Meeting the challenge of an extended workforce

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Written by Armin Hopp on 20 August 2014

According to a report by the Professional Contractors Group[1], contingent workers are the fastest growing group in the EU labour market. Numbers have increased by 45 per cent from just under 6.2 million in 2004 to 8.9 million in 2013, making up 25 per cent of the total professional workforce.

When many people think of temps, they still think of typing pools busily working away in unison or that lad you don’t really know the name of who you see at the water cooler. But an ever-increasing number of companies are looking for specialised, short-term assistance as staff is brought on in different locations on a project-basis; people who temporarily lend companies their know-how and talents, whether that’s freelancers, consultants or external partners. This extended or contingent workforce is now a key component of corporate strategy and is changing the face of HR.

What is driving this change?

As companies find they need to improve their flexibility and their ability to react to changing market conditions and demand, as well as bridge critical gaps in their skill sets, they are looking to this segment to provide the answers. Answers that ensure short-term increases and reductions in the number of workers within a company can be managed with relative ease without affecting the core workforce.

And importantly, location is no longer a barrier in the knowledge-based economy. Talent, as we all know, stretches beyond borders. More than ever before, companies can take advantage of the virtual reality of a remote and extended workforce to gain immediate access to expertise not present in their core staff. If a freelance programmer is required for a project run from Milton Keynes, the fact that they’re located in Thailand is now almost irrelevant; a marketing manager in Brasilia can collaborate online with a freelance designer in Moscow as easily as an accountant in Brighton can with his CFO in Manchester.

The demand for knowledgeable and highly-skilled people means that expertise is becoming more important than physical location. And from the point of view of the worker, the ability to focus on particular types of work and have certain control over working hours and conditions mean that project-based work is an increasingly attractive option.

Challenges lie ahead

While using temporary staff has many advantages for companies in terms of flexibility and access to specialised skills regardless of location, these have to be weighed against disadvantages such as a perceived lack of loyalty to the organisation and possible impact on the company working culture. For this reason, HR specialists need to pay as much attention to their non-permanent workforce as to their core staff. As much as companies need to ensure they have access to this talent, they also need to make sure that their integration, however brief, is as seamless as possible.

An HR strategy that utilises project-based workers can give companies access to highly-skilled talent, but it also has to facilitate quality interaction and engagement among the ‘new’ & ‘old’ workforce and across departments. Interacting with core staff is also important from the point of view of giving the non-permanent workforce a real sense of community, not to mention the ease of access to resources and ‘insider knowledge’.

Effective communication

Advances in technology mean that much of their common work can be done seamlessly from remote locations and the main barrier to cross-border collaboration is now communication. Cue training. Organisations who want to keep their competitive advantage will need to upskill staff in order to be better placed to deal with the challenges of having a highly mobile, dispersed and dynamic workforce.

At Speexx, I’ve seen how effective business communication within a diverse and changing workforce can be successfully achieved with the perfect blend of advanced learning technology and teacher-led activities. Language skills provide the key to communicating and operating more efficiently and profitably across the workforce and across borders.  

As the trend for using highly-specialised temporary staff continues to grow, companies need to ensure they are ready to meet the challenge of an extended workforce.

About the author
Armin Hopp is the founder and president of Speexx. He can be contacted via www.speexx.com

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