The abrupt and drastic changes required to adapt to the pandemic accelerated the pace of change in the ecosystem, pushing advancements and trends from future expectations to current, necessary realities. That was one message delivered Tuesday during CWS Summit Europe 2021, a virtual event attracting more than 500 contingent workforce managers, staffing suppliers and others.

“Tomorrow’s world just got a lot closer,” said keynote speaker Peter Reagan, SIA’s senior director, contingent workforce strategies and research. Changes and advancements he predicted last year would take place in 2030 to 2040 are now on the front burner, fueled by the pandemic’s impact.

“We have been transformed and catapulted into a completely new way of living, and a complete new way of working,” he said. We have seen 10 or 20 years of potential change condensed into one, with little time to adapt.

Reagan discussed several ways the pandemic has affected the ecosystem. Here are just a few topics he addressed.

Remote working. Implications of remote work include the ability to recruit for candidates located anywhere, increasing the potential talent pool but also competition for the best talent. It will also require organizations to invest in tools, IT infrastructure and training, as well as review their office space and physical footprint needs. Contingent workforce program owners, in particular, must take note of remote working not only for their workforces but for their internal teams, MSPs and entire supply chains.

Technology awareness. Intellectual complacency when it comes to technology is no longer an option. Organizations have been forced to use technology — not just experiment with it — because of the remote environment. Digital transformation has been accelerated by people working from home and adoption of offerings that are digital in nature have accelerated since the Covid crisis; in the staffing ecosystem, this includes new technologies around VMS, external workforce systems and platforms, direct sourcing, online staffing platforms, recruiterless sourcing and more.

The economic reality. Global economic recovery is going to take more shape in the second half of the year. “Covid has impacted everyone’s lives, everyone’s business, everyone’s industry, every economy around the world and countries, programs, businesses have got to adapt to this,” Reagan said. There is a price to pay for the economic disruption caused by the pandemic, and organizations will need to adapt to this. “And we are all going to be impacted by a lesser or greater degree. And out the other side we will come, and we will come stronger,” he said.

Opportunity. There is significant opportunity to come out of the pandemic, and contingent workforce program managers and operators will have many occasions to be strategic leaders within their organizations.

Return to office. While many workers and organizations have embraced a work-from-home model, it is not without challenges. The benefits of less commuting and more family time can be tempered by isolation and mental health challenges as well as struggles with operating without supervision. Real estate downsizing may result in cost savings, but many organizations are still unclear as to how many workers will return to a worksite, and whether they will work on-site every day, a few days a week or just occasionally or maybe never. This makes planning an office footprint challenging. Pay parity is another concern as the cost of living for remote workers will vary depending on their home base.

Direct sourcing. Direct sourcing is a hot topic that continues to gain traction with enterprise HR and procurement departments. An SIA survey found significant proportions of organizations are looking to seriously consider either self-sourcing and developing their own talent pools or engaging a third-party technology for direct sourcing over the next two years.

DE&I. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority today for both the contingent and employed workforce. Expect programs to further align their contingent workforces and their diversity goals.

With all the changes afoot, what should program managers be doing to be better prepared? Here are some suggestions:

  • Consider the longer-term impacts of remote working including corporate socializing, relationship equity, mental health and boundaries.
  • Teams need to be in the office together, and to choose when that will be, in order maximize collaboration.
  • Consider if attendees at virtual meetings are multi-tasking; if so, is the meeting even necessary? Focus on shorter meetings and keep attendees digitally engaged.
  • More talent will be available due to remote work but working in different time zones can present communication challenges as well as cross-border taxation issues. However, this also means you can take advantage of your workers’ availability to clients in those different locales.
  • Remote work will accelerate the transition from jobs to tasks, so evaluate your job descriptions and prepare for the potential that certain roles will become more task-driven than permanent.