The blended workforce is made up of people who work full-time and part-time, as well as temporary workers, freelancers, and contract workers.
The so-called “gig economy,” or the rise of popularity in freelance work, that took root with the recovery from the 2008 recession and expanded with the advent of the Affordable Care Act is making the blended workforce the workforce of the future and the workforce of today. Around 40 percent of today’s labor force is made up of non-traditionally working people, including freelancers (sometimes referred to as agile talent, 1099s, consultants, contractors, etc.), temporary workers, and self-employed workers.
As with any labor force, the blended workforce offers advantages and disadvantages. Though company cutbacks during the last recession contributed to the growth of the freelancer economy, the consensus now is that a general rise in entrepreneurship and technological advances that increasingly make geography moot are the main reasons the blended workforce is becoming the norm. Millennials also prefer the freedom and flexibility that goes with nontraditional employment.
The blended workforce often brings more diversity to companies and projects, because each freelancer brings a unique perspective and is mostly removed from traditional office politics. That injection of a fresh take on things nicely complements the stability and knowledge of the brand and customers that traditionally employed workers provide. At its best, this type of mix can be better than the sum of its parts, allowing innovation and creativity, anchored by gravitas and a solid reputation.
I am always reminded of the story about Malcolm McLean when considering the power of an outsider’s perspective. Malcolm McLean was a North Carolina truck driver, who one day in 1937 while waiting in his truck all day at a sea port to unload his cargo, had the idea that instead of each item being removed from the truck one by one to load onto a boat, the entire contents of the truck could be eliminated in one fell swoop if they were in a standardized container. This is how the idea for the modern shipping container, which revolutionized the shipping industry, came to be. Just think, this idea did not come from an engineer, or from a cargo worker at the docks, but from a truck driver waiting in line. It is amazing what the power of an outsider’s perspective can bring to the table.
More practically, the blended workforce helps companies scale operations up or down as needed, reduce costs for physical office space due to remote work, and bring in highly specialized skills when they are needed without having to offer a traditional employment contract. This allows them to acquire exactly what they need for just as long as they need it.
Contract workers are also useful as companies add traditional employees, by allowing organizations more breathing room in finding the right job candidate, and helping prevent expensive hiring mistakes. Add in reduced overhead and operating costs, and the blended workforce is even more attractive.
Classifying all workers correctly and following state and federal guidelines about classification can be a challenge. This problem can be easily addressed, however, by finding freelance talent through reputable sources and ensuring your company is prepared to onboard agile talent.
When you have salaried workers, hourly workers, consultants, contractors, and the occasional per diem worker, keeping track of fair compensation may also be a challenge. Many companies bring in specialized consultants to help them sort out all these contingencies, as well as issues like qualification for benefits and calculating taxes.
Managing remote work can be a challenge too, particularly if the blended workforce exists across multiple time zones. Building team rapport and learning how to schedule meetings among far-flung team members can be difficult, though technology offers you several options to overcome this potential hurdle. There are also some very distinct benefits to having certain kind of tasks performed remotely.
Another potential pitfall is the coordination of different work schedules. Many freelancers work on their schedules, which may or may not correspond to regular business hours. It’s essential to ensure up front that all team members will be available at critical times throughout the project. Screening freelance candidates can help you navigate potential bumps in the road and ensure they can work within the boundaries your organization sets.
The keys to having an effective, dynamic mixed workforce are setting clear expectations and having a strong communications policy. Employees and freelancers should all understand what the lines of communication are and should be made to feel they’re all working toward common goals. At 10x Management, we prefer to have these rules clearly delineated before a project begins.
When planned and executed with skill, the development of a blended workforce can make a company more creative, productive, and just plain better. Enterprises that take the time and effort to do it right discover the benefits of traditional employees and freelancers working together, and bask in an engaged, collaborative, and productive workforce.