Human Resources & Payroll Blog

The Challenges and Opportunities of a Blended Workforce

Jan 19, 2017, 11:30:00 AM / by John Duval

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In the past several years, more companies have started to employ a blended workforce, whether they know the term for it or not. A blended workforce involves any combination of permanent full-time or part-time staff with contingent workers such as contractors or freelancers.

Why are blended workforces so common?

One reason for the rise of blended workforces: contracting and freelancing have become much more common. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a shocking 40% of the current workforce is made up of contingent workers. Certainly some of these workers take contingent work out of necessity rather than choice, but the sharp rise in this figure over the past decade can be attributed to a number of factors, including:

  • The economic recession, which devastated and reshaped the job market in  many regions and industries.
  • Changing attitudes about where work can be done, due to the rise of smart mobile technology and the ubiquity of high-speed internet in homes.
  • The Affordable Care Act, which made insurance available for those without a permanent full-time job.
  • The rising popularity of work flexibility and telecommuting. This is frequently named as a desirable benefit, and many companies still have not begun offering it to their permanent employees.

What are the benefits?

A blended team can present interesting opportunities for employers. For one, it’s a wise financial choice. The ability to hire contractors with specific skill sets on an as-needed basis cuts down on the expense of sourcing, hiring and training permanent employees. This is especially beneficial for short-term projects. After the contractor has accomplished what they were hired to do, the business relationship can end amicably; there is no need to try to find another role for that person to fill. When hiring a permanent employee, flexibility and a broad skill set are important. When hiring a contractor, the necessary skill is the main factor to consider.

Another benefit for employers is the freedom to sever ties easily should the working relationship sour. Letting go of a permanent employee often involves growth plans and other ways to protect the company from legal action, in addition to the potential of severance pay. If a contingent worker should become problematic, it’s generally a lot easier to let them go, and there is no expectation of severance pay.

Additionally, a blended team allows more diversity, which often results in better, more innovative outcomes. The introduction of fresh eyes with different experiences and skills can help teams break through challenges that have held up their progress. Working closely with contractors can also strengthen permanent employees’ skill sets.

From the perspective of contingent workers, this arrangement can also present interesting opportunities. Many freelancers prefer to manage their own careers and create their own schedules or workspaces, so project-based work fits their preferences. For contractors who are looking for more permanent work situations, taking a contingent position that involves working closely with permanent employees can present good networking opportunities and the chance to prove their value to hiring managers.

What are the challenges?

However, as with all aspects of managing people at work, blended teams can present some challenges. For one, since contingent workers are not usually at the company long-term, they aren’t subject to the same performance management methods as permanent employees. It can be difficult to manage growth and performance fairly when the expectations and management methods are different for every person.

Keeping a strong, positive company culture can also be difficult when there is a revolving door of contingent workers coming in and out of the office. While contingent workers’ unique experiences and skills present positive opportunities, they also have the potential to bring their baggage from past work situations into the workplace. Since they’re not subject to the same expectations or management as permanent employees, it may be difficult to confront negativity that threatens company culture.

Regardless of these potential roadblocks, companies are finding their own ways to make blended teams or workforces work for their needs. Keeping morale high on any team is challenging, whether it’s blended or not, and the financial savings and potential for strong outcomes have proven attractive for many companies.

In the next several years as this arrangement becomes more popular, there will surely be more ink spilled about best practices for managing blended workforces. In the meantime, each company will have to experiment to find what ratio of permanent to contingent workers presents the best results, and how to manage blended teams effectively for their goals and culture.

Topics: HR Trends

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