Building an agile workforce that can adapt to changing market conditions might be the solution employers are looking for.

Would your business survive if it had to rely on independent workers like freelancers and contractors to get half of its work done? According to new research from Ardent Partners, 40 percent of global workers are contingent, with that number expected to rise to 50 percent by 2020. Is your organization ready for this shift?

Having an agile workforce enables employers to be more responsive to changing market conditions and customer demands, among other needs. The adoption of more flexible employment practices can be a true business enabler.

1. The Perfect Storm of Pressure

In a recent white paper, WorkMarket points out five areas that are contributing to the rise in independent, flexible workers:

  1. Customer pressure
  2. Competitive threats
  3. Shrinking margins
  4. Talent shortages
  5. Vendor requirements

Shortages of critical talent, for instance, might lead employers to hire workers more flexibly: Instead of looking for 10 full-time workers, the organization may need just five subject matter experts to contribute on an as-needed basis, filling the gap without all of the overhead associated with hiring and managing regular employees.

When taken separately, any of these might be a reason for an employer to modify their employment practices. However, when taken as a whole, the need to radically rethink the hiring and management of workers becomes a critical part of the discussion.

2. Managing the Increasing Pace of Business

One of the most respected industry publications, Deloitte's "Global Human Capital Trends" report has much to say about contingent workers. Despite the large share of the workforce dominated by contingent, contract and part-time workers, note the report's authors, "many companies lack the HR practices, culture or leadership support to manage this new workforce."

For this reason, businesses must think not only about the needs driving them toward adopting more flexible employment practices but also about what sort of culture, leadership and HR support is necessary to successfully enable this change. Merely attempting to hire a larger volume of flexible workers won't necessarily yield results. Why? Because non employee workers like freelancers and contractors don't typically get the same treatment as W-2 employees. They don't get onboarded. They don't receive training. They aren't in the loop on company developments and communications.

Each of these are examples of how employers must rethink their practices to better improve their chances of succeeding with contingent hiring.

3. Businesses Benefit From Leveraging Independent Workers

Once employers have taken appropriate steps to prepare, they are then ready to be rewarded for their efforts. According to the Deloitte study, one of the chief benefits of using more contingent workers is that they enable companies to respond to upturns and downturns more quickly, giving them more flexibility and versatility in responding to rapidly changing market conditions.

The concept of workforce agility is simple: Instead of wondering how to apply yesterday's workforce management strategies to today's workplace challenges, why not adopt a more nimble strategy for meeting business demands? Leveraging the pool of subject matter experts available as consultants, freelancers or even part-time workers can grant employers access to skills that might not be otherwise be available, potentially giving them an edge in the competitive talent market.

Where do you believe the world of work is going and what data supports your thesis?
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