The Future Of Workforce Flexibility

Commtract recently joined with Marketing Women Inc to host a panel with our GM of Business Development, Kate Russell, along with Nicki Drinkwater (former interim GM of Public Affairs and Communications at Coca-Cola Amatil), Yoland Uys (GM of Marketing at Coles Liquor) and Adriene Gugliandolo (People and Culture Advisor at Cricket Australia). 

Below is some of what our General Manager – Business Development, Kate Russell, had to say. 

Q: Why are companies looking to use freelancers, consultants and contractors versus full time employees as a way of the future? 

A:   I think this shift has been happening for a while, it is not new.  What has happened in the last six months has fast tracked the trend, especially in terms of marketing and communications industry.  

Companies are discovering the many benefits of this approach: 

  1. They can source workers with specific skills.  As much, as we’d love to hire a ‘unicorn’ employee who can literally do everything, this isn’t always possible. 
  2. Better management of costs. With a contingent workforce, a company can align their costs with sales and have the flexibility to increase and decrease staff numbers as required.  For example, due to seasonal changes, perhaps the Christmas period if you’re in retail.
  3. It allows companies to ‘try before they buy’ – is this person the right fit? Are they going to deliver the skills you really need?
  4. It challenges traditional hierarchies.  Outsourcing can shift the power structure.  Consultants bring fresh ideas and may be able to challenge some ways of thinking that a full time employee may not be able to do.
  5. It allows for diverse perspectives – Companies can bring in new ideas, perspectives and staff locations. For example, a company in Sydney could hire a consultant in Melbourne. 

Q: What kind of hiring solutions are you seeing companies use that they may not have used historically? 

 A:  We’ve been talking a lot about the future of work.  It is promising to think about less bureaucracy, more flexible hours and that it may not come in the shape of a star ‘unicorn’ employee with a corner office.   Companies will still continue to seek the best talent.  What’s changing is how they are going about doing it. 

Companies are beginning to look at what the teams of the future might look like. I’m ex Lululemon which was definitely a company grounded in our purpose and values.  Being grounded in purpose and providing data is what is needed to remove the rigid structures established in the past. 

One focus will be on building workforces made up of high quality people, who are flexible but also available on demand. Lots of other things in our lives are now on demand.  Why not the workforce? 

Companies are also requiring specialists.  For example, consider a large company who needs a CEO media trained.  It doesn’t make sense to go and hire a full time person or traditionally they might have brought on an agency.  Instead they are looking at bringing on an ex-journalist, who has the communication skills, has worked in an agency and can come on as a contractor and train the CEO.  

Or is it a small business who can’t justify bringing on a PR agency, but they need to launch a product? They need someone to help with the PR launch and media relations.  Now the solutions are contractors and freelancers as part of the mix. 

It also allows companies to be able to fill gaps that are both short term and long term, such as maternity leave and annual leave, or over the busy period. 

They are also looking at a mix of junior and senior roles.  For example, if we look at a key role like a CMO, companies are now looking at bringing in a strategic decision-maker on a contract basis. 

Q: How do you see flexibility evolving post COVID? 

A: I hope what people have taken from today is that there are many different sides to flexibility.  You have flexibility as an employee. You have flexibility in terms of an employer. Flexibility is also about looking at what a flexible workforce will look like. 

From the future workforce point of view, I do believe it will be the mix of full timers, consultants and freelancers. It is happening now and has been happening for a while.  The last six months have expedited it to happen even quicker. 

The downside is that there has been a lot of redundancies, which has really impacted people.  But one positive is that employers have had to consider what is it that we are actually here to do  and need.  They have looked at how to restructure to not only save costs, but also to look at being more productive.  What are the gaps in our current organisation that we need to fill that could perhaps be filled with a consultant?  To be honest, managing costs is always important.   But it is also about how we bring in other ideas and how do we innovate.  It is not going to look like it always has looked with a traditional hierarchy.  It is going to look very different. 

Q: Any final thoughts on flexibility in the workforce? 

A:When it comes to freelancers, it is a two-sided market.  My advice to companies is to be really clear on the brief. It is just like briefing an agency – be clear on what you the job is, the budget and the timeframe and be sure you’re setting the consultant up for success. 

For freelancers / consultants, when you are pitching for work, be really clear on your skills. Articulate them well and use past examples.    

We also get a lot of questions about the rate – there are no hard and fast rules. So speak to people who are previous consultants and have that conversation about day rates and expectations.  We are already moving towards to a more contingent workforce, but there are still a lot of unknowns from both sides.  Maybe its about trying something new to see what works for you. 

You can view the full webinar here. 

 Thanks to all our panelists and to Marketing Women Inc for partnering with us on this event. 

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