I used to be on the road every second week or maybe even more often. These days we just don’t travel as much, largely because of the pandemic. But life goes on and we have to figure out how to work with what we’re handed.

That’s the hallmark of successful people and businesses. We adapt.

Of course, adapting to traveling less has been fairly easy for me. I can work from home and still be productive. Unfortunately, in other ways the pandemic and the so-called “Great Resignation” have made it difficult for organizations to adapt to changes in the workforce. Employees are leaving their jobs or are absent for extended periods. Additionally, it can be harder to find specific skills within a “gig” workforce that sometimes operates outside traditional staffing practices.

Seeing Things Differently, Doing What Works

In my role as chief technology officer for SAP Fieldglass, I watch trends to see how organizations are using contingent labor to be nimbler and more resilient, even in the face of adversity.

For me, the past two years were not simply a series of bad news stories and downward trends, but also an opportunity to witness how companies and people are adapting to the situation. I’ve seen smart business leaders do the right things for their companies, and for their employees. In some cases, they’re picking up on trends that started before the pandemic. Here are some thoughts about what I’m seeing.

Businesses are finding creative ways to get things done and help their employees. At the height of the pandemic, businesses faced tough choices about their workers. With business slowing down, could they afford to keep them on or were furloughs necessary? At the same time, other industries, like logistics, biotech, and healthcare, were experiencing an uptick in demand for workers. Companies made it possible to “lend” furloughed employees to businesses that needed them, with the idea that when the business climate stabilizes, they can return to their regular jobs. People unable to go to on-site jobs were “available” to do remote or jobs that did not need them to be in a location.

The “flex workforce” is helping businesses stay resilient, adaptable, and productive. By flex workforce, I mean workers who can come in and do the work you need done, and you do not have to keep them on your payroll for extended periods. Plus, as we’ve learned through the pandemic, these workers are used to working remotely, which means you can recruit talent from around the world. Let’s say you’re planning a three-month technology project, but you cannot find people with the right expertise in house or within the local labor market. An external workforce strategy makes it possible to seek out temporary workers —  literally from around the world, often at more economical rates. Teams from different locations and different employers can come together to work collaboratively and part ways once work was done.

Business leaders are discovering the value of shared candidate portals. It is a trend that started years ago and picked up with the pandemic. Instead of keeping information about their favorite external workers to themselves, increasingly businesses are willing to share this information within more public “candidate portals.” In exchange, they get access to a wider roster of temporary workers with information supplied by other businesses. This additional information helps them evaluate potential candidates. Right now, we’re developing candidate portal capabilities for SAP Fieldglass software. It will be a lot like LinkedIn for temporary workers — only better, because it provides more resources for candidate evaluation.

Assignment management gives businesses greater flexibility to use temporary workers. During the pandemic, employees might become unavailable to work for weeks, maybe months at a time. Businesses needed the flexibility to use external workers to fill the gaps. Let’s say you’re a manufacturer and you have a skilled tradesperson who can do a couple, maybe two or three, different things. You may ask them to do welding one day and fill in as shop steward the next. The problem is, different jobs have different pay scales. This requires immense flexibility to keep track of what they are doing, the hours they worked, and the correct hourly wage. Fortunately, assignment management software gives companies the flexibility they need to use the varied skills of workers when and as they’re needed.

Companies are devising distribution strategies to tap into the “Gig Economy.” Before the pandemic, there was the Gig Economy. Along with it came specialized freelance management systems to help external workers find work. Think of these as niche, regional, sources for contingent labor, often specialized for one labor category; for example, technical writers in San Francisco. Now, think about how businesses did things before these systems existed — they sent requisitions to select staffing vendors. Today these same businesses are developing what I call “distribution strategies,” in which they reach out to their favorite staffing vendors and to the relevant freelance management systems. This allows them to expand their searches to gig workers not associated with staffing companies. More good news: SAP Fieldglass software can help  streamline these distribution strategies.

Reasons for Optimism

I see many reasons for optimism. First, the external workforce will continue to help companies stay adaptable and strike a balance between the full-time employees they need to move forward, and the temporary workers who fill gaps and take on essential project work.

And second, in challenging times — when there is the greatest need for adaptation — that’s when creative minds do their best work. I can’t wait to see what trends and innovations are incubating right now, waiting to reveal themselves.

SAP Fieldglass is a cloud-based, open vendor management system (VMS) that helps organizations find, engage, manage, pay, and unlock value from the external workforce — anywhere in the world. It enables you to proactively manage everything from costs and compliance to security and quality of work. Stay ahead of the competition by leveraging a connected ecosystem of global talent and partners.

Vish Baliga is chief technology officer for SAP Fieldglass.