Ultimate workforce optimization guide: a roadmap for building high-performing teams with on-demand talent acquisition

Ultimate workforce optimization guide: a roadmap for building high-performing teams with on-demand talent acquisition

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In an era of workforce uncertainty, economic upheaval, and digital transformation, companies are finding traditional hiring strategies disrupted by the independent workforce. And yet the revolution of using independent experts to solve the most challenging business problems and accelerate growth isn’t a new trend.

Even pre-pandemic, McKinsey’s July 2019 Future of Work in America report warned businesses that workforce transformations were on the horizon.

"Employers will need to manage large-scale workforce transformations that could involve redefining business processes and workforce needs." - McKinsey, July 2019, Future of Work in America Report

The volume of Americans joining the independent workforce has grown by 22% since 2019, and self-employed professionals contribute over $1.2 trillion to the economy. Experts pivoting to consulting are on the rise — 58% of employees say they’re likely to consider self-employment in the future. And in January 2022, 4.3 million Americans decided to quit their jobs a 112% increase compared to 2019, which at the time was considered the tightest labor market on record.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has undoubtedly played a firm part in accelerating the growth of the independent workforce as more people decided to leave full-time employment. Many pivoted to independent consulting, lured by the promise of autonomous and flexible working schedules, higher wages, and the ability to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations.

With the labor market tightening and companies having to do more to navigate the post-pandemic landscape, many businesses are adopting alternative workforce models like on-demand talent acquisition. These strategies allow companies to supplement traditional hiring practices while rapidly allocating talent aligned with business and customer needs.

As companies continue to see the value of using independent expertise as  a strategic growth lever, it’s safe to say that on-demand talent acquisition is the future of work. Growth from the Graphite platform supports this trend, with company spend for onboarding independent subject matter expertise up 170% YoY. So how can you strategically leverage on-demand talent acquisition to build and scale your business, and how do you know if your business is ready?

We tackle these questions and more in this guide, providing you with a roadmap for building a remote workforce and scaling it as you need.

Remote is the new normal (and companies are thriving)

Hybrid and remote work has fast become the norm, and companies of all sizes need to rethink their hiring practices to keep up with the future of work. According to PwC’s 2021 US Remote Work Survey, 83% of employers now say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company. Over half of employees surveyed said they want to continue working remotely three or  more days per week.

With an ever-changing landscape, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to keep on top of hiring trends and onboard the right people at the right time. Yet, innovative businesses are already adhering to this shifting tide and aligning their hiring with more modern-day practices by bringing in independent subject matter experts on demand.

Job skills evolve and become more disrupted as a new business environment emerges

Ten years ago, positions like chief experience officer, chief data officer, chief people officer, head of diversity and inclusion, and head of growth  didn’t exist. Roles and responsibilities are changing faster than ever before, and companies need to keep up with this pattern, which is where on-demand talent acquisition can help.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the advancement of job skills meant that 90% of leaders surveyed by HBR and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2020 believed that the ability to hire independent skilled workers using platforms like Graphite would be instrumental in their ability to compete in the future.

Millennials and Gen-Z are the future of the workforce

Boomers, who represent a quarter of the American workforce, are aging and edging closer into retirement, leaving room for younger generations, namely Millennials and Gen-Z, to take the reins. These cohorts have exceptionally different needs and priorities regarding the working world.

Millennials (now America’s largest cohort) and Gen-Z view work differently from Boomers and emphasize autonomy and control, alongside valuing and prioritizing mental health and flexible working, which is a perfect match for the on-demand workforce.

- Independent consultants joining on-demand talent platforms in 2021 grew by 39% YoY

- Companies increased their spend on onboarding independent experts on Graphite by over 170% YoY in 2021

As the on-demand labor market continues to grow and evolve alongside significant changes to the way that businesses operate and work, the future of accessing talent that’s central to business strategies lies in the power of on-demand talent acquisition — which is here to stay. Companies need to level up their on-demand talent knowledge and reposition themselves to align with the future of work.

On-Demand Talent Acquisition 101

The on-demand workforce comprises a melting pot of independent  experts who range from generalists to specialists and make up 36% of the American workforce.

Consultants range in skillsets from mergers and acquisitions, corporate strategy, market research, marketing, and technology to subject matter expertise in life sciences, healthcare, financial services, and consumer goods, among others.

Independent experts apply to join on-demand talent platforms, like Graphite, to get paired with businesses of all sizes who need help with specific expertise to fill capability and capacity gaps, accelerate growth, and support internal initiatives.

On-demand talent acquisition is a flexible hiring model that provides seamless access to independent subject matter experts tailored to immediate project needs on demand. — Learn more about it here.

How does on-demand talent acquisition differ from traditional recruitment methods?

Traditional hiring and on-demand talent acquisition models differ because despite the process is similar, the time and duration it takes to find talent under each model differ. Traditional talent acquisition can take two months or more to find talent based on the title and role of the position. With on-demand talent acquisition, you can find talent within 13.5 days on average.

Are independent experts the same as gig workers or freelancers?

No. The difference between the three cohorts is as follows:

Former MBB/Big Four consultant with extensive professional experience Range of experience from out of college to seasoned professional Uses online platforms to take on short-term gigs, e.g., Uber, Task Rabbit, Lyft, etc.
Highly specialized in their field Typically books weeks in advance, limited immediate access Not responsible for client acquisition
Seeks challenging roles that align with their long-term growth aspirations and would help them build new skills quickly Works with many clients across many different industries Typically, gig workers perform the service for a short space
of time
Capacity to take on long-term projects Either generalized or specialized
Signs on for smaller volume of clients, resulting in greater attention to detail Responsible for client acquisition
Prefers to be part of a peer network of vetted experts

What does onboarding independent experts on demand look like for a company?

Example 1

Cindy works as the Director of Market Research at a leading management consulting firm. A east coast based fast-food chain recently awarded them a project to identify new markets for their portfolio. Rather than opening up a new role or pulling consultants from other initiatives for this four-month project, she enlists the help of an on-demand talent platform that pairs her with a data-driven senior market research expert with deep expertise in the restaurant industry. She was able to kick off the project faster by onboarding the perfect expert  for the job on demand.

Example 2

Martin works as the head of engineering at a global online banking firm. He realizes the need for fast deployment, but his team has a backlog in JIRA. Martin engages with a small team of software developers  on demand for three months to help clear the backlog and advance his deployment schedule.

Get an inside look at how companies are building high-performing teams with independent subject matter experts.

9 Benefits of the Independent Workforce

1. Increases access to top-tier talent

On-demand talent platforms play host to a diverse array of highly skilled professionals from across the world. Hiring isn’t limited by proximity, giving you the benefit of cherry-picking from pre-vetted, independent subject matter experts that match the skill set you’re looking for.

For example, you’re about to launch a new product into the market, but you don’t know how you should price it. Instead of taking a team member off of another initiative to lead this project, you can onboard an independent expert on demand specializing in pricing strategy with a focus on product launches.  

And with the Great Resignation well underway, the volume of candidates in the independent expert pool will continue to grow, meaning an increase in specializations and talent joining the workforce, making it easier to access niche workers and fill projects.

2. Addresses capacity and capability gaps

Selecting from the independent expert pool enables companies to close  hard-to-fill positions with pre-vetted professionals who are ready to hit the ground running.

For example, an east coast global consulting firm had an immediate need for a world-class project manager to sift through a vast amount of data, develop and roll out an enterprise risk management (ERM) framework, analyze an extensive data set, synthesize the information, and present key findings to the client.

The consulting firm used Graphite to hire Chris M., a former management consultant with over nine years of experience as a compliance and data strategy leader at companies like S&P Global, Barclays, and Accenture.

This independent expert hit the ground running — reviewing and synthesizing the data to develop the groundwork for the ERM framework. He was able to align effectively with the consulting firm’s consulting frameworks while delighting the end client with the end results.

3. Accelerates time to market

Businesses often have time-sensitive initiatives but lack the capacity to onboard a full-time employee. By leveraging and quickly accessing independent consultants who are experts in their field, companies can actively reduce the time it takes to bring a project to fruition and accelerate their time to market — which can be incredibly impactful in reaching short and long-term business goals.

On-Demand Talent Success Story: Graphite worked with a management consulting firm to help hire a project management consultant to help support and accelerate an upcoming product launch in the pharmaceutical industry. Pre-vetted experts were presented to the professional services team within 48 hours. An independent expert was hired to successfully manage the launch of the new commercial product  and create a medical affairs roadmap.

4. Enables workforce flexibility

Unlike traditional hiring, on-demand talent acquisition gives organizations flexibility, allowing them to quickly respond to changing business and customer needs as and when they arise. This level of flexibility isn’t as feasible with in-house employees having predefined roles and responsibilities, plus a set pathway to advance professionally.

According to McKinsey, companies that can quickly allocate talent to evolving priorities are twice as likely to report stronger performance and deliver better results per dollar spent.

5. Enhances productivity

Onboarding independent experts gives businesses an opportunity to outsource highly strategic work, for example, ERP implementations and digital transformations. Businesses win here because they’ve enlisted the service of a highly skilled professional, meaning that the project will be managed proactively by someone specialized in a specific niche, resulting in quick turnaround times and heightened productivity.

Independent consultants are also happier than their full-time employed counterparts. Most share that they feel more gratification in their work compared to when they were full-time employees. With happiness being a key factor in improving productivity, it’s no surprise that onboarding independent consultants can help your team deliver results.

6. Powers innovation

Getting an outsider’s opinion is a goldmine for driving innovation. A large pool of a company’s human capital is often focused on key operational projects, hindering its ability to focus on innovation and negatively impacting future growth. Bringing in an independent expert’s fresh outside perspective can strengthen and drive innovation within various departments.

Additionally, consultants have years of experience that can help train your in-house team. And since many are used to wearing many hats, independent experts are more adaptable and appealing for companies looking to solve immediate or long-term problems.

More often than not, due to their extensive experience, consultants bring  with them a different perspective and are quick to provide innovative  solutions because they may have experienced a similar challenge with a previous company.

Businesses can set their employees for long-term success by onboarding independent experts on demand to give them additional bandwidth to  focus on powering innovation.

7. Fast-tracks deliverables and meet deadlines

Picture this scenario. In a tight labor market, your short-staffed project teams are overwhelmed. Everyone is working long hours. A solution is  to funnel in independent experts on demand that can take on mission-critical projects such as setting a new strategy or delivering an enterprise risk management framework, to ensure that subsequent deadlines and initiatives are hit. This is extremely important for consulting firms working on time-sensitive projects with clients and maintaining a positive working relationship.

8. Provides a cost-effective approach to talent acquisition

The time and cost it can take employers to find an independent consultant to take on an intermediate job via traditional staffing and recruiting methods can be time-consuming and costly. By adopting an on-demand talent acquisition model, businesses can save thousands of dollars that otherwise would be used on overhead items such as contracts, retainers, and more which doesn’t guarantee results.

On-Demand Talent Success Story: After 90 years in the diamond industry, maintaining its leadership position in the market was key for this luxury goods company. So they decided to develop their best business case and roadmap for success by hiring a former MBB consultant on Graphite. This independent expert saved the company $385,000 in costs vs. hiring a full-time employee.

Additionally, on-demand talent acquisition means that you only pay for what you need, unlike traditional staffing agencies where you have to pay an additional fee. Here’s a look at the key differences between each.

Former MBB/Big Four consultant with extensive professional experience Range of experience from out of college to seasoned professional Uses online platforms to take on short-term gigs, e.g., Uber, Task Rabbit, Lyft, etc.
Highly specialized in their field Typically books weeks in advance, limited immediate access Not responsible for client acquisition
Seeks challenging roles that align with their long-term growth aspirations and would help them build new skills quickly Works with many clients across many different industries Typically, gig workers perform the service for a short space
of time
Capacity to take on long-term projects Either generalized or specialized
Signs on for smaller volume of clients, resulting in greater attention to detail Responsible for client acquisition
Prefers to be part of a peer network of vetted experts

9. Ensures you’re onboarding the right person for the role

As remote work becomes the new normal, there’s been a notable increase in people manipulating the virtual hiring process to land jobs — even if they’re underqualified. By using an on-demand talent platform like Graphite, companies get unparalleled access to a pre-vetted roster of independent professionals, meaning who you onboard is who they say they are.

How to Adopt the On-Demand Talent Acquisition Model

Unlocking the potential of the on-demand workforce isn’t rocket science. If you’re unsure about where to begin, we’ve created the On-Demand Talent Acquisition Maturity Matrix to help you navigate and understand how you  can adopt the on-demand hiring model for your business.

Most companies get started with it as a reactive measure when looking for creative ways to address capacity gaps on their teams. Once businesses see the immediate results, they use on-demand talent acquisition more strategically — scaling their teams with agility.

Before long, multiple departments within the company start joining an on-demand talent platform like Graphite. Eventually, talent acquisition teams take over the process. In doing so, the business is better able to  cost-effectively scale teams by quickly and proactively onboarding independent expertise on demand.

  When people start with on-demand talent acquisition, the nature of the engagement is very reactive, lacks process and policies, is typically led by a business unit leader, and there are no measurements for success. But as organizations move upstream, the on-demand talent acquisition model is much more mature. It's proactive, consistent, and scalable. Communication and governance are centralized with a talent acquisition team lead, and there are measurements of success, and communication is frequent.


Companies typically start their on-demand talent acquisition journey reactively. A hiring manager has exhausted their options to fill a critical role through standard channels (such as enlisting the support of a staffing agency and tapping their local network for contractors).

While researching alternatives, they learn about the new model of onboarding highly skilled knowledge workers on demand to fill the immediate need. After searching, the hiring manager engages with an  on-demand talent platform. Once signed up, it usually takes 13.5 days to find and start a project with an independent expert.

Given the time-sensitive nature of the need, the engagement is tactical in nature. There is no governance structure, no processes in place, and no defined approach to measure the benefits of onboarding an expert on demand. Communication between the hiring manager and the on-demand hiring platform’s account team is sporadic and finite.


As the hiring manager recognizes the benefits of onboarding independent expertise, they quickly move to a more organized approach. While the use of on-demand talent acquisition is still quite tactical, the hiring manager starts to implement processes around proactively posting their project-based needs on the platform. They also use their learnings to onboard experts quicker and more seamlessly. Measuring success is limited, but the communication is ongoing, which opens the door for more strategic use across the company.


As one hiring manager or department onboards multiple independent experts and recognizes the benefits of speed to market and cost savings, success with the on-demand talent acquisition model spreads throughout the organization. Colleagues from other departments are invited to join the platform — kick-starting their on-demand talent acquisition journey.

Now on-demand talent acquisition has become a strategic part of the organization. While its use by hiring managers is still tactical, the model is deployed more proactively within some departments and is better aligned with business/department talent needs. More importantly, this is when we  start seeing policies and processes for using this model put in place.

On-demand talent acquisition is fully aligned with the organization’s requirements and adheres to best practices. Communication between the company and the on-demand talent platform’s account team has evolved to become regular and strategic.


This is the future state all organizations strive for. The on-demand talent acquisition model is used as a strategic growth lever and has been fully implemented across the organization.

In this situation, on-demand talent acquisition moves away from business unit leads and is centralized under the talent acquisition team. The talent acquisition point of contact works with each business unit or department to understand their talent needs in advance and proactively leverages and builds the pool of on-demand workers to address capacity gaps.

Typically, in this scaled approach, the talent acquisition team develops a bench program of independent subject matter experts they can hire on demand — removing the need to vet experts for each new project. These experts can be onboarded to projects as business needs arise.

Since the on-demand talent acquisition model is used more strategically, the organization develops an executive-led policy and procedure to make the use of independent experts on teams a repeatable process. This ensures that the business can obtain similar results each time. Communication is ongoing, proactive, and strategic.

Taking the Next Step

Are you ready to build an on-demand workforce?

- Do you have immediate needs that take a long time to fill?

- Are you looking to supplement and add agility and flexibility to your workforce model, hiring processes, and operations?

- Do you have a complex project that needs external support to get over the line?

- Do you need to free up in-house resources for projects coming down the pipeline?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’re ready to implement the on-demand talent acquisition model in your  business. Connect with one of our account executives today to learn more and get started.

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