What is a Flexible Workforce?

By Davin Wilfrid, Director of Content Marketing

Published on September 24, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has changed workforce planning forever, as a new breed of leaders embraces a flexible workforce that will move faster, with less risk and lower costs. Even before the pandemic, 84% of executives said that the critical skills they need exist outside of their organization and were rethinking how work gets done across a network of employees, contractors, and consultants. 

But what exactly is a flexible workforce? 

A flexible workforce is one in which management can tap into the skills and resources it needs to accomplish a goal at the right time, overcoming common barriers like organizational silos, geographical distribution, and skills gaps. A flexible workforce succeeds with access to multiple talent pools and the ability to redeploy resources quickly to adapt to changing conditions. 

The benefits of a flexible workforce are real. From reduced labor costs to greater speed and scale, organizations that can quickly deploy — and redeploy — talent to meet immediate critical needs are more likely to win. 

But building and managing a flexible workforce is easier said than done. How should leaders think about contractors versus full-time employees? What role should consulting firms and systems integrators play? How does a flexible workforce adjust seasonally or according to need? 

We’ve seen firsthand how smart business leaders are adapting on the fly by developing a flexible workforce that can be deployed and redeployed quickly as conditions change.

How to Create a Flexible Workforce

At Catalant, we’ve worked with more than 30% of the Fortune 100 companies in support of their flexible workforce initiatives. While each organization has its own goals and processes, we’ve identified three behaviors necessary for creating a flexible workforce. 

  1. Bake flexibility into strategic workforce planning. At Unilever, competitive pressure led company leaders to rethink how it developed and deployed new products quickly. To accomplish this, leadership looked beyond its own team when resource planning, working with Catalant to find experts around the globe to help with product launches and campaigns. “We’re literally moving from thinking in terms of constraints to thinking in terms of the abundance of resources,  possibilities, and use cases, and showing that to the world,” says Raquel Suarez, Global HR Innovation & Leadership Development Leader.
  2. Standardize procurement of contractors and consultants. Temporary or seasonal team members are the foundation of a flexible workforce. But without standardized processes for finding and managing them, many organizations are at risk of duplicating efforts, wasting money and time, and violating internal policies. 
  3. Partner with a robust marketplace. Rather than relying on expensive consulting firms or spending hours scouring websites to find the right consultant or contractor, partnering with the right marketplace can streamline the process dramatically and lower costs considerably. Having a strong relationship with a trusted marketplace will reduce risk, lower costs, and increase the speed at which your organization can find and onboard elite expert resources. 

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Does your organization have what it takes to create a flexible workforce? Learn how Shell, Highmark Health, Anheuser-Busch InBev and others are setting themselves up for success in the near and long term.