Contingent staffing is having a moment--companies are struggling to ramp up hiring after the pandemic-induced layoffs and supply chain disruptions just as employees are quitting in record numbers. With remote work a new normal and the growing gig economy, employers are getting creative. Remote contingent staffing offers fast access to specialized talent without the risk of full-time employment, which is higher in uncertain times.
What is Contingent Staffing?
Traditional contingent staffing refers to temporary workers that supplement a company's permanent workforce for a specific time. The workers are employees of a staffing company, and they receive no benefits from the company where they work. The staffing agency hires, manages, and pays the employees, and some offer benefits like healthcare and 401k plans. This staffing model employs workers for jobs with a definite endpoint and would not last beyond that date. Many are home from schools, or on breaks and aren’t available for long-term assignments.
What is Remote Contingent Staffing?
Remote contingent staffing means hiring contingent staff that works remotely. Traditional contingent staffing models are typically in-person and local. The rise of remote work driven by the pandemic has made remote contingent staffing easier for companies because they have adapted to all-remote work. Contingent staffing agencies have adapted as well to source and offer remote workers from wherever they can find qualified candidates.
How Do Companies Use Remote Contingent Staffing?
Companies traditionally turned to contingent staffing agencies for short-term workforce surges, such as retailers needing more clerks during holiday shopping or agriculture businesses needing extra hands at harvest time. These are jobs requiring specific skills that are easily acquired and do not require subjective decision-making on the part of the employee, and there is no expectation of long-term employment.
New models of contingent staffing are emerging that offer teams of knowledge workers for higher-skill roles for short- and long-term assignments. Remote contingent staffing augments internal teams with specific skills and experience that the company decides not to hire or develop directly.
Why Do Companies Use Remote Contingent Staffing?
Historically, companies used contingent staffing to supply labor for jobs that would not last beyond a specific period. Examples include:
- Seasonal work
- Filling in for employees on leave
- Work for a short-term project
Remote contingent staffing builds a long-term flexible workforce that can:
- Help them focus on core competencies.
- Access skills that are hard to find in local markets.
- Maintain the ability to scale up and scale back as needed.
- Lower the risk of committing to full-time employees.
- Lower costs by accessing employees from remote regions.
What is the Difference Between Gig Work and Remote Contingent Staffing?
Gig work by freelancers with more advanced skills like software development or graphic design, while contingent in nature, is not always considered contingent because the employees are typically engaged one at a time and project-by-project. Remote contingent staffing can augment and scale teams, and engagements are longer-terms and even permanent. Gig marketplaces can't deliver groups of workers at scale or manage them as teams. Hiring contingent workers one at a time would be time-consuming and burdensome.
What is the Difference Between Outsourcing and Remote Contingent Staffing?
Outsourcing is typically defined as a process or project permanently handed off to offshore suppliers. The lines between outsourcing and contingent staffing are less clear with remote contingent staffing, especially with staffing firms offering contingent workers from offshore markets.
The most significant difference between remote contingent staffing and outsourcing is that traditional outsourcing gives an entire project or process to another company and does not work directly with the company's employees. Companies outsource functions like:
- Call centers
- IT services
With remote contingent staffing, the contingent workers are embedded within the companies' teams and work directly with their full-time coworkers from a remote location for indefinite periods. To the outsider, the contingent workers appear just like permanent employees. Examples include:
- Software developers
- Executive assistants
- HR administration
What is the Difference Between a Temporary Agency and Remote Managed Contingent Staffing?
Temporary (or Temp) agencies are designed to backfill short-term jobs for leaves, extended illness, or vacations. Some agencies also place permanent positions. The roles temp agencies fill are usually clerical or manual, where it is easy to qualify skills. Like gig marketplaces, temp agencies do not quickly scale to support growing teams as a long-term staffing solution. Exceptions may be local events such as banquets or similar roles filled by traditional contingent staffing agencies.
What Should I Look for in a Remote Contingent Staffing Service?
There are two kinds of remote contingent staffing services: managed and unmanaged.
In a managed service, the service provider hires, trains, and supervises workers on your behalf. The service provider also QAs the employees work, and they become partners in helping you reach your business and talent goals. Managers also work with you on your short-term and long-term talent needs and help you give the contingent staffers as much work as possible. To your business, the contingent staff works alongside your team just as any other employee would.
With an unmanaged service, the service provider maintains a roster of independent contractors and matches the workers with the right skills and experience with your business. You will need to interview, select, train, and manage the staff. The level of support that the staffing service provides will vary.
What are the Benefits of Remote Contingent Staffing for the Staff?
The good news for contingent workers is that working for a managed remote staffing service gives them a secure, long-term job with benefits and advancement opportunities. Remote contingent jobs are appealing to workers in regions of the world where meaningful job opportunities are scarce. Most prefer to work with a U.S.-based team where they can build relationships and learn new skills than working in traditional outsourcing jobs like call centers, where they are anonymous and often undervalued by businesses.
Even for U.S.-based workers, remote contingent roles can be attractive for the same reason they are appealing to the employer. Workers do not have to commit to a full-time job where they with long-term expectations. Full-time employment is risky for workers too. As the Great Resignation has shown, workers say they want flexibility and choices about how, when, and where they work.
What Should I Look for in Remote Contingent Staffing Service?
There are many considerations to keep in mind when looking at engaging a remote contingent staffing service.
- Working Hours and Availability. You need to know the staff's working hours, especially if the service connects you with offshore workers. It would be best if you also looked at how the service handles absences or departures. Many managed service providers train backup workers on your work processes, and these backups can fill in when a contingent staffer is sick, goes on vacation, or leaves.
- You Need to Understand the Training Requirements. The amount of training you must provide contingent workers significantly impacts how quickly your team gains productivity support from your investment. Your goal should be to find experienced staffing that requires minimal training; however, this does vary based on the type of work you are offloading. If you hire contractors for specialized work, you can expect to invest in training since it will be challenging to find staff with prior experience with your tools and processes. A managed service provider will ensure the team is thoroughly trained and ready to contribute on day one.
- You Need to Estimate Management Requirements. Just like in-house employees, contingent workers need a manager. If you hire independent contractors or a managed service, the manager can be you or someone at the staffing company. While independent contractors might appear to be less expensive, they also are your sole responsibility to manage. It would be best if you considered the value of your managers' time too. It will take time to answer contingent workers' small questions, coach them on ways to improve, and keep them engaged; then, the cost-saving may be worth it. Managed remote contingent staffing services provide a dedicated account manager who takes full responsibility for ensuring your work gets done on time and the right way. Whenever you want to offload new projects or change performance expectations, send them a quick message, and they will take care of it so you can focus on the activities that matter most.
- Security and Privacy. Whenever you invite external workers to support your organization, there are going to be security risks. The magnitude of the security challenge depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The tools and systems contingent workers must access.
- The number of contingent workers that access your IT systems and platforms.
- Access to sensitive employee and customer information.
- Device capability and security.
- IT security policies and software that workers use.
- NDA, confidentiality, and other security protections provided by the staffing company.
- The need to comply with regulations like GDPR and HIPAA.
Some of these factors depend on the type of work you are outsourcing. You also need to be aware of contractors' security regimens. Contract contingent workers use their personal computers, home networks and may not take actions to ensure their device is secure from intrusion or theft. Managed service providers use hardened buildings and networks, company devices, and enterprise-grade IT security measures to minimize the risk for their clients.
Managing the Workforce of the Future
According to researchers at Ardent Partners, 62 percent of enterprises leaders perceived contingent labor a vital to their overall workforce. That was before the pandemic. With hiring in crisis modes, all options are on the table. Workers are quitting, employers are hiring, but this is not business as usual. The rules are changing for employees and companies. Remote contingent staffing can be a fast, cost-effective solution that helps businesses get the right skills at the right time. Managed services enable companies to staff up without developing the internal resources to recruit, hire, train and manage employees.
Flexibility Amid Uncertainty
Businesses that let go of employees at the pandemic's onset that are now scrambling to staff do not want to rinse and repeat that experience. Flexibility is the watchword in workforce solutions, and all models of contingent work offer flexibility to scale up and scale down with minimal disruption. Service providers bring the added benefit of helping companies assess their current staff and needs, identify gaps, and find and deliver the needed resources.
Building Future Business Capacity
The talent shortage and strained supply chain exposed the drawbacks of "just in time" manufacturing. Lean inventories of raw materials, parts, and people are jeopardizing growth and threatening to upend recovery from the events of 2020-2021. When it comes to people, businesses need a mix of full and part-time, temporary, and permanent workers. The companies are looking to maintain elasticity to expand and contract as needed.
Remote Contingent Staffing Case Study: Managed Virtual Assistant Service
At Prialto, based in Portland, Oregon we provide a managed virtual assistant service. We hire, train, and manage offshore virtual assistants and place teams of assistants with U.S. businesses. It was assumed that technology made the executive admin role dispensable, but the disappearance of assistants has been a considerable drain on executive productivity. At the same time, few businesses have the internal resources to hire, train and manage teams of admins. Tasks Prialto virtual assistants take on include:
- Scheduling meetings
- Planning and booking travel
- Filing expense report
- Preparing documents
- Data entry
- Invoicing and payment processing
The service is fractional—few executives need a full-time assistant. Studies show that executives spend about 16 hours a week on day-to-day tasks that distract them from strategic work that moves the business forward. Prialto assistants take on those tasks and give executives those 16 hours back, and trained backup assistants ensure continuity. Most assistants stay with an executive for 18 months or more. It is a long-term remote contingent staffing role that gives businesses access to specialized talent quickly and cost-effectively. The assistants can move up in the company and become managers, trainers, or take other leadership positions.
For more information about working with virtual assistants through a managed remote contingent staffing service, read this guide.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.