Has Your Company Embraced the External Workforce?

external employee working

We talk all the time about the growing segments of the workforce—Millennials, Gen Z-ers, and the like. But a fast-growing segment that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the external workforce. These workers, often referred to as “gig workers,” typically have specialized skills that they use for relatively short-term projects.

Contract workers, freelancers, and independent consultants are often utilized by companies, likely by yours as well. But does your talent management strategy really embrace them?

The fluid nature of the external workforce

The external workforce is built around fluidity. Whether it’s aimed at finding more control over their schedule and workload, finding interim work while they search for something permanent, or easing into a new career path, the fluid nature of their work is attractive for both gig workers and the organizations that pursue them.

A common misconception is that gig workers engage in external work because they are not as skilled or competent as internal workers. This is just not the case. A 2019 SHRM study found that many workers engage in external work because they either prefer external work, they were opened to any opportunity that came their way, and because it gave them the flexibility to control their schedules and workloads.

The flexible nature of external work is also attractive. Gig workers have the option to move on to another company after a project is completed, or offer to continue services. Likewise, employers have the option to “test-run” an external employee, with the option of pursuing other candidates for future projects if necessary or offering them an internal position. Many organizations utilize external workers when going thru a transition, testing new initiative, or need to bridge a skill or employment gap.

Creating a talent management strategy that holds up

A survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 63% of companies can’t meet their strategic goals without external employees. This market disruption necessitates a shift in mindset for employers. However, the SHRM study revealed that one in five managers felt that they were not adequately attracting and onboarding external workers.

With an estimated 16 million to 57 million workers in this model, it’s time for companies to stop managing them on an ad-hoc basis. Talent management strategies need to include a process for external workers, even if it is different from the process for internal employees. Here are some tips for creating a talent management strategy for external workers:

·        Change it up. How you approach recruitment and onboarding should be different for each type of employee. For example, you may be more inclined to ask for samples for an external worker, whereas you may want to have an in-person meeting with an internal worker to gauge company culture compatibility. Likewise, the value propositions you give to external vs. internal workers should be different. People who will be working in your office full time might want to hear about the up-and-coming community and excellent benefits package, while external employees might be more interested in hearing about your web-based collaboration platforms.

·        Make them part of the team. Although external employees are different than internal employees, they should still be treated like a team member. Take the time to virtually introduce them to the internal team, especially those that will have direct contact. This builds a positive rapport and makes people feel like they are a valued team member, rather than just a vendor.

·        Communicate freely. This is important throughout all stages of working with external workers. Since there will be little to know in-person communication, being extra diligent about email, instant message, or video chat communication is important. This can make or break the onboarding process as well as the employee experience as a whole.