On-demand freelancers, consultants, and independent contractors are quickly becoming a significant part of today’s workforce. Attributing to 30 percent of people spend in large companies worldwide, the contingent workforce is providing talent and expertise that can be pivotal for a business’ customer experience and strategic initiatives.

As the demand for flexibility rises and the supply of highly specialized skills tightens, tapping into the best of today’s contingents is becoming an attractive competitive advantage. Business leaders looking to elicit this labor pool’s best efforts may want to reconsider their arms-length relationship and show more love in the form of inclusive communication, recognition, outreach events, and compensation.

According to the IDC research report HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors, businesses need to adopt a more sophisticated, nuanced approach with contingents that matches that of the rest of the workforce. In other words, instead of regarding contingent workers as temporary labor, “organizations need to adapt to ensure they have flexibility and room to grow,” observed Alexandros Stratis, research analyst for IDC’s European Enterprise Applications program.

It’s Time to Create an Attractive Culture for Contingent Workers Too

Over the years, organizations have shifted their focus from executing on a purely performance-driven culture to one that incorporates engagement in order to maximize discretionary effort and retention. These organizations should now look to extend this philosophy to their contingent population – who not only make up a large portion of the workforce, but can help drive significant results with the proper alignment and engagement.

Leading companies typically adopt four fundamental principles rooted in new digital technologies:

  • Defined onboarding and collaboration: Allow contingent workers to quickly join teams, understand expectations, become acquainted with the business, collaborate with the right experts, orient themselves, and collaborate on tasks. With enterprise collaboration platforms, contingents can fully understand everyone’s contributions, progress, and relationships with one another.
  • Bidirectional, freely flowing learning: Improve the talent of every member of the workforce through training and development. Contingent workers can share their expertise and best practices with the organization while they access information from regular employees. E-learning and social learning platforms facilitate this two-way knowledge transfer by capturing conversations, e-mail chains, document versions, and other information related to a project.
  • Performance feedback, rewards, and incentives: Motivate contingent workers with performance feedback and appropriate rewards and incentives. By giving internal and external employees a platform to provide real-time feedback and recognition, the HR organization can have a better sense of how well everyone is working together and which contingent workers are providing highly valuable outcomes.
  • Advancement and career development. Attract and retain the best of contingent workers by enhancing and extending their value. Including this workforce in succession planning allows companies to access a global pool of skilled talent that may not be otherwise available. HR can search for available internal and external talent with visibility into worker performance, interests, and résumés. Plus, full-time employees can nominate contingent workers to succeed them.

Total Transformation Involves the Total Workforce

The more critical the use of contingent workers becomes, the more employers need to consider them when addressing engagement and cultural concerns for the rest of their workforce. While it may be easier to think that every contingent will be leaving too soon to reap any benefits from development efforts, businesses need to readjust their perspective. With the latest advances in workforce management, this mindset can become an obstacle to acquiring a total workforce – internal and external – that is effective, efficient, and immensely productive.

Find out the five key trends and actions that can help businesses of all sizes address the challenges of digital transformation. Read the IDC interactive report “HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors.

Amy Wilson is senior vice president of Product at SAP SuccessFactors.