The Rise of the Contingent Workforce

Laurie Ruettimann Change, Conferences, Contingent Workforce, Laurie Ruettimann

I am just back from the InfluenceHR conference where 100 marketing executives came together to discuss new ways to market and sell technology to human resources departments.

I helped to create the agenda for this event. George LaRocque is my partner. We believe that you can’t sell HR technology if you don’t know the major trends in the workforce.

So George took the stage during lunch and highlighted three trends in the marketplace:

  1. The consumerization of human resources technology
  2. A growing contingent workforce
  3. A shift towards “bring your own devices to work” policies

George said, “The way that work gets done, and how HR supports it, is going through major changes. We are moving towards a transient, contingent workforce bringing their devices and apps that help them get work done, plugging into I.T. environments that are mobile first, and being acquired as much as they are hired.”

I love that quote so much. A transient workforce reminds me of a bunch of hobos and vagabonds who carry knapsacks on sticks. And that’s not far from the truth, actually, because a rise in the contingent workforce means you have an increase in people who come to your company from around the world — equipped with basic skills and abilities — but don’t camp out and stay for the long haul. These workers are unaffiliated with your brand for legal and compliance reasons. When the tasks are completed, they go home.

Many companies benefit from a blend of both full-time employees and contingent workers. When leveraged properly, contingent workers can help your company become flexible and agile. You can hire experts who pack a suitcase and bring their own laptops and phones. Work can get done quickly from North Dakota to Paris to Dubai. And no one needs to run anything through the bureaucracy of human resources because all personnel-related matters are contractually outlined and/or managed through an arrangement that’s brokered by your procurement department.

But I think the greatest challenge leaders will face in the next few years is actually managing those contractors, temps and portfolio workers. People are people. How do you maintain internal standards around brand, safety, ethics and compliance? How do you keep everyone happy and focused on important outcomes while also ensuring that contingent workers — who are managed and compensated in completely different ways — aren’t treated exactly like your regular employees?

Good luck with that.

If George’s predictions are right, human resources leaders will spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to break down internal political silos to support a contingent and full-time workplace that is rooted in transparency and fairness. Sometimes HR will be caught up in big fights about labor budgets that are hidden in project budgets. Sometimes HR will be required to drag their procurement teams out of the murky waters of co-employment issues. And sometimes HR will have to be a dreaded “advocate” for the workers in their organizations.

These are tough conversations. Some HR leaders have been talking about this for years. Unfortunately, many haven’t. And there’s no road map at SHRM to show future human resources managers how to manage the situations that will happen with the rise of the continent workforce.

Maybe it’s time for human resources leaders to start talking about this a little more publicly.