At the beginning of the year, I began discussing the tremendous opportunity direct sourcing is to the contingent workforce ecosystem. At the time, direct sourcing was becoming a popular concept as organizations continue to optimize their CW programs and look for deeper savings and efficiency. One of the main components of a successful direct-sourcing program is the technology platform that is used to manage your talent network, whether that network is a private talent pool with pre-vetted resources or a public talent pool like an on-demand workforce platform. In most strategic CW programs, the platforms are used to match self-represented talent with upcoming assignments.

Then Covid-19 happened. As the world has grappled with the pandemic, I have seen direct-sourcing concepts and functions used in ways I hadn’t envisioned, as organizations sought to quickly mobilize their workforces, track and redeploy displaced workers, and even solve new problems with existing skills and resources. Here are some examples.

Mobilizing the workforce. In response to Covid-19, programs have transformed these platforms into workforce mobilization tools to help track workers whose roles have been unexpectedly interrupted or whose skills are best repurposed in different ways. This is happening in production facilities that have shifted from their normal product production to making ventilators, hand sanitizer, masks and other critically important items. In some cases, talent is being shifted to support other business areas and even other companies entirely. Another advantage of talent pooling is still on the horizon as organizations look to call back workers and begin moving towards business as usual.

Filling critical skill sets. Buyer organizations have been resistant to public talent pools and freelancer management systems as many draw a firm line on independent contractor usage. But in this time of unexpected and unprecedented change, with quickly shifting workforce demands, many companies have been forced to pivot very quickly to a remote workforce to ensure business continuity. What was less expected was the newly created demand for skill sets far outside of normal business needs — such as specialized cleaning services, scientists, mental health professionals and even high-level workforce strategists. Similar to the rapid advance in remote work, organizations are looking to an unlikely approach of freelancer management systems and on-demand platforms to fill these gaps quickly and provide their business sustainability across their workforce. This type of adoption may open the doors for these types of engagements to become more commonplace and acceptable.

Providing new assignments. Let’s also not forget about the workers that have been affected. With more than 20 million US workers being separated from their jobs in mere weeks, a need for quick, easy-to-engage work assignments has been filled with gig workplaces like DoorDash and Instacart. These platforms are not only providing work opportunities to displaced workers, they are also helping to create services that help people to stay home and slow the spread of the virus.

Solving problems in novel ways. One direct-sourcing concept in particular has proved how powerful and impactful a company’s existing workforce can be when given a new problem to solve: crowdsourcing. Vacuum manufacturer Dyson, like many other companies, quickly answered a public call for an increased supply of ventilators. While it had never manufactured a ventilator, it did have a pool of intelligent problem-solvers with skills similar to those needed to design, build and scale production of ventilators; they just didn’t know it yet. Dyson pooled and leveraged its existing engineers, scientists, product designers and manufacturers to not only design and build a ventilator in record time but also to build 15,000 units in a timeline that would make most current device manufacturers drool. All by asking their teams to take their existing skills and answer a different question: Not how do you build a vacuum, but how do you build a ventilator?

Our workforce teams have been working overtime for the past months trying to solve challenges that have never needed solving as fast and with more impact than we have seen before. These teams have stepped up to these challenges to re-organize our workforces and do amazing things for the communities they serve. While this time may seem bleak for some employers and job seekers alike, it is inspiring to see our community using the tools and principals we have been collecting in our toolboxes to step up to the biggest workforce challenges we may ever experience, and doing it like we had been preparing for it our whole careers.

Thank you to those stars and the heroes. You are the teams that will help reassemble businesses and workforces and get us working toward a new normal.