The Challenges of a Fluid Workforce

By Mark Probert

Topic: Fluid Workforce

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In my previous post about predictions for 2021, I finished up with a brief discussion about re-onboarding, re-skilling, and the implications of a non-9-to-5 workforce. With organizations facing economic uncertainty, many employees will lose their jobs, and companies will reconsider their hiring and workforce management models.

I want to expand on that further here. Over the last five years, we have seen the rise of more contract and freelance workers. Organizations are more likely to develop the number of contract and flex employees they hire. This resource strategy is not just to save costs but to drive flexible productivity and output as they navigate the next 12 months. 

Simultaneously, some businesses will also continue the commitment to their long-term plans for growth and hire permanently. These two trends, along with re-onboarding and re-skilling due to the market’s evolving needs, will make for a challenging time for HR over the next 12-24 months. The increasingly diverse employee base has implications for HR policies, programs, and, yes, technology!  Some organizations will find that their employee base will consist of flex/freelance/contract or permanent staff for the first time. Others who have handled such a workforce for many years will have a more splendid mix.

HR will need to consider how they can effectively attract and retain freelance and contract workers while recruiting permanent staff. There will also be challenges of performance metrics and benefits for employees or workers who don’t work for the company full time or even exclusively. There are well-documented challenges around retaining a flexible contract workforce, which could mean continuous onboarding to keep up with demand because of turnover. The knock-on effect is that employee experience will vary significantly, as will performance and engagement.

Let’s Tackle Engagement First

There is no doubt that with less job security and mass remote working, employees have had to make considerable adjustments to how they work, but this will all change again in 2021

Many employees have enjoyed the new experience of working from home, and organizations have embraced the opportunities this experiment has gifted them. The flexibility that home working delivers will likely have increased employee engagement, well-being, and happiness. However, employees want to get back to the office or even visit it for the first time to experience the culture, banter, and relatedness to the organization they work for. Employees may also feel that their career and progress has slowed during the pandemic. The employee engagement amongst this aspect of the workforce is likely to be negatively impacted.

In 2021, HR departments will need to get clearer on how employees are affected through engagement tools and company surveys because all of the above demonstrates that employees will have hugely different experiences of employment. HR will need a very current start defining the employee experience and company culture unique to each part of the organization. This in itself will be a monumental task, as well as responding to the differing feedback.

What About Learning, Development, and Performance When It Comes to a Fluid Workforce?

How will learning and development opportunities start or continue to be delivered, with homeworking likely to continue for at least the first quarter of 2021? How much has L&D been prioritized for employees while the organization was under pressure in 2020? Learning is often the first agenda item to be de-prioritized when an organization or employees are under time pressure, seen as a luxury or nice-to-have.

Learning and development are crucial in attracting and retaining staff; research suggests development is the second most vital factor in workplace happiness (after the work itself). So, if learning took a back seat in 2020, placing high on the agenda in 2021 will help keep your remote employees engaged and connected with your organization.

Linked intrinsically to learning is performance. How will organizations measure performance and communicate goals with the flexible workforce as consistently as it does with permanent employees? We know that fairness is a crucial need for employees. Being treated and measured reasonably within a peer group, having clear goals, and experiencing transparent processes are critical to employees’ driving performance. As is constant feedback and correction or learning where required, regularly checking in with employee progress against goals will also help drive conversations at the right time.

With remote working, we are tired of video calls. Still, regular performance check-ins can provide managers and employees motivation and connectivity in what feels like a hamster wheel of work-related conference calls. 

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