Ready to engage the ‘plug-in’ workforce?

In less than 10 years’ time, we will see the emergence of a Global 2000 company with no full-time employees outside of the C-suite according to a stark prediction by global management consulting firm, Accenture, in its 2016 Technology Vision report.

It may seem far-fetched but there are several drivers that suggest this could be closer to reality than many of us think. Increasingly dynamic and fast-paced operating environments are creating the need for more agile and flexible (‘liquid’) workforces and we are starting to see references to terms such as the “on demand workforce” and “workforce-as-a-service”.

A survey of 1,000 companies published this week by freelance marketplace website PeoplePerHour (PPH), found that three-fifths (57 per cent) of all respondents stated their intention to employ more freelancers than permanent employees by 2020, with only 12 per cent stating the reverse. The top driver cited as important to three-fifths of employers was the ability to match the right person to the right task, the main benefit of which is improved productivity and efficiency.

Other reasons cited included: access to talent on-demand (51 per cent); access to a wider pool of talent (50 per cent); faster access to talent (44 per cent); better value than full-time employees (30 per cent); increased efficiency (19 per cent). Meanwhile, one fifth (19 per cent) of respondents said without freelancers it would prove difficult to keep up-to-date with the latest skill requirements.

PPH noted these figures were reinforced by the fact that almost half of the employers quizzed admitted to being either ‘quite’ or ‘very concerned’ about the current availability of skills and talent in the UK, while three-fifths (58 per cent) said that securing the best talent available, regardless of location, was the key benefit of being able to access the global freelance market.

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Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour, reckons that almost one third (30 per cent) of the British workforce is now freelancing in some capacity. “This isn’t just because workers have switched on to the benefits of being their own boss, or because post-recession Britain offers fewer permanent employment opportunities, it’s because the use of a blended talent pool is mutually beneficial,” he explains.

For two-fifths (39 per cent) of employers, the ability to access the freelance workforce was considered ‘very important’ to the future growth ambitions of their company while a further 17 per cent took that sentiment a step further, saying that the freelance workforce was ‘essential’ to the fulfilment of their plans.

For some years, discussions have centred on work no longer being a place that employees go, and it would seem this view is being realised by an increasing number of organisations. During the early noughties when the phrase ‘downshifting’ became popular to describe the move by employees to effectively opt-out of the nine-to-five and work more flexibly, often remotely, it was commonly seen as a lifestyle choice. These latest figures suggest that turning freelance could indeed become a career choice and one that also provides career endurance.

From an organisational perspective, plugging into certain skillsets as and when required and not carrying the associated overheads when they’re not required is hardly new but the shift towards this as the norm is a seismic one. A workforce comprising of more freelancers than permanent employees raises all sorts of questions and challenges when it comes to areas such as pay and benefits, employee engagement, motivation, performance management and company culture.

In fact, there are very few aspects of HR and people management that it won’t impact. If this is the shape of the future, we’d better start preparing for it now.

 

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