When Covid-19 turned the world upside down, it affected everyone in a big way — including the contingent workforce world. The US alone saw approximately 840,500 temporary help jobs lost in April, according to seasonally adjusted data released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is equal to 29.1% of total temporary help jobs in March.
Typically, contingent workers are often among the first to be furloughed or laid off when the economy sours. And this time was no different. With GDP going into free fall, declining 31.7% on an annual basis in the second quarter, offices closed and businesses shut down. But the pandemic took things to a whole new level for many people including contingent workforce managers.
These managers had to adapt to several changes all at once, says Dawn McCartney, VP of the Contingent Workforce Strategies Council at SIA, who is leading a panel discussion titled “When Covid-19 gave them lemons … they made awesome lemonade” on Sept. 16 at the CWS Summit North America virtual conference.
Here’s how they adapted.
Embracing tech. One of the biggest changes was around new technologies. “It catapulted the use of technology,” McCartney says. “We have seen technology adoption happen faster than we ever thought it would.”
This includes technology to support remote work and allow off-site workers to interact with one another, such as Zoom and Skype. While these technologies might not have been alien to some firms, McCartney says their use came as a big change for companies in heavily regulated industries such as finance and insurance. In the past — meaning before Covid-19 — some companies wouldn’t allow instant messaging of Skyping; now their workers have that capability. Firms with call centers had to use new technology to allow workers to operate out of their homes with the same level of capability.
Trusting them to WFH. The working from home also brought other concerns, from security and risk to data privacy. Some large staffing client companies, particularly financial organizations, were hesitant about allowing people to work outside their buildings amid these security concerns.
Organizations might have considered remote work prior to the pandemic, but it would have been a long journey before implementation. The pandemic made the need for adoption immediate.
“There’s a whole new level of trust bestowed upon employees,” McCartney says. We are seeing “faith and trust that we would absolutely not have seen without us being faced with Covid.”
Contingents are critical. On the flip side, McCartney says the pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of contingent labor and contingent workforce managers were able to show just how critical it is for the functioning of organizations.
Of course, we aren’t out of the woods yet; challenges and uncertainty remain even as the US economy also appears to be picking up steam, although it remains below pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest Federal Reserve Beige Book report. For example, some workers are reluctant to return to the office with childcare a concern as some schools remain closed for in-person instruction. Finding workers with the right skills can also still be a challenge despite higher levels of unemployment as some companies make plans to return to the office.
But given the adaptability shown thus far by these contingent workforce managers, look out for improvements and innovation as we go into the fall.