began taking on more pivotal roles in their assignments or tackling mission-critical projects. Referring to them as temps seemed to fall short of the services they were providing. I believe we’re witnessing a similar paradigm shift right now. Contingent talent are no longer, as the name implies, a “Plan B” or backup. They are important contributors to the companies they support, although their working arrangements may not be indefinite. Consider some of the strong usage statistics from Oxford Economics Workforce 2020 data:

  • Public service agencies: 86 percent
  • Retail: 82 percent
  • Healthcare: 81 percent
  • Professional services: 81 percent
  • Financial services: 80 percent

The report also reveals six factors driving this unstoppable growth trend:

  • Statement of Work (SOW)
  • Industrial staffing
  • The human cloud marketplace
  • The spread and viability of crowd-based talent pools
  • Demographic changes
  • Gig economics

“Contingent workers are a significant and growing segment of the working population,” Anglin writes. “However, the intranet as it exists today doesn’t serve this group well. Failing to adequately capture the knowledge and outputs of the ‘liquid workforce’ poses a real threat to human capital.”

To understand the more nuanced concept of the intranet, which is no longer just an internal company webpage, Anglin cites ReadWrite’s Owen Thomas for his astute definition of a company in the digital age: “A company today is a group of people using devices to log into services so they can access and generate data.”

Unfortunately, the complementary workforce often finds itself excluded from the intranet. Companies strive toward more elastic and agile models to remain competitive and adjust quickly to economic fluctuations. Flexibility, however, brings challenges associated with maintaining alignment to corporate mission, employment brand, quality control and compliance with emerging labor regulations. There’s also the pressing matter of protecting trade secrets and intellectual property.

It’s here that Thomas poses a poignant question about privileged corporate networks that remain inaccessible to complementary workers: what do we really mean by “inside?”

“A company’s security perimeter is no longer bound by the physical location of its buildings,” explains Anglin. “Cloud, the mobile workforce and an increasing array of connected devices have forever changed the paradigm. [Thomas] argues that the firewall has become obsolete and that security and access must rely on more predictive, behavioral measures. By his definition, the intranet is most definitely dead… The evolution Thomas describes could not come soon enough for the access-deprived contingent workforce.”

Opening the Digital Workplace to Complementary Talent

In traditional organizations, the intranet is constructed as a sort of fortress to safeguard information, which is open to only full-time employees. Contingent workers are left floundering to connect through email, limited chat or conferencing groups, and external file systems like Google Drive, Basecamp or Dropbox, through which they share work with immediate peers. The result? As Anglin observes, “These workers are ultimately shut-out from the company’s wider knowledge-base and community.”

For talent in knowledge-based roles, these restrictions hinder the delivery of truly exceptional output. Meanwhile, companies prevent their teams from collecting vital subject matter expertise that could be utilized for future initiatives and projects. To reap all the rewards the on-demand economy offers to businesses and talent alike, contingent workforce leaders should strive to help their clients design an inclusive digital platform.

Evolving from Intranet to Digital Platforms

Promote an Ecosystem

The first step in developing a digital organization is to rethink the existing business model -- conceiving a strategy for the entire ecosystem, not just the organization. A high-performing platform should focus on the universal user experience. Vendor management systems (VMS) are excellent tools for automation, analysis and visibility into the contingent workforce. Yet, they are usually isolated environments outside the intranet, with limited networking capabilities.

Encourage VMS providers and clients to integrate their systems. Most VMS applications can interface with a customer’s HR applications and enterprise resource systems. The goal is to facilitate the seamless exchange of data across the global user population -- everyone who will be accessing the platform. That could include candidates who apply through your portal, hiring managers who post job orders, MSP teams that run metric reports, internal executives who study performance, and more. A robust platform, no matter how simple or complex, unites everyone in the same ecosystem, encouraging the transfer and storage of knowledge from the entire workforce.

Cultivate Task-based, Integrated Teams

Move clients toward a truly networked approach. Thought-leading enterprises are transforming departments into project teams. By creating these groups, where traditional employees and complementary workers collaborate with the same access to information, performance soars.

This approach empowers talent to exercise greater degrees of initiative, align with internal and external customer needs, and assume more accountability for their performance. When teams are fluid and integrated with a larger network of other teams, instead of operating in silos, the emphasis on control shifts to the benefits of speed and collaboration. You end up with a chaos-tolerant, agile process that allows for real-time adjustments, on-demand information, fewer bureaucratic roadblocks and greater attention paid to the user experience.

In any organization, there will be individuals with domain expertise (deep knowledge of the skills and processes needed) and those with functional expertise (understanding of the company, role, mission). Generally speaking, it would be unwise to presume that each group understands the inner workings of the other. Yet, they must intersect. A data analyst probably isn’t familiar with the nuances of HR: labor relations, employment law, recruiting techniques, performance monitoring, sourcing strategies, compliance and so forth. And HR may understand only enough about data curation to be dangerous. Yet, both groups need one another to succeed.

Clients choose skilled contingent professionals for their niche expertise and ability to fill in existing knowledge gaps. By incorporating them into the same technology platforms and physical groups, based on the project, contingent workforce program managers can unite the realms of domain and functional expertise.

Open Communication Channels

Bring complementary talent into the client’s world. The most progressive organizations have already become early adopters of enterprise social networks. Facebook at Work, Tibbr, HipChat, Slack and Jive are quickly gaining a following within companies of all sizes. Last year, for example, Slack reached two million users. Through these mobile platforms, complementary and full-time workers can easily communicate and collaborate with other team members in real time. Combined with breakthroughs in streaming video apps, an integrated work culture arises.

Live video and messaging systems -- such as Periscope, Kik, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, Meerkat and others -- are dramatically changing the way talent interact and learn. That’s a key finding in a study of more than 4,000 international employers by the BlueJeans Network. Over 70 percent of respondents believe video can improve the way they communicate with colleagues. Another 69 percent feel that live video systems in the workplace will bolster retention across all levels of the organization.

Apps

Work with clients to construct an on-demand office environment through the use of apps that allow all talent to collaborate while ensuring consistency, security and buy in.

  • Identify key apps that fit the client’s business culture, and promote those apps within the company.
  • Choose apps that address security issues likely to impact the organization, talent and industry. Close to 70 percent of employees who resist mobility cite security and privacy concerns.
  • Together with the client, determine apps that optimize core operational and process efficiencies, and which meet the needs of complementary and traditional workers. This helps foster user adoption -- employees will quickly realize the benefits because the systems are making their work easier.
  • Select apps and systems that offer robust multichannel support. This eliminates the risk of technical issues for people with different device types (phones, tablets), operating systems, versions and so forth. You’ll also curb costs, as employees can use their own devices rather than the company purchasing compatible units.

Engineering the Future of On-Demand Business

Ultimately, contingent workforce leaders can achieve greater success in programs when they inspire clients to include complementary talent into their HR ecosystems through a digital platform approach. Here are the key considerations suggested by Nonlinear Enterprise:

  • Build a qualified talent pool that can be tapped for rapid, on-demand support.
  • Provide immediate and easily digestible context to complementary workers joining the program.
  • Simplify the environment so that it’s focused on the completion of specific and relevant project tasks, while ensuring integration and seamless communications between all team members – contingent and traditional.
  • Promote consistent, quality work and user experiences despite temporary relationships.
  • Seek ways to rapidly scale work efforts, capitalizing on networking effects.
  • Make the digital environment where work is performed the same space where customers (internal or external) are serviced.
  • Capture data and knowledge from the relationship so that services and products created may be further improved.

“The emphasis on more immediate but transient workers requires a rethink of the way that knowledge is stored, process is governed and the way communities of knowledge workers are convened,” Anglin concludes. “An intranet or enterprise social network that caters only to permanent full-time employees loses a critical opportunity to absorb intelligence and maximize productivity from a significant and growing segment of the company’s workforce.”

By influencing some positive disruptions and consulting clients closely to incorporate the complementary workforce in a meaningful way, contingent workforce leaders engineer the on-demand businesses of the future – today!

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