Video conferencing, unified communications tools, collaboration platforms, and other technology are becoming standard operating practice in the business world, not only allowing employees and teams to work virtually, but also powering the gig economy. Data shows freelancers, consultants, contractors, and temporary workers—i.e., contingent workers—make up about 30 percent of the enterprise workforce. In the past, I’ve written about how to navigate the gig economy as a freelancer, but what about how to manage the growing swarm of contingent talent workers? That’s an HR question, and a hot topic. Recent data shows a whopping 70 percent of enterprises believe a shift is coming—a shift that will fold contingent management strategies into the already-essential human capital management strategy for large companies. What exactly does that look like, and how can HR keep up? Let’s examine the three key challenges HR departments are facing as the contingent workforce steadily grows.

The Top Three Challenges HR Faces When Managing Contingent Talent

IDC reports nine out of ten companies have problems accessing contingent talent. Here’s the problem: approximately one third of the U.S. workforce is now freelance. If enterprise companies are unable to cater to and attract talented freelancers, they are eliminating almost 30 percent of potential candidates from their recruiting pools. In a world where a good candidate is already hard to find, this disconnect makes the task even harder. Where is the trouble coming from? Here are the top three challenges HR faces when managing the contingent workforce—and how to fix them:

    1. Worker Disengagement and Culture Woes. One of the biggest challenges to large organizations is disengaged workers, which is often caused by a less than stellar corporate culture. Whether your team is comprised of full time employees or continent employees, or a mixture of both, creating a corporate culture within the organization is part of the recipe for success, for businesses of every size. Great culture helps attract the right talent, helps motivate and retain top talent, helps prevent worker disengagement, and plays a large role in business success overall. Making sure you integrate both remote and continent employees into the culture of your organization and making them feel like they’re an important part of the team helps everyone. Even if you’re just hiring a freelancer for a short-term project, make sure you provide an overview of your company’s purpose and mission. Before you send it, personalize that document with a detailed description of the scope of work to be done and—this is the important part—how it fits into that big-picture purpose. You’re much more likely to get valuable output from an engaged worker, whether they’re down the hall or across the world, so focusing on combatting worker disengagement and culture woes helps morale as well as your bottom line.
    2. Payment Problems. Leveraging the contingent workforce can be a good choice in terms of dollars and sense—if you do it right. The talents of gig workers range widely. So, then, do their charges. What you offer in wages could significantly limit the contingent workforce talent pool from which you’re able to pull. For example, many freelancing sites allow workers to bid on work. A talented contingent worker knows his or her time isn’t worth pennies on the dollar, but some inexperienced or poorly performing gig workers will go low to secure the project anyway. Avoid these traps by setting an HR budget for contingent work that fairly reflects the demands of the project, and don’t get thrown off course by options that look too good to be true. Remember, you get what you pay for. 
    3. Collaboration Struggles. Coordinating large groups of employees and allowing them to collaborate and connect with one another can be a challenge even in an office setting. When an office is out of the picture, though, the challenge becomes greater. Contingent workers live in different parts of the world, in different time zones, and work on any of a host of different devices. To address collaboration struggles, HR should consider creating a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy that applies to all employees, not just those who work remotely, so agile solutions can be delivered throughout the organization. In addition, leveraging the right cloud collaboration tool is a cost-effective, scalable way to keep teams connected—regardless of their location or device of choice.

What’s Next in Managing Contingent Talent? 

The future of work is a hybrid of contingent and traditional workers, and that’s not a threat—it’s an opportunity. The teams of the future will look and collaborate differently, and enterprises will continue to source talent independent of their respective geographies. It’s an exciting time in the world of work, but it’s also a challenging one for HR teams. Don’t get me wrong; some HR professionals are ahead of the game—a recent Ardent Partners study, for example, found 60 percent of organizations rated “best in class” focus on creating a corporate culture that highlights finding and retaining contingent workers. The value is clearly there.

Bottom line: If HR can proactively combat collaboration and time zone issues by sourcing solutions that are agile and mobile-friendly, understand how to recruit the right contingent workers (and pay them what they’re worth), and be sure to engage remote talent such that they feel integrated into the company culture, they’ll be better poised to win the talent war.

Does your company leverage the contingent workforce? What HR challenges have you faced, and how are you overcoming them? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Additional Resources on the topic of Contingent Talent

Does the Gig Economy Have an HR Department?

How the Gig Economy is Impacting HR Decisions

Deloitte: Contingent Workforce

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