While there is great uncertainty in many industries and in the economy at large, companies of all sizes still need viable plans to maintain strong workforces, whatever the outcomes might be. Because of the many unknowns we’re all dealing with — from how long COVID-19 restrictions may last to any long-term ramifications of the pandemic — it is imperative that organizations maintain increased fluidity in their staffing strategies.

On that note, increasing your utilization of 1099 workers compared to W-2 salaried employees is one viable way to increase flexibility. Adjusting your staffing mix in this way gives your organization the ability to expand and contract as internal and external factors demand.

But how exactly can an organization create such a blended workforce? Let’s explore a few key aspects of any successful effort to shift to a more flexible workforce:

Identify Your Areas of Greatest Need

A flexible workforce allows you to hire talent for the exact needs you have, when and where you have them. Before you embark on an effort to make your workforce more fluid, the first thing you should do is clearly define those projects and moments for which contractors. will be most beneficial. Typically, these are scenarios in which you experience the most fluctuation in your workforce requirements. For example:

  1. Highly skilled but short-term tasks that demand expertise: Occasional tasks that require very specific niche skill sets are good candidates for freelancers. By consistently bringing independent workers in to work these projects, you’re also building durable relationships with talented professionals who can become your go-to experts.
  2. Seasonal demand spikes: These are the kind of short-term projects for which it doesn’t make much sense to hire new full-time employees. Once the season is over, you won’t need those employees anymore.
  3. Tasks that never seem to get finished by your internal team: External teams aren’t mired in day-to-day operations, so they can focus on those projects that your internal teams can’t seem to make time for.

As you’re defining specific projects and focus areas, make note of those that will allow you to bring the same contractors on board for the same positions repeatedly. Even though the 1099 workforce’s size may ebb and flow with demand, the fact that a specific segment of your team is consistently hired as 1099s will create some stability of its own.

Trust, But Verify

It can take new hires anywhere from 90 days to a year or more to achieve full productivity. With contractors and freelancers, it’s closer to 50-60 minutes. They don’t need to be trained in company processes, procedures, and culture. They just need the relevant resources, and they can get started on their tasks.

That said, contractor productivity depends heavily on the skills your independent workers are bringing to the table, which is why it’s important to have a good understanding of freelancers’ backgrounds before you hire them. As many as 85 percent of resumes may contain factual inaccuracies of some kind, and contractors are not immune to exaggerating to get a job. When vetting independent workers, you need to do a more thorough job than just reading their online profiles. Conduct formal verifications of education, work history, and other certifications or relevant requirements to ensure the people you bring on board can really achieve what they say they will.

While many employers use skills assessments to vet full-time hires, these tools are comparatively rarely deployed when hiring contractors. That’s a mistake, as skills assessments can provide objective evaluations of contractors’ capabilities. Many assessments are readily available online, though you may need to customize your own if you’re looking for more sophisticated or specialized talent.

While this might seem like a lot of work to hire a short-term resource, the investment is well worth it. Once you find the right person with the right skills and background, you can trust them to deliver, and you can turn to them whenever you need their skills again in the future.

Embrace the Culture of a Hybrid Workforce

A “hybrid workforce” is one that integrates both full-time and contract workers into the same teams seamlessly. To maximize the benefits of creating a more flexible workforce, you’ll likely have to change your workplace culture a bit to accommodate your new workforce composition.

What does such a culture shift look like in practice? It starts with strategically defining tasks and projects that will consistently leverage 1099 workers and freelancers. It also means incorporating remote work arrangements into company processes and procedures — something that many companies have already had to adjust to, thanks to COVID-19. But even once the pandemic is over, your freelancers and contractors will likely work off site, so the adjustments you’ve made now will have to become permanent.

Communicate Your Approach

As with any major workforce initiative, it is important to put a process in place to clearly communicate changes to your employees. It may be helpful to lean on your communications or marketing department for assistance, depending on the scope of the changes, as they can help you develop and relay effective messages to the audiences involved.

Make sure you explain the reasons for the changes so that everyone will understand and buy into the effort. Your communication efforts should not only outline changes to policies and procedures, but also reduce anxiety about an increase in the size of your 1099 workforce. Salaried employees may feel this threatens their job security, so explain to them that the hybrid model is meant to make their positions more sustainable.

Building a more flexible workforce is not just a good idea — it is essentially an imperative if you want your organization to weather the current storm. Contractors who are thoroughly vetted and well integrated will not only help your company navigate the coming months and years — they may even help you reach new heights of success.

Greg Kihlström is CEO and cofounder of CareerGig and author of The Center of Experience.

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