In Articles, Expert Insights

Bestselling author and veteran entrepreneur Kevin Kruse is an expert on the talent space and job platforms. Back in 1990, the startup he founded after college built one of the first online job boards to help corporations access talent. Since then, Kruse has founded five companies, including his latest,, a digital platform supporting skills and professional development.

Kruse is a widely recognized thought leader on engagement and the author of Employee Engagement 2.0, which describes how organizations can motivate and get the most from its workers. As Kruse explains to us, those same engagement strategies apply to the on-demand workforce.

Q | Why are organizations increasingly moving towards a workforce where they combine full-time employees with contingent workers to get work done?

A | The business world has become more competitive, so companies are doing everything they can to keep costs as low as possible while still performing efficiently. Now, the pace of change is exponential, and organizational agility is essential. On-demand employees help organizations stay agile in accessing the evolving skills they need when they need them, instead of hiring a full timer whose skills may be out of date in a few years.

The people who have the knowledge and experience that organizations need this year might be very different from the talent that organizations will need in a couple of years — or even in a few months from now. The need for an external workforce has increased as the skills and expertise that organizations need continue to evolve.

Q | What are the factors that drive motivation for on-demand workers?

A | I did the world’s largest study on engagement, surveying 10 million workers around the world. According to that research, the top three drivers are growth, recognition and trust. Growth focuses on learning and advancing skills and career. Recognition involves appreciation. Trust is the belief that “we have a bright future together.” Now, whether it’s on-demand or full-time employees, people will gravitate towards wherever they can get those three things.

If an organization is giving contingent employees work that helps them grow, learn and stay challenged, and they feel appreciated for that work, believe there will be more work like it and that company is doing well, they’ll feel engaged. And remember, external employees have a high degree of choice in who they work for, so engagement matters a lot to them.

Q | Have you seen organizations excel at engaging on-demand talent?

A | Yes, the ones I’ve run (Kruse laughs). With my different companies over the last 25–30 years, I’ve always had a 30–40 percent base of on-demand workers and freelancers versus 60–70 percent full-time staff. I’ve always told my full-time workers to treat contingent employees exactly the same as staffers because they have a choice of who they want to work for, and we want to keep them here. On-demand experts also have a choice about whether they’re going to work nights or weekends for me or not — that’s what talent engagement means.

I invite the independent experts I work with to a lot of team building events, make sure they get paid within two weeks, as if they were an employee, rather than in 90 days like a vendor. I do everything I can to motivate them and treat them as if they were full-time employees. And they repaid me by offering their best work, often going above and beyond my expectations.

Q | What else can organizations do to fully engage contingent experts?

A | It’s a great idea to give them a few days of onboarding, as you would an employee. Be clear in communicating your mission, vision and values. Let them know what you’re trying to achieve on the project and how you plan to go about it. Introduce them to the key people on the team and within the organization. If you do this, you are proactively helping them be as productive as possible and you’ll keep the working relationship going for the long term, which is what all organizations want.

Q | How can organizations understand when they need on-demand workers versus full-time employees? How should they go about using online platforms?

A | It all comes down to looking ahead, making sure your organization is identifying the projects that could be supported by an external workforce, analyzing your needs and deciding whether you can meet those needs in-house or not. For example, I’m at that point in my company where I don’t need a full-time chief financial officer, but I need more than a bookkeeper. I searched a key online talent marketplace to see what’s out there and found the skills to match my need.

Companies can prepare for the future of work by changing their mindsets. What is needed is a recognition that the on-demand workforce is increasingly important for organizations, especially as top talent can choose with whom they prefer to work. As Kruse says, being open to change is the first step in that direction.

At Catalant, we provide a platform where companies can access highly specialized and experienced talent. Learn more by viewing the recording of our recent webinar Enabling the Future of Work.

About the Expert:

Kevin Kruse started his first company when he was just 22 years old, and has been a serial entrepreneur ever since. Kruse is the author of several books including the New York Times bestseller We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement and Employee Engagement 2.0. He is a Forbes Leadership columnist and was named to the Top 100 Business Thought Leaders list by Trust Across America.