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How the Rise of the Independent Worker Is Transforming the Workplace


(Part 1 of a 2-part series on Recalibrating Risk in the Age of the Independent Worker)

When 53 million Americans—one-third of the workforce—have declared their independence from their employers, we can no longer deny the way we work is changing. Much of it is driven by shifting labor demographics—from Millennials avoiding the 9-to-5 life and Boomers who aren’t ready for retirement to the family-minded professionals whose priorities have shifted—more people  are opting for flexible project employment.

Advances in technology—from social tools to online platforms—make it easier to connect with talent, yet Forrester Research says one out of every two companies still can’t find the right people for the work they need to get done. That is because connecting and working with independent talent requires new policies and procedures that are custom fit to meet the needs of this new type of worker. This blog post explores how companies should reconfigure the way they think about work, how it gets done and where to find the right people to do it.

A Brief History on Traditional Flexible Talent Solutions

Traditionally, businesses have used flexible labor through one of two sources: the first is staffing firms. Temporary workers procured through staffing firms and onboarded via internal program offices or MSPs allow companies to lower employment burden by shifting to a more variable cost structure. At the other end of the scale are the big consulting firms who provide companies with specialized, often high-priced consultants. Businesses typically engage with them through longstanding relationships and complex RFP processes. Both of these options allow businesses to tap into the flexible workforce, but require a less-than-desirable lead time and sizeable price tag, making them less than viable for any but the largest businesses.

Using a Third Flexible Workforce Option to Superchange How Companies Work

Filling the gap between traditional temporary employees and big brand consulting firms is “the human cloud,” populated by the millions of independent workers who have opted for a flexible work style. Offering expertise across all disciplines, the human cloud is the source for non-traditional talent including freelancers, independent contractors, boutique firms, retirees, alumni “boomerang” employees, specialist consultants and statement-of-work consultants.

The concept of independent contracting is not new. Individual business managers have long been tapping their talent networks for “one-off” support to provide special project expertise. What is new is the pace at which the independent workforce is growing and the adoption of technologies that facilitate broad-scale use. Increasing use is easy to understand in a tight labor market characterized by high employment and continuing skills shortages. Businesses tap the human cloud because it: 

  • Provides on-demand access to specialized skillsets
  • Reduces FTE overhead burden and lowers recruiting costs
  • Drives cost efficiencies through competition
  • Easily scales up or down with business demand
  • Enables agile, cross-functional project teams
  • Decreases reliance on large, external consulting teams
  • Drives more flexible models for both employees and contractors

Although broader access to talent, a more variable cost structure and enhanced agility in highly competitive markets all offer upside potential for businesses looking to leverage the independent workforce, increased use is not without risk.

Look for Part 2 of the series on Recalibrating Risk in the Age of the Independent Worker. It explores the downside of “independence” and how businesses can reengineer their talent acquisition approach and processes to best embrace flexible, independent talent.  

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