Coping With COVID-19: How the Pandemic Has Shaped the Contingent Workforce

The phrase “unprecedented times” has come up so often in 2020 and in relation to COVID-19 that it’s starting to seem redundant. That said, there’s more than a grain of truth to it, with the pandemic drastically altering every facet of our lives—including home and work.

In a recent panel discussion, ‘Coping with COVID-19: How the Pandemic Has Shaped the Contingent Workforce’, we caught up with Linda Leiby (VP Contingent Workforce Solutions at CAI), Michelle Flipkowski (VP Business Development for trustaff), and David Corrigan (Business Development Manager for PeopleScout). The discussion was lively and covered some really interesting topics, including:

    • Initial responses to the pandemic
    • The current state of continued and fluctuating crisis management
    • Theories on the future of the contingent workforce

This article covers some of the discussion topics and questions from the session.

Immediate Infrastructure, Budget, and Staffing Issues Faced From the Pandemic in the US

Linda explained that one of the first, and biggest, challenges was a huge transformation in infrastructure. Managing both full-time employees and contingent workforces in a fully remote way overnight was a real challenge. Security standards, management protocols, VPN capacities, and equipment requirements were pushed to their limits instantly.

Budgets tightened straight away, as no one could know the economic impact this pandemic would bring. Due to the expected drops in revenue, alongside fiscal responsibilities of managing infrastructural transformation so quickly, spending not related to COVID was all but stopped. Priorities had to be reassessed immediately to make space for diverting funds towards dealing with these huge changes and protecting revenue against the oncoming changes the pandemic was to bring.

Michelle, who works closely with the healthcare industry, felt the impact in a different way. She explained that while some areas of the country began amping up for emergency increases in critical care, other previously high-demand caregivers were being pulled back. Michelle’s organization primarily provides staff for healthcare, so she had to reallocate recruiting resources to focus on critical care and hot spots of the US, all while managing different state licensing requirements.

You might also like: ‘How to Determine Which Contingent Management Model Is Right for You

Changes to Contingent Workforce Hiring

In healthcare, Michelle said, clients have had to make significant changes since the pandemic began. These include more competitive wages, less stringent requirements, and more accommodating to special requests. Candidate selection turnaround, she said, has also cut down significantly. Previously, firms would interview multiple candidates for a role and take a week or so to make their decision. Now, within 24 hours of profile release, qualified candidates will have received 5-6 offers.

David explained that many of his clients leaned heavily on contingent labor hiring due to the unpredictability of COVID-19. Relying more on a contingent workforce provides greater agility and flexibility to support consistently changing dynamics. Whatever industry you’re in, working with contingent labor requires a lot of compliance training and upkeep of hygiene, safety, and security standards. As health and safety regulations continue to adapt to the latest research regarding masks, distancing, and material handling, ensuring policies and procedures are not only in place but widely applied to all contingent labor is a top priority.

The meaning of workplace safety has changed dramatically over the last six months and failing to provide adequate workplace safety not only puts your people at risk, it also carries compliance risks, potential financial penalties, and can impact an organization’s employer brand. So the choices clients make now will impact their hiring options in the future.

Related reading: ‘The Rise of the Gig Economy: 4 Strategies for Compliance Management

Emerging Trends in Contingent Hiring

Unsurprisingly, in healthcare, burnout, and retirement rates have increased dramatically this year. Michelle explained that one healthcare client went from having 50 open positions to 800 in a matter of months. With the extreme pressure put on healthcare staff this year, those in the industry have had to rely a lot more on contingent labor. Everyone is competing for the same resources, which has created a lot of competition and driven up bill rates. So as well as managing resources, healthcare organizations have a lot of costs to balance when it comes to recruitment.

Outside of healthcare, one of the biggest changes our panel has seen is the need to extend the geography of a contingent workforce. Linda, for example, explained that those who originally wanted to only hire locally soon adapted to a wider landscape.

The onboarding process has also been impacted because the in-person experience has been put on hold. Background checks, fingerprinting, and drug screenings have been delayed which has disrupted usual HR workflows. Agencies have had to identify truly critical elements of onboarding versus those that can be delayed or provided later in the process.

You might also like: ‘4 Lessons COVID-19 Has Taught Us About a Remote Contingent Workforce

The Future of Contingent Labor

David summed up by saying the future of contingent labor is about finding the right balance between operational thinking and a focus on people and culture. He emphasized the need to focus on ways to keep people safe, save lives, and keep the economy running by getting people back to work. Culture, he said, needs to be a key focus to make sure your organization’s values are authentic and that the actions of your leadership reflect this.

As Linda pointed out, remote workforces are here to stay. This adds another skillset that any new remote or contingent workers will need to be screened for: can they work independently and collaborate digitally? She also explained that she expects bill rates to be driven down as workers become more geographically dispersed and salary requirements no longer depend on where the organization itself is based.

There’s also a very real possibility that organizations will replace full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. We can expect the use of contingent labor to increase as it allows for more flexibility.

Understandably, Michelle focused on pre-planning and emergency preparedness. This year has been an extreme lesson in organization for the healthcare industry, and the effects will have far-reaching and lasting impacts on the future of contingent labor. Creating plans and being better prepared will be a major initiative across healthcare in the coming months. We can expect to see a reduction in “exclusive” deals with staffing agencies, as organizations will want to keep their options open.

With everything we’ve seen this year, especially how quickly changes can need to be put in place, scalability is a top priority.

You may also like: ‘4 Steps to Building a Talent Ecosystem

If you want to hear more about the impact of COVID-19 and what the future holds for contingent labor, watch our webinar, ‘Coping With COVID-19: How the Pandemic Has Shaped the Contingent Workforce’.