We’ve all seen the debates extolling the virtues of the home and the office as a place of work.

Whilst there are undeniable benefits of both, the fact is that most people are seeking something in the middle, which is changing the make up of the total workforce.

Many workers are embracing the newfound flexibility to pursue roles and experience across a much wider range. Conversely, companies themselves get to benefit from that decentralized pool of talent. In the UK, there are currently 2.2 million freelancers, according to IPSE, and workers in the technology sector account for 39% of that. The question for business leaders is not if they should begin benefitting from external workers, but how exactly can they maximize the value these workers bring?

Don’t just look for talent within your four walls

Bringing in contingent workers is not just about tapping into a wider network; it is proven to be a boon to both recovery and growth – something that is top of mind for businesses determined to lift themselves from the quagmire of Covid disruption. Now that the value of digital platforms has been realized and people are unburdened by travelling to offices, there is no need to stick to what you know in terms of personnel.

A key precedent for the rise of the freelance or contracted workforce was in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, where the UK saw a record 12% rise in self-employment

Executives already recognize the ways in which integrating workers from outside the business can positively impact performance. Our recent research with Oxford Economics revealed that 64% of executives believe the external workforce helps to boost agility and 62% say that this part of the workforce helps to provide extra capacity to help manage peaks in demand. More intriguing is that more than half of the respondents (54%) attest to these workers saving them from dips in performance.

Making the right first impression

The real challenge, but also an opportunity for HR professionals, is nurturing and overseeing this external talent as a key element of total talent management. Because of the aforementioned demand for freelance support, they can afford to be discerning when it comes to where they work and where they choose to work again in future. The onboarding process and how companies immerse their contingent workers in the processes and policies they’ll be adhering to on a daily basis is a real cornerstone of successfully deploying them. All HR executives should be asking themselves, Are our procedures intuitive? Does our workforce feel equipped to begin performing? Are we being transparent on how they will be managed?

Conversely, it is also very important to manage risk from the businesses side as well. Executives need oversight of projects and workloads for external workers, and an awareness of any potential breaches of compliance and policy. It is not unheard of for data management issues, improper spending and other deviations of policy to take place when contingent workers are less embedded in the company they’re contracted to. Tackling these issues is difficult if you’re relying on manual tools to recruit and onboard external workers. It’s concerning, then, that our research shows that over a third (37%) of executives indicated that most or all of their processes are still manual.

A solution that benefits workers and HR teams alike lie in the latest wave of contingent management software. With technology being so influential in the remote and hybrid working model we are now exploring, it seems obvious that technology should be at the heart of our solution for managing the total workforce.

What can software do for you?

Contingent management software, like SAP’s Fieldglass, is the latest generation of tools that offer the adaptability of cloud-based onboarding, training and management. Management can receive real-time insights into spend allocation and project performance, key metrics for realizing cost savings and of course delivering to the highest standard. We’ve talked about the globalized talent network that hybrid working has unveiled, now with contingent management software, you can adapt with features like a market-rate card, which can precisely track contingent workforce pricing across suppliers and locations.

The core component of these types of solutions is the ability to integrate robust data insights into your management strategy. Having access to this data enables precise evaluation of worker performance metrics. This empowers HR practitioners to evaluate external talent for future engagement and provide detailed feedback which will help those same external workers to develop and improve productivity. This is backed up by our research which found that 81% of executives say that digital transformation of their procurement function helped improve performance management.

Finally, the potential of these solutions to bring process efficiencies is significant, simplifying hiring and onboarding to require the minimum paperwork, attracting talent via a streamlined onboarding process and reducing the potential logistical difficulties of manual processes.

Delivering on the huge potential of the external workforce can become a reality by implementing the proper mindset and tools to go with it. Flexibility from both sides, employer and worker, to balance this new remote working world is of course still required, but I look forward to seeing how the hybrid world of work develops and opens up possibilities for workers everywhere.