The arrival of Covid-19 threw a curveball at contingent workforce managers — and the world — rendering many early-year predictions for last year tenuous if not altogether irrelevant. Still, many 2020 trends that Staffing Industry Analysts’ CWS Council team expected did come to pass.

Much remains uncertain as we head into 2021. But we do know this much: Organizations are evolving and adapting to the new environment, vaccines are slowly rolling out and the economic outlook for 2021 is improved. With that in mind, here are six top trends that SIA’s CWS Council leaders expect could impact your CW program and the industry. Next week, part 2 of this article will outline a few more developments.

Remote versus return to office. While many assume everyone will want to continue to work remotely full time, that may not be the case. Expect workers to seek a hybrid approach — working remotely when they want but with the opportunity to come into an office environment sometimes. “People will still want the flexibility of remote work, but they’ll want flexibility to work away from home occasionally as well,” says Dawn McCartney, VP, Contingent Workforce Council. Enterprise buyers that provide that option will have a competitive differentiator to attract and retain the best talent.

Partner stability. It will be increasingly important to understand the financial stability of partners in the wake of the pandemic’s economic impact. Buyer organizations will need to execute financial evaluations on their partners and providers — and do them on a more frequent basis. “The Covid pandemic is creating financial fragility across all business entities, directly and indirectly, making visibility of staffing and supply chain partners’ financial stability a key 2021 CW program, risk management requirement,” says Stephen Clancy, senior director, contingent workforce strategies, knowledge and research. In addition, SIA expects expect merger and acquisition activity to increase among staffing providers, so make sure your contracts address any fallout that could affect your services.

Vaccinations. Vaccinations are slowly rolling out but requiring workers to get them presents some concerns. Organizations will have to balance health and welfare, ethics and morals, legal requirements and their own needs as they aim to keep their workers as safe as possible. Expect some governments to step in and provide some direction. “By the end of Q1 we will see widespread guidance/directives issued to employers regarding their health and safety obligations relating to employee Covid-19 vaccinations,” predicts Peter Reagan, senior director, contingent workforce strategies and research.

Immigration. Expect a doubling-down on some of the trends seen in the past couple of years, including enforcement of existing policies and restrictions on foreign-worker visas in the US. Clients have been allowing suppliers to handle immigrations issues but should step up their oversight. “Restrictions on non-domestic workers will get tighter,” says Chris Paden, director, contingent workforce strategies and research. “It’s important to recognize your dependencies on foreign workers and ensure there’s a back-up plan.”

Independent contractor classification. Always a hot topic, the use of independent contractors as a talent source has increased during the pandemic and will continue to grow, especially with the new talent sourcing models available. Hence, expect legislation to continue developing in the US at the federal, state and even local levels to register and track these workers. Enforcement will also increase to recoup lost tax revenue. And across the pond, the UK’s IR35 legislation — also known as the “off-payroll working rules” — is set take effect April 5 and contingent workforce programs will face liability when a staffing provider or intermediary down the supply chain engages a personal service company contractor and then fails to pay the required taxes to HM Revenue and Customs. “Make sure you understand what your IC population looks like, where you may have some dependencies and prepare for any changes,” McCartney advises.

Brexit. The buzz has fizzled somewhat around Brexit, the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community. While there will be issues regarding moving workers among countries, data privacy and other disruptions, Reagan believes the impact will be minimal. “We will look back on 2021 and wonder what all the fuss was about,” he says.

This article is based on the SIA workforce solutions webinar, “What to Expect in 2021 and Beyond.” A replay of the webinar is available online to CWS Council members.

Look for more trends affecting CW programs in the next issue of CWS 3.0.