While contingent programs face many challenges due to the pandemic, the rising acceptance of remote work is likely to alleviate the talent shortages that have persisted for years. “There isn’t a talent shortage; it’s just that the talent is in the wrong location,” is a statement often uttered by SIA’s John Nurthen, executive director of global research, over the last two years. The global pandemic looks to have proven him correct.

As a result, buyer organizations will need to rethink their contingent and full-time talent strategies to help improve and take advantage of the new way highly skilled workers are working and where they are working from. There are things to think through — advantages and challenges — in this scenario. Let’s start with the advantages.

A wider net. Pre-pandemic, highly skilled workers were required to be onsite and live in close proximity to the buyer’s office buildings. In a recent SIA report based on a survey of buyer organizations, we found that in 2019, only 2% of buyers supported and allowed for contingent workers to work remotely. Amid the pandemic, 50% of those same buyers allow for remote work and estimate beyond 2020 they will allow as much as 20% of their contingent workforce to maintain their remote status. And with the acceptance of remote work for contingents comes a wider net that can be cast for said talent.

The talent supply. There typically is a strong correlation between the unemployment rate and talent supply. When it comes to highly skilled white collar/professional and technical positions, unemployment levels are much lower than other sectors of the workforce. Indeed, despite a dramatic slow-down during the second quarter of this year, most buyers still have a strong need for these highly skilled workers. While that might indicate the competition for talent continues, the growing acceptance of remote work has opened up the search pool broadly.

Take, for example, Charlotte, North Carolina, which is home to some of the world’s largest banks. Charlotte became a magnet for banking industry talent looking to improve and enhance their opportunity for career growth. Now, with the pandemic, could we begin to see temporary talent from cities like New York City and Richmond, Virginia, procuring positions with a Charlotte-based bank without having to relocate? Likewise, some could suggest the days of highly skilled workers being required to live in Silicon Valley could be a thing of the past. Having lower taxes and lower rent/mortgage payments while maintaining good wages is a very attractive option for these highly skilled workers. Time will tell what the entire impact will be but as of right now, it looks like the pandemic is offering some value to these highly skilled workers.

Challenges. Once on board, though, remote workers pose strategic challenges for the buyer. SIA’s CCWP industry certification program outlines the common challenges for buyers when workers are remote:

  • Impact on team culture and cohesiveness. How do you facilitate a cohesive team when they’ve never worked in the same room together?
  • Isolation of the worker. What methods can you use to ensure your remote workers feel part of the team?
  • Tracking worker productivity. And do you want to? When on site, you could be assured of their productivity because you could see them working. While remote, will you use tools to track them, and will that cause workers to feel disrespected?
  • Time zone constraints. While time zone differences can be a benefit at times — for example, with work getting done while you sleep — not having access to workers when an urgent need arises can be problematic.
  • IP protection and confidentiality & information security. Do you allow your remote contingents access to your network systems? Are you able to set up authentication protocols for these workers? Are you able to turn off systems access immediately?

These challenges aside, the recommendation for buyer organizations is to review contingent worker strategies and leverage the newly found opportunity to find workers from anywhere in the world. These new strategies could lead to a more diverse, more skilled and more affordable workforce. In light of the crisis brought about by the pandemic, remote work could offer a silver lining to the entire contingent workforce ecosystem.