What the global crisis of 2020 taught us about managing the non-employee workforce

At the start of 2020, no one could have predicted the business disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Immediately, for every company, business continuity planning took center stage, in an effort to address employee safety while still operating to the best of their abilities.

While the pandemic has created a lot of unknowns, it has also made crystal clear what’s really important when it comes to managing non-employees and how that impacts business survival. With 2021 planning time just around the corner, there are three lessons learned that can help program owners reset priorities and develop a strategy for the year ahead.

1. Workforce data isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

When the pandemic hit, government officials mandated business operations at both the state and country level, in the US and abroad. In just a matter of days, contingent workforce program owners needed to identify and communicate with each and every person working for them. But that was just the beginning. They also needed to know where they were located, what projects they were working on, and what access to company equipment and systems they had.

Now that we’ve moved beyond the first phase of the crisis, that data is still just as important. Cost savings initiatives are well underway to help offset the financial impact of the crisis. At first, some companies reduced their non-employee labor spend, but now the opposite is happening. Now 32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers to cut costs.

2. HR and Procurement just earned a seat at the table.

Your company’s greatest asset (and differentiator) in times of crisis? The contingent workforce. Even in other talent categories, temporary labor usually responds more quickly in a crisis recovery, as employers value flexibility during its early (and uncertain) stages.”

While the non-employee workforce has traditionally lived in the shadows of full-time employees in the eyes of your execs, this business environment requires workforce agility that only comes from a strategic mix of all types of talent. You have finally earned a seat at the executive table, and they need your workforce data to give leadership full visibility into what’s happening.

3. There’s a difference between “partners” and “vendors”.

Managing a contingent workforce program is a massive undertaking, but doing so during times of crisis requires all hands on deck. Thankfully you’re not alone. You have a myriad of staffing and technology providers who all contribute to the success of your program – VMS, MSP, Direct Sourcing, IC compliance, etc. During the pandemic many program owners found out the easy way – or the hard way – whether each of these providers were partners or vendors.

What level of support did you receive from your providers? Did they make new functionality or services available to help you manage your program? Were they proactive and responsive? Are they helping you meet new, important program needs related to workforce data, visibility, and reporting?

Businesses must find a way to capitalize on the disruption in bold, strategic ways in order to become industry leaders. Non-employee talent is at the center of enabling this, and it’s only possible with the right partnerships in place across your workforce program. “Good enough” is no longer good enough.

More visibility. More executive awareness. More strategic partnerships. That’s what it’s going to take to thrive in our post-COVID-19 world. All eyes are on contingent workforce program owners as they develop a 2021 plan. Embracing these three lessons learned will help get you to where you need to be.

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