There’s a light flickering at the end of the long, dark, pandemic tunnel. A glimmer of hope can be seen at the edges of continued crisis. Although 2021 looms with a leveled up pandemic, and a broken-down economy, recent vaccine success signals there may be an end in sight.

As the world recovers from the COVID-19 crisis, the implications of the chosen workforce recovery strategies are likely to live on, influencing staffing solutions and business models for years to come. Therefore, to pull away from the negative economic impact of the pandemic, organizations are faced with strategizing past mere efficiency.

Rising to the top in a world full of uncertainty requires a model built for resiliency, a quality that can only be attained through agility and innovation.

Flexibility through a Contingent Force

Keeping both efficiency and resiliency in the crosshairs, an increasing number of organizations have chosen to combine internal talent upskilling and mobility with an interim increase in contingent workforce. In fact, a report by research firm Ardent Partners found enterprises have more than doubled contingent workforce usage from 20 percent to 43 percent in 2020.

McKinsey supported this trend by noting at least 30 percent of the working-age population of people in the U.S. and Europe are performing some version of independent work, and that 70 percent of executives interviewed in 2020 plan to hire flexible talent for onsite work as part of the pandemic recovery strategy.

Historically, such a trend was greeted with considerable pessimism and concern for the well being of workers, the quality of output, and the longevity of the brand itself. However, even before the pandemic, the normalization and acceptance of flexible talent integration was well underway.

In a 2019 study by Oxford Economics, respondents revealed an external workforce was central to their business model. Additionally, 48 percent of executives stated their company would not be able to conduct business as usual without it.

Now, as business leaders are rising daily to meet the challenges of volatility and uncertainty, a strong contingent workforce strategy has the appeal of buying time, continuity, and flexibility.

With increased integration and cultivation, this strategy may be key to future innovation, agility, and sustainability. However, to achieve such results, organizations may find it necessary to reconsider current business practices.

Upskilling with External Support 

After a year of layoffs, restructuring, and remote work, leaders are left to survey remaining internal talent, and begin assessing whether changes in process and demand can be met by current skill levels. According to a collaborative study by TalentLMS, Workable and Training Journal, nearly 50 percent of the companies surveyed increased upskilling and retraining efforts at the onset of the pandemic resulting in 96 percent admitting to increased productivity, and 69 percent claiming increased employee retention.

While additional benefits of upskilling include the development of a highly engaged, nimble, and efficient workforce, the time and resources required to begin the process can be daunting. In fact, 55 percent of companies surveyed stated a lack of both caused significant barriers to the upskilling process.

This is where custom collaborations with external workers offer an opportunity to embrace demand shift, reduce time pressure, and improve creative input.

According to the Oxford Economics survey, 66 percent of companies agreed “the external workforce raises the bar for employees by bringing in new sources of skills and talent.” Additionally, 64 percent agreed the external workforce exposes employees to new ideas, while 55 percent agreed the contingent workforce challenges employees to provide their best work.

Achieving Agility through Custom Collaboration 

Dan McLure, author of The Hollywood Model: Dynamically Built Teams for Creativity at Scale, recounts how the movie, television and live-streaming industries had to learn to develop dynamic, project-based teams, rapidly in order to compete. In the article, McLure concludes that, “Reaching outward, creating a more flexible organizational structure by dynamically building the teams that tackle initiatives, opens the door to effective action on big ideas.”

By combining the reliable and consistent talent of internal employees with the uniquely focused skills of flexible workers, business leaders have found that highly agile, creative and productive teams have room to form. Additionally, internal employees are able to learn and evolve as they work alongside external specialists.

Conversely, external teammates that exhibit skill and ability to integrate can prove to be great assets as businesses rebound, requiring agility and rapid scale.

In order to take full advantage of custom collaborations between internal and external employees, it is important both groups understand expectations and are clear on how positive outcomes result in reward. By providing a transparent platform for guidance, expectation, evaluation, and compensation, teams will be empowered to tackle complex challenges and make project-related decisions.

Post-pandemic recession resilience may be found with the right approach to internal and external workforce collaboration. A sustainable future is possible through project-focused rapid assembly and deployment of agile teams.

Angela FisherAngela Fisher
Angela Fisher is a seasoned experiential strategist focused on project management and partnership development. She is the founder and co-owner of Populate Productions, a North Carolina-based event and media production agency. Angela is best known in the Triangle area for designing experiences that draw thousands of new customers to mixed-use developments and downtown businesses.