I want you to take a moment to think about a job, any job. No matter what the function or job title is, chances are you were not thinking about flex work, but of a full-time, 9-5 job, right?

We tend to consider fixed contracts and full-time roles to be the norm. Yet, Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) discovered in a recent study that 34% of large companies’ workforces were flexible workers. That’s right, over a third of these people are not employed by the organization they work for. This includes temps, freelancers, contractors, consultants, interim workers and those working under statement-of-work contracts.

Why is this happening? Well, a flexible workforce can not only help businesses manage challenges like peaks in demand and absenteeism; it also has the potential to help companies scale, outperform, and outcompete in the new world of work. However, organizations will only realize these benefits if they take a smart approach to integrating, nurturing and retaining flexible workers.

Is flex work a trend that is likely to continue? And, if so, what should HR leaders be doing about this phenomenon?

From a business perspective, leaders are recognizing that they can only win in today’s hyper-competitive market if they have better talent and skill than their competitors. At the same time, they also need to remain efficient, lean, and agile. This – coupled with a shortage of quality workers — is driving business leaders to seek help from the flexible workforce. The ability to adapt human resources around fluctuating customer demands and deal with unexpected short-term change without losing work culture has become essential.

On the other side of the coin are the workers. In the UK alone, close to 5 million people have made an active choice to work as temps, contractors, or freelancers. This phenomenon isn’t unique to the UK, the trend is similar across Europe and in the US.

Why do workers choose more unpredictable working conditions? The most obvious answer is simple: it fits into the rest of their lives. One of the main advantages flexible work brings is that it’s adaptable and convenient for the individual. Flexible workers are in control of the hours or days they work.

But flexibility isn’t the only reason: many also find professional fulfillment in the diversity of flexible work. Pursuing a variety of jobs is not only interesting, it can make the act of work more meaningful. This last factor might be more surprising, but it is not to be overlooked. Who wouldn’t want to feel fulfilled in their work?

Tapping into the flexible workforce

With the benefits of hiring flexible workers becoming clear, businesses are looking for the best approach to finding reliable temporary staff. While traditional agencies still have an important role to play in the world of staffing, new entrants such as Coople are making the whole HR and recruiting experience much easier and faster for employers and workers alike. Even more importantly, they truly put workers in control of their time. For that reason, I expect to see continued growth of these app-based employment platforms. Aside from enabling quantitative and qualitative matches between employers and employees, the use of rating systems to evaluate both assignment and service quality have helped bring transparency and light to an often opaque landscape.

However, each new disruption faces its obstacles, and flex work is no exception. To unleash its full potential, businesses need to change their attitude towards flexible workers. Until they stop viewing flex work as a short-term transaction, they miss out on its potential to serve as a permanent solution that contributes to culture and business success.

Managers need to understand the opportunity that lies in viewing flex workers as a core part of their company’s business. When flexible workers are onboarded with care, equipped with the right tools for the job, they feel a sense of belonging, they will lead to an increase in overall company productivity and performance, just as full-time employees.

To sum it all up, a smartly integrated flexible workforce can help businesses manage staffing challenges as well as driving competitive advantage. But only if these workers are onboarded carefully and treated as a core part of the team.


Kevin Green Coople Strategic AdvisorKevin Green is the former CEO of Rec and HR Director of the Royal Mail letters division. He is the author of Competitive People Strategy, How to Attract, Develop and Retain the Staff You Need for Business Success, published in July 2019.