Employers are turning to flexible staffing options, such as the gig economy and staffing agencies, as part of their business recovery plans in the wake of COVID-19 and related market uncertainty.
Flexible staffing (otherwise known as contingent hiring) includes contractors, freelancers, and temp workers. It was already a buzzword before 2020 but accelerated dramatically in response to the pandemic’s impact on employment.
Research from PRO Unlimited found that 40% of all white-collar workers already fall into the temp or gig category, and expect that over half of skilled workers will be contingent by late 2021. A FlexJobs survey found that 36% of workers in the U.S. have been freelancing during the pandemic; an increase of 2 million since 2019.
Benefits of flexible staffing for businesses
Let’s look at some of the benefits of flexible staffing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Adapting to economic uncertainty
Even though the vaccination program is well-underway, U.S. businesses face an uncertain and rocky path ahead. Future virus spikes, shutdowns, and an economic rollercoaster will lead to starts and stoppages, along with sudden peaks and troughs in demand.
This means businesses are hesitant to invest in permanent recruitment, pivoting instead to a project-based employment model to stay as flexible as possible.
2. Scaling up and down fast
Temp workers are usually able to get started on projects immediately, which avoids the usual months-long recruitment process and enables companies to respond to changing conditions fast. At the other end of the cycle, temp workers can be terminated without a lengthy (and expensive) notice period and severance package.
A flexible staffing strategy enables a business to rapidly scale up or (just as importantly) to scale down in response to demand.
3. Cost savings
Although a temp worker may have a higher day-rate than a permanent hire, companies save money by not having to pay employee benefits. Other cost savings include avoiding the expense of recruitment, onboarding, offboarding, and training.
4. Trial workers before hiring permanently
An emerging trend for employers is to trial workers on a freelance or temporary basis before offering them a full-time role. Watching temp staff work on-the-job, seeing how they interact with customers and fit in with the company culture will remove the risk of spending a great deal of time and money recruiting a new hire who doesn’t work out.
5. The workforce is increasingly embracing the gig economy
A Monster survey conducted during the COVID-19 crisis found that 57% of workers would take some kind of gig job while they are in-between jobs, 52% would like a long-term contract with flexible hours, and 39% want short-term contract or temp work.
6. Finding flexible staff is getting easier
Companies can find gig workers by advertising through their own channels, engaging a recruitment firm or staffing agency, or by using one of the many flexible staffing platforms that have emerged in response to surging demand. Examples in the U.S. include UpShift, ShiftGig, and Wonolo.
Flexible staffing challenges
There are some challenges involved in hiring contractors for short-term work. For example, it may be more difficult to integrate non-permanent staff into your company culture, and onboarding processes may need to be adjusted.
Something to keep a close eye on are the growing calls to give flexible staff more job security and benefits. HBR, for example, recently published an article titled “Gig workers are here to stay. It’s time to give them benefits”.
Finally, the accelerated hiring process with temporary workers can lead to risks such as hiring someone who doesn’t possess the right skills or is non-compliant in terms of background checks. Although staffing agencies frequently assure their customers that the temp workers on their platforms are fully vetted, it’s worth gaining additional assurance by running your own checks by using a skills-testing platform such as Vervoe and a background screening service such as Accurate.