How to Integrate On-Demand Talent into an Organisation Seamlessly

Agile Talent Future of work

Now that you know the myriad benefits of making use of an on-demand workforce to meet your organisation’s specific needs, the next question is how to go about it.

Putting your ducks in a row is important before getting started with this change, and so is building an effective action plan tailored to your organisation’s structure and needs—and that is exactly what this article is going to help you with.

Laying down a strong foundation for a blended workforce 

Before integrating on-demand workers into the daily functioning of an enterprise, it is important to optimise your work processes. Think of it like priming a wall before painting it. You could skip it if you wanted to, but the primer makes a huge difference when it comes to achieving a smooth finish without wasting paint.

This step involves preparing for workers whose workflow differs from that of full-time employees, ensuring data security, and establishing efficient channels of communication between full-time employees and on-demand workers.

Some key points to start with:

Create a clear definition of the kind of blended workforce you want to create

Depending on your organisation’s unique needs and goals, identify the level of involvement you would like on-demand workers to have in the new blended workforce you are creating.

These levels can be identified as follows:

  1. As-needed basis: This involves relying predominantly on the conventional model of a full-time, permanent workforce, and only enlisting external help when necessary. Bringing in outside talent is seen as a last resort, and treated as a temporary solution as opposed to a deliberate, ongoing way of working.
  2. Structural basis: This approach involves regular reliance on on-demand talent. An organisation needs to make structural changes to incorporate on-demand workers into its daily functioning, hence the name. A great example of this approach to blended workforces is when Uber and Carnegie Mellon University collaborated to open a robotics lab dedicated to building driverless cars.
  3. Transformational: This is the most radical blended workforce configuration. In this model, the organisation and the network are no longer distinct from one another—rather, the network is the organisation. For instance, the film industry runs almost entirely on the basis of on-demand talent, from actors and directors to film crew and makeup artists. The collaborative relationship among partners in the network is the foundation of shared success.

Identify and rewire organisations policies and processes in preparation

“Building the On-Demand Workforce”, the study conducted by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group, explains that most companies have a set of policies and procedures designed to ensure efficient completion of work while keeping any risks in mind.

These processes help employees work while ensuring that regulations are adhered to, legal issues are avoided, intellectual property is protected, and cybersecurity is ensured. However, research has found that these structures create obstacles to the effective use of the on-demand workforce.

The solution to this is to gradually adapt policies and procedures as comfort grows around the use of external freelancers. 

An illustrative case is that of how Microsoft updated their internal processes to integrate the use of freelancers via Upwork. After initial engagement with Upwork, Microsoft realised early on that in order to truly gain the benefits of external freelance talent, they would need to first change internally. The company established an internal program to assist managers in navigating the challenges of accessing freelance services. Microsoft ensured that it involved representatives from HR, legal, and procurement to create systems and processes that would streamline engagements with freelancers, and promote secure and compliant use. This proactive action helped Upwork’s talent platform integrate into Microsoft workflows more smoothly and efficiently.

Train full-time employees for the change

Changing the way an organisation has functioned for years takes an organised approach, and employees need to be guided through this change.

Providing training for full-time employees on how to work effectively with on-demand workers is important before implementing these changes.

This can include training on:

  • Breaking down work more clearly and efficiently creates a clear demarcation between the responsibilities of employees and freelancers.
  • Making effective use of digital channels of communication that would enable them to work in tandem with remote freelancers.
  • Managing a blended team, and how it is different from managing a conventional team of full-time workers.

Start dividing tasks into more discrete units

In teams composed entirely of full-time employees, work is often not divided into distinct tasks which can be assigned to individuals. There tends to be a more fluid workflow between team members, where tasks are initially vague when assigned, and specifics are allowed to evolve gradually over time as the team interacts and works on them. 

While this may work well for traditional teams, an altered approach is required for the effective use of an on-demand workforce.

As mentioned in “Building the On-Demand Workforce”, the ability to break work down into rigid, discrete components is one of the biggest predictors of whether a company will get the best out of a blended workforce.

Identify the right digital tools to use

Smooth communication between full-time employees and on-demand workers is crucial to ensuring the success of your new blended workforce.

Take stock of your existing team and the changes you plan to make and decide which digital communication platform would suit your organisation’s needs best.

Besides communication tools, there is also the rest of your company’s tech stack to consider, including:

  • Data storage and querying
  • Backend and frontend frameworks
  • API services
  • Servers and load balancing
  • Business intelligence solutions
  • Behavioural and product analytics
  • Monitoring and performance

Before you start onboarding freelancers, evaluate the tools being used in each of these categories, and whether any substitutions or adjustments need to be made in preparation for a blended workforce.

Ensure that your cybersecurity is up to scratch

There may be certain lacunae in an organisation’s protective measures when it is used to relying on full-time employees alone. In order to mitigate any cybersecurity risks from making use of workers outside the organisation, it is important to ensure that your cybersecurity measures are up to scratch. Before granting on-demand workers access to company resources and data, conduct an IT audit and fix any vulnerabilities you may find.

Create a clear exit plan for when it is time for a freelancer to leave

Documentation while working with freelancers will also need to account for who has access to what data, accounts, and resources.

Having a process to restrict access once the work has been completed and closed is crucial to keep in mind.

Before you start onboarding freelancers, work with your core team to lay out a guide on how freelancers will be expected to label, organise, and submit their work.

In addition, work with your IT department to ensure there is a framework in place for freelancers to have smooth access to the resources they need while working with the organisation, and to log out securely and completely when their term comes to an end.

This ensures that work can continue in a smooth, organised fashion after the departure of a freelancer, without any missing links or data security concerns.

Creating an action plan

Identifying where you are on the maturity curve

“Building the On-Demand Workforce” explains how it is important to identify where your organisation is on the maturity curve in order to build a strategy that is best suited to it. Understanding how far along you already are in your journey towards making use of an on-demand workforce can give you the clarity you need to determine your next steps.

You can identify where on the curve you currently are by answering the following questions:

  • How often are managers using new talent models at the moment?
  • How sophisticated is the use of new talent models in different parts of your organisation?
  • Are they using new talent models predominantly to address short-term talent gaps, or to revolutionise their approach to addressing core business needs?

Onboarding on-demand workers

On-demand workers are typically freelance or part-time, which requires a different onboarding process than one used for a new full-time employee joining the fold.

An onboarding checklist keeping these differences in mind can help you integrate freelancers into the organisation smoothly.

Some basic points that can help get this checklist started are:

  • Take the time to explain your organisation’s business objectives in detail to freelancers. The better they understand your organisation’s goals and ethos, the higher the chances of success for everyone involved.
  • Make introductions in a meaningful manner (rather than over a group email) to ensure that the freelancers are able to integrate into your organisation smoothly. Setting up one-on-one calls between people who will be working together directly is a good idea.
  • Tell freelancers what platforms you use and how you use them at your organisation. It may be a no-brainer to full-timers working in the office, but a freelancer cannot be expected to know without being told that you use WordPress to manage content and Slack channels for daily updates, and do weekly email blasts.

Knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer is the process of transferring skills and expertise from one professional to another. Traditionally, it is done when an employee is leaving and a new one is replacing them, or in the case of a merger.

However, a certain degree of knowledge transfer is also required when bringing on-demand workers into an organisation that previously existed only in the form of full-time employees.

Using a knowledge transfer plan can help streamline workflow and minimise roadblocks after making this change.

Start small

Jumping straight into the deep end of the pool might not be the best strategy when it comes to merging on-demand workers into your organisation.

Ease everyone into it gradually by starting small and hiring on-demand workers on an experimental or short-term basis at first. You can then transition into working with them on a more regular or long-term basis as the dust settles.

Creative assignments are a good way to test the waters, as creative professionals available through on-demand talent sourcing platforms are almost always experienced at handling multiple client projects simultaneously—either as freelancers or as part of an agency.

It might also be wise to start with non-critical work that is not time-bound or urgent.

Create clear expectations of what role full-timers and freelancers will play

Ambiguity is one of the biggest roadblocks to employee satisfaction. When there is a clear idea of each person’s role in the organisation, it keeps friction, miscommunication and mistakes to a minimum, and workers happy.

As a general rule, most large organisations should, over time, aim to have full-time employees working on core aspects of the business while on-demand workers play a supporting role. Keeping this long-term goal in mind means you know what you are working towards from day one.

Lay out a clear chain of accountability to ensure smooth workflow

In conventional, full-time teams, there is usually an understanding that when one person is out of office, another team member takes over certain tasks.

However, there needs to be explicit communication about these things when it comes to freelancers—an employee being on leave should not result in a workflow interruption simply because a freelancer corresponding with them does not know whom to turn to in lieu of them.

Determine what metrics you will use to track performance

As your organisation’s reliance on on-demand talent increases, it is essential to keep track of how individual freelancers and external teams are performing.

To fine-tune your blended workforce, you must make investments based on value, and not cost alone.

In order to gauge this value in a blended workforce, it is important to track outcomes and manage performance at four levels:

  1. Organisational level: How well are you leveraging your blended workforce and on-demand talent?
  2. Project level: How well are outcomes being delivered?
  3. Partner level: How well are different talent providers doing?
  4. Individual level: How well are individual freelancers performing?

If you prepare your organisation thoroughly and implement a clearly drawn-out action agenda, and keep an open mind to the potential of on-demand talent to positively transform your processes and outcome, the sky is truly the limit.

Creating a blended team of full-time employees and on-demand workers means creating a synergy between the core team that keeps your day-to-day functions going and specialists with the knowledge needed to complete specialised, niche tasks—a synergy which means scaling new heights as an organisation.

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