Business leaders plan on increasing use of independent workforce. Will you?

Business leaders plan on increasing use of independent workforce. Will you?

As we enter the midway point for 2022, a growing phenomenon has been occurring across the US: the increasing use of independent contractors to address capacity and capability gaps. A recent MIT Sloan and Deloitte report cataloged this growing trend — with upwards of 30-50% of an organization's workforce comprised of independent workers.

Source: MITSloan & Deloitte, “Orchestrating Workforce Systems”

This shift is creating a workforce ecosystem that includes full-time employees and independent contractors side by side, ushering in the predominance of a hybrid workforce. Instead of looking at each group as separate, many Fortune 500 organizations are taking a more holistic view and looking at these two groups as one workforce. 

The Rise of the Hybrid Workforce

Data from this same report shows that 93% of business leaders account for external workers as part of their workforce, with 74% agreeing that effective management of these external contributors is critical to their success.

A significant reason (outside of the talent shortage) why external talent is seen as critical among Fortune 500 companies like Unilever, for example, is the ability to drive innovation at a larger scale and much faster pace. It's no wonder that 45% of business leaders plan on increasing their use of independent contractors moving forward. 

Source: MITSloan & Deloitte, “Orchestrating Workforce Systems”

Not only does adopting a more fluid approach to work accelerate speed to market by gaining access to hard-to-find skills in a tight labor market, but it also enables them to be more agile than before. This is a much-needed characteristic to navigate today's uncertain market environment. 

But understanding why the adoption of this blended workforce model is increasing has much to do with understanding employee behavior and the economic climate we are in. 

How Employee Behavior Gave Rise to the Blended Workforce

Using independent talent to supplement teams is nothing new, but recent market changes like the pandemic, Great Resignation, and increased market uncertainty have put this workforce model in the limelight. 

The main factor driving this shift is employee behavior. Employees have re-evaluated what they want in their personal and professional lives and are shunning traditional career paths, said consulting firm McKinsey.

Source: McKinsey, “The Great Attrition is making hiring harder. Are you searching for the right talent pools?”

In turn, this is creating a large pool of active and potential workers looking for alternative ways to work — with many citing that they rather go into business for themselves. 

Source: Harvard Business Review, “Workers Don’t Feel Like a 9-to-5 Job Is a Safe Bet Anymore”

As employees quit their jobs in search of greater work fulfillment and work/life flexibility, it’s creating a gap in the labor force because there simply aren't enough traditional employees to fill all the openings — and hence the increased use of independent contractors. 

Connecting the Dots: Talent Shortage Drives Demand for Independent Workers 

With companies struggling to fill positions, many started searching for talent by following where they’ve gone: independent talent platforms. As employees go into the business for themselves, many are using talent platforms to find work and clients that align with their professional/personal goals. 

In turn, companies are using these same platforms to gain access to hard-to-find skills and talent.  

Consider this trend we’ve seen on Graphite. 

In the first half of 2022, we saw a 42% increase in independent workers joining our platforms. This growth in our expert network is also mirrored by a 47% increase in spend for onboarding independent experts. 

Source: Graphite

So how exactly are companies striking the right balance to create a successful workforce ecosystem? 

Reimagining the New Workforce: Fine-Tuning The Balance Between Independent Talent and Full-Time Employees 

The MITSloan and Deloitte report suggests that this blended workforce model requires leaders to learn new ways to optimize overall performance. Key aspects of these leadership strategies include:

  • Becoming deliberate “orchestrators” of the workforce ecosystem, means viewing all workers (full-time/part-time employees, contractors, service providers, external contributors, and developers) as part of the workforce. 
  • Articulating a vision for the future and how all members of the workforce ecosystem will help achieve that vision. This includes how to support and drive everyone’s performance, both full-time employees and independent contractors. 
  • Building a bench of expert external contributors who can augment the knowledge and skills within the organization. 

At Graphite, we’ve seen how companies can orchestrate a hybrid workforce first hand. For example, a Big Four accounting firm partnered with us to develop a virtual bench program. 

Together we defined the roles, vision, governance, and measurement of the program to identify, source, and vet independent talent to join the bench.

Since working with the firm, eight professionals have been onboarded its virtual bench program — allowing them to rapidly allocate talent to upcoming M&A and human capital initiatives on demand. 

As the market continues to evolve, the reality of a blended workforce model will become imminent. But ensuring businesses excel requires more than having enough people in place. It requires managing the nuances of an increasingly diverse workforce.

Knowing the pivotal role independent talent will continue to play in the workforces of tomorrow, we’ve created a guide to help business leaders like you navigate the change in our Ultimate Workforce Optimization Guide. Not only do we walk through the nuances of this new work reality, but we’ve included a maturity matrix model to help you get started. 

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