The future of work is changing. To win in today’s competitive business world, companies and private practice law firms need to adapt to their evolving landscape and develop an agile workforce which enables them to tap into expert knowledge, and/or add additional resources when required.
Leaders at the forefront now look beyond the traditional methods of employment, that is, they’ve moved away from just hiring full time permanent employees who work between 9am and 5pm from an office desk, to engaging a more free and remote workforce whereby contingent workers and freelancers are an essential element of core business operations.
Why Engage with Contingent or Freelance Workers?
Contingent workers (otherwise known as freelancers, consultants, contractors or other non permanent employees) bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to an organisation, filling operational gaps and removing the need to hire full time employees.
As technology continues to change the way work is completed, who does it, and how it influences society, companies and private practice law firms are starting to find new ways to resolve what is now a common issue of skill shortages. Around 45 percent of companies are finding it difficult to find talent with the skills they need, and so in order to survive, companies are now focussing on building and borrowing knowledge from freelance experts as opposed to owning them outright as permanent employees.
According to Gatehouse Legal Recruitment, a specialist legal recruitment agency, it is taking companies and firms anywhere between three to six months, and sometimes longer, to attract and secure permanent legal talent for their teams, which is resulting in further stress and pressure, as they are unable to deliver on the demands of their clients within the time frames required.
While building an agile workforce might be attractive, it does come with its own set of challenges. What we’re finding is the majority of companies and firms aren’t fully ready to embrace this new method of work. Old ways of operating have become so ingrained in the subconscious mind of an organisation, that adapting to this new way of working can take a great deal of time and patience.
Three practices to implement when engaging with an agile workforce.
Below are the top three best practices to implement when building an agile workforce.
Shift Mindsets and Align the Organisation
The creation of an agile workforce begins with changing how people think about the ways tasks or jobs are performed, and then ensuring the whole organisation / firm is aligned with this new method of working.
Suggested actions include:
Ensuring that everyone at the senior ranks are on the same path and also championing this change.
Educating everyone in the business about how engaging with contingent workers and freelancers will enable the company to fill in operational gaps and access expert knowledge when demands arise, allowing full time employees to focus on their high impact activities and allowing them to provide a better service to their clients. The more employees understand why the company is engaging freelancers, the more likely they’ll embrace this change and own it.
Focusing on what tasks, expertise and outcomes need to be achieved. This is different to focusing on a job description, how many hours an individual has worked and which location they’ve worked from.
Those managing contingent workers focusing on ensuring freelancers are engaged and productive, instead of only focusing on what needs to be completed. A simple way to do this is by providing freelancers with access to training, development and learning opportunities, measurable deliverables, incentives and other benefits that full time employees have access to.
Implementing policies, procedures and other training materials that will assist both full time employees and freelancers navigate the agile environment within the business.
2. Extend Talent Acquisition and Retention Strategies
Talent acquisition and retention strategies for permanent employees should also be implemented and extended to contingent workers and freelancers.
In a recent survey published by Deloitte, employers said 42% of their company is primarily made up of salaried employees, and that these employers expect to dramatically increase their dependence on contract, freelance, and gig workers over the next few years. It was also noted more than a third of survey respondents said HR teams aren’t involved in the sourcing or hiring decisions for contract workers and freelancers.
This indicates the traditional methods of employment are changing, with permanent employees being replaced by contractors, gig workers, freelancers and other service providers that provide companies and firms the flexibility and expertise needed.
However, since HR teams are not involved in the sourcing and hiring decisions for contractors and freelancers, it appears freelancers aren’t obliged to follow the company’s policies and procedures, which may result in future issues.
Suggested actions include:
Involving HR teams at the very beginning to source and secure the right contingent worker or freelancer for a project.
Engaging with HR, IT and legal teams to ensure contingent workers/freelancers are on boarded in the same way as permanent employees.
Implementing performance targets and achievable deliverables for contingent workers/freelancers, in addition to providing access to systems, servers, training and mentorship. This will ensure freelance workers are aligned with the company’s culture, people, strategies, missions and are treated as professionals by others within the organisation.
The goal for a company is to develop an integrated workforce management system that can be used to manage both full time employees and contingent and freelancer workers, and provide transparency to the whole organisation.
3. Start with a Pilot Program for Freelancers
Start with a pilot program on a discrete task in your organisation or team. A pilot program will serve as a trial that helps to determine if any adjustments are needed, or to highlight any unforeseen future challenges to ensure the company is well prepared to handle issues when they come up.
Suggested actions include:
Experimenting with a project that needs to be completed, but has a low impact on the team and clients. If the project is large, it should be transformed into discrete small tasks that are fluid as opposed to tasks that are fixed.
Communicating with the rest of the team that although a pilot program will encounter road bumps, these road bumps are critical for learning and can be reviewed, updated and refined.
Engaging tools and technologies which can be used to communicate with contingent workers and freelancers, as well as monitoring and tracking their performance. These tools will need to be implemented to others within the organisation who’ll be engaging with contingent workers.
Working with HR and IT teams to identify what processes, procedures and technology will need to be implemented to support working with contingent workers and freelancers.
At the end of the pilot, implement an i3 process (Information, Innovation, Implementation) to identify what went well, what areas need to be improved and how/who will implement these changes. It’s vital to have everyone involved in this process, including the contingent workers and freelancers engaged, as it will help the organisation refine the process and reduce future road bumps.
Companies that fail to prepare for an expanding gig economy face many future challenges if they want to remain agile, retain talent and service their clients.
In contrast, those companies with foresight, who embrace contingent workers and freelancers, will be capable of quickly scaling their workforce to meet the changing and expanding demands of their clients, allowing them to stay ahead of their competition, increase productivity, boost employee morale, reach company KPI’s and better service their clients.
However, reaching this advantageous position requires a lot of planning, flexibility, access to the right technologies and online talent marketplaces, as well as the proper mindset and appropriate shift in organisational culture. Companies should start working towards an agile contingent and freelance workforce as soon as possible to stay relevant and grow.
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