Flexible Workers: The Best Way to Close Your Company's Skills Gap?

Features Recruiter.com

Remote workers just want to sneak in extra breaks and take naps all day. Freelancers only freelance because they don't have the skills to get real jobs. Working outside of the office is too distracting. Working at home means that employees have no direct supervision, so they take longer to complete tasks.

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These are the rumors that have surrounded remote and flexible workers for decades, but as more companies start to embrace flexible workers and remote work programs, research is proving this gossip to be false. As a matter of fact, only 9 percent of executives feel that the location of a new hire impacts their success. Sixty-eight percent of managers have at least one person on their team who works remotely, and 79 percent of companies plan to use more freelancers in the future, according to "Future Workforce HR Report," a study from remote work platform Upwork.

Breaking Out of Traditional Work Models

In the face of low unemployment and large skills gaps, companies must embrace nontraditional ways of acquiring talent.

"Business growth has been predicated on the ability to attract and hire the right people," says Zoe Harte, vice president of human resources and talent innovation for Upwork. "Historically, HR has owned traditional employment while contract and temporary labor fell under procurement's domain. The separation between traditional and flexible work teams – freelancer, temp, or agency workers – limits an organization's ability to effectively source the best talent as they don't have a full view into their total talent supply. At the same time, it limits their ability to optimize existing resources and reduce overhead costs. As an increasing number of HR teams embrace a more flexible workforce, they're realizing that they'll need to realign their hiring strategies in order to meet evolving business objectives and drive bottom-line results."

For those planning to just wait out the trend: Don't. As technology makes it easier for employees to work from anywhere, flexible workers will not only become more common, but more in demand as well.

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"Hiring is expected to become more challenging in the next five years as the mismatch between available and emerging skills continues to increase," Harte says.

While 51 percent of the companies surveyed by Upwork agreed they have trouble locally sourcing the talent they need, many organizations are finding a way around this problem by embracing remote teams.

"Additionally, companies that offer their workers the opportunity to work remotely – either to cut down commute times or to care for family members – can further tip the scales in their favor, particularly in a competitive market," Harte says. "By and large, remote workers are more productive, more engaged, and more likely to work with your company in the longer term."

Because flexible work arrangements are becoming more prevalent and prominent, managers with their eyes on the next rung of the corporate ladder need to make sure they have the skills to manage flexible workforces.

"As the world of work continues to evolve, understanding how to lead and manage a remote team will be critical," Harte Says. "HR managers will need to play the role of both facilitator and trainer, helping facilitate the use of new collaboration technologies that support remote work while training individual managers on best practices for engaging remote teams."

The Benefits of Nontraditional Workers

Sixty-two percent of HR managers use freelancers or temporary workers, according to the Upwork report.

"HR teams are increasingly moving away from traditional work models in favor of a more agile workforce," Harte says. "More and more companies are incorporating flexible workers into their strategic plans as they realize the value of alternative work models in addressing business objectives."

More specifically, Harte says freelance and temp workers provide the following benefits:

Access to specialized talent: "When businesses find themselves in need of somebody with a specialized skill set, hiring a freelancer is often the best option. Fifty-four percent of HR managers utilize flexible workers to gain access to skills that aren't currently available in house."

Ability to scale to meet project needs: "Sixty percent of HR managers hire flexible workers to help scale to meet project needs. With freelancers, businesses can quickly scale up or down as project needs warrant."

Increased efficiency and lower costs: "Maintaining every type of skill can be very costly. By leveraging freelancers, businesses can increase efficiency and lower overhead costs. With freelancers, you don't have to worry about providing them with office supplies or investing in training as these are independent experts with highly specialized skills."