If you thought the rise of remote work, independent contractors and contingent workers rose sharply during the pandemic, just wait until the next few months when you see a higher uptick in the on-demand talent economy.
Rising workload and pace, the stress of commuting and a taste of the flexible work-from-anywhere lifestyle have all contributed to what many are calling the Great Resignation, which is only just the beginning of the headwinds organizations are facing, says Tim Sanders, vice president of client strategy at Upwork, a marketplace that connects businesses with independent professionals and agencies around the globe.
“It began with front-line workers, but it’s not going to end there,” Sanders notes, “Recent data suggests that the biggest industries for quits are now software and professional services and on top of that, I predict that we’ll see more leaders and managers continuing to quit their jobs.”
As the economy leans toward a recession, and layoffs across dozens of tech firms make headlines, Sanders predicts companies will increasingly turn to on-demand talent. “These highly skilled independent contractors and professionals offer the speed, flexibility and agility companies are seeking right now. Leaders are becoming more empowered to fully embrace a hybrid workforce and shift away from rigid models.”
Leaning into headwinds: Driving growth amid uncertainty
A recent report from Upwork, The Adaptive Enterprise, underscores the importance of flexible on-demand talent during uncertain times. Sanders notes: “A growing number of organizations, including Upwork and customers like Microsoft, Airbnb and Nasdaq understand that on-demand talent enables companies to reduce risk, drive cost savings, and at the same time, protect their people from burnout. Flexible workforce models also allow businesses to respond to and recover faster from crises than more traditional models.”
Some crises come in the form of economic slowdowns, while others can take the shape of geopolitical conflicts that disrupt life and work as we know it. Mitigating risk — such as a pandemic wave striking a certain region housing the majority of a company’s staff — is one reason businesses turn to on-demand talent, but it’s certainly not the only one.
CEOs surveyed by Deloitte in 2022 see talent shortages as the biggest threat to their growth plans. The survey goes on to report that CEOs believe that talent is the top disruptor to their supply chain and there is more to be gained within their workforce by providing greater flexibility (83% in agreement) as opposed to merely offering more financial-related incentives. What is top of mind for many business leaders is needing to fill talent and skills gaps, so they can deliver new products and enhanced services. In other words, companies are struggling to find the specific skill sets needed to advance their business objectives and innovation agendas.
The biggest benefit of leveraging on-demand talent is often tapping into the talent and skills that businesses can’t find elsewhere. Upwork’s recent report highlights that 53% of on-demand talent provide skills that are in short supply for many companies, including IT, marketing, computer programming and business consulting.
By harnessing a global talent pool from digital marketplaces like Upwork, businesses have wider access to skilled talent who can accelerate what those companies offer to customers at a fraction of the cost. “Skillsourcing” on-demand talent helps companies maintain a more compact population of full-time employees to concentrate on work that only they can do as well as maximize their strengths while bringing in independent professionals to handle the rest.
Behind the growth: Speed, flexibility and agility
Speed, flexibility and agility are three critical benefits offered by on-demand talent to businesses seeking competitive advantages in their sector. While on-demand talent solutions give companies speed-to-market advantages, Sanders sees that they also give organizations a strategic form of flexibility.
“An agile organization is able to make bold and quick moves without breaking everything,” Sanders says, “and look at a number of our Fortune 100 customers that have a workforce made up of almost half on-demand talent, and how they can pivot on a dime. It's a case of structure enabling strategy.”
As for speed and efficiency doing the actual work, Sanders says clients report that when hiring managers have been given access to on-demand talent, they engage the needed talent within days instead of months, and when they bring them onto projects, the work is completed up to 50% faster than through traditional avenues.
Sanders says, “Businesses have realized that remote work experiences are best led and judged by outcomes, not just time in the office, and more leaders are comfortable and confident opting for a hybrid workforce that can deliver based on those outcomes.”
Upwork’s Labor Market Trends and Insights page shows that organizations are indeed ramping up their hybrid workforces: 60% of businesses surveyed said they plan to use more on-demand talent in the next two years.
“The old way of acquiring talent isn’t efficient,” Sanders says. “Staffing firms aren’t the silver-bullet solution they once were, and more businesses need to rethink and redesign their workforce with on-demand talent as the economy and work rapidly evolve. The conversation is no longer about the future of work, but the future of winning.”
Credits: David Silverberg
*David Silverberg is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, editor and writing coach. He writes for The Washington Post, BBC News, Business Insider, The Toronto Star, New Scientist, Fodor's, and several alumni magazines. He also writes for brands such as 23andme, Shopify and Bold Commerce. He has served as editor of B2B News Network, Canada's only B2B news magazine, and Digital Journal, a leading pioneer in citizen journalism. Find more about him at www.davidsilverberg.