Attracting and retaining a flexible workforce

In changing times it’s important to attract and retain the best flexible workers

Contractors, freelancers and temp workers are growing in number across Australia. And when you look at the reasons why, it’s not surprising that the ‘gig economy’ is taking off. It can be the perfect solution for seasoned workers who want flexibility and it simply makes financial sense for organisations in today’s climate. 

The flexible workforce is not what it used to be

Since the 1990s, many organisations have turned to outsourcing job roles that aren’t part of their core competencies. This trend has grown exponentially over the past few years as the result of organisations needing agility in rapidly changing economies.

Covid-19 is a good example of how the business world was turned upside down recently (as was society) and needed rapid adjustments to survive.

In an Australian Parliament House report by Geoff Gilfillan from Statistics and Mapping (Covid-19: Impacts on Casual Workers in Australia – a statistical snapshot, 8 May 2020), ‘there were just over 2.6 million casual workers employed in Australia in August 2019 who accounted for 24.4 percent of all employees’. Many of these were young people breaking into industry. Covid-19 turned those numbers around dramatically – particularly in retail trade, accommodation and food services. 

The pofessional sector wasn’t exempt either – with many affected organisations downsizing and retrenching, despite Government assistance with JobKeeper payments. This left a large percentage of highly skilled people out of work. 

A lot of these professionals turned to freelancing and contracting to help make ends meet. And many consciously deciding not to go back to full-time positions due to the freedom that contracting/freelancing provides. Especially since work from home arrangements had firmly taken root and allowed them to live outside of expensive cities.

Parallel to professionals changing direction, organisations also became attuned to the benefits of flexible workforces. By keeping their most valuable team members full-time and relying on a pool of trusted and reliable contractors/freelancers, they gained a greater agility to ride fluctuations of the economy and their own workloads.

Pros & cons of using flexible blue and white-collar workers

As discussed in our previous article having flexible work options for manufacturing and other manual industries enables organisations to get around the current skills shortage, absenteeism and sudden fluctuations in output demand.

Overheads are kept low and problems that come with employing/retrenching staff in a hurry, should the economy turn, can be avoided.

For white-collar industries, relying on contractors and freelancers can be just as beneficial – albeit with many other advantages:

  • It allows organisations to tap into specialised strengths they don’t have within the group
  • Most contractors/freelancers are seasoned people who require little oversight
  • Contractors/freelancers tend to have a vast range of experiences to call on and, consequently, can provide a big picture view of operations
  • They can also bring a new perspective to projects
  • They provide a reliable stopgap for team members on holidays, sick leave or maternity leave
  • Most contractors/freelancers aren’t interested in internal politics
  • When used regularly, they become part of your extended team – which means less onboarding, systems induction etc.

What’s not to like about flexible workforces?

While there are many bonuses to using contractors and freelancers, there’s also a number of considerations. 

Ensuring contractors/freelancers are up to date with industry advancements is one of those concerns. These people are usually busy looking for work or working hard hours to meet deadlines, so they don’t have the time or incentive from a leadership team to do additional courses. 

Conflicts of interest between clients can be another issue – although, having experience in a specialised field can also be viewed as a bonus. To avoid leakage of critical client information, binding confidentiality agreements are necessary. As too are client/internal talent poaching agreements.

Availability of good people is also a major drawback of relying on a flexible workforce.  There’s no guarantee your favourite freelancer won’t be booked up – which is why it’s important to understand their availability long before you may need them. That said, most contractors and freelancers will remain loyal to clients they enjoy working for – which is all the more reason to look after these key people.

Attracting and keeping the best flexible talent

In an article from Forbes Magazine, Improving the Employee Experience for Gig and Contract Workers (May, 2020), the author Greg Kihlstrom recommends a formulated approach to employee experience for external white-collar professionals.

There’s quite a bit of competition for good suppliers now. So the best prepared businesses and organisations will tend to attract and keep the best flexible talent. This means not taking them for granted as ‘guns for hire’, but treating them with respect, courtesy and as valued members of the team.

Here are a few considerations to take into account:

  • If new, your contractor/freelancer won’t know anything about your organisation, how you operate, what your expectations are, the culture, the projects… they are a blank slate. Therefore, a degree of onboarding is just as important as it is with for full-timer.
  • Providing structure and consistency upfront can help with onboarding – such as guidelines on processes and how things are done in your business. Include an org chart that explains who they’ll deal with regularly and what to expect from these people.
  • If the contractor/freelancer is working remotely, it can help to ensure they don’t feel disconnected. Meeting and collaboration tools like Slack can incorporate them into business as usual.
  • Provide clear briefs and don’t take for granted that they have the same understanding of a project that you have. It can be easy to forget that you have been looking at a problem for quite a while and have an intimate understanding of it. Someone from outside (even though they would probably have experience in the subject matter) will not understand situation nuances the way you do. It’s important to brief them verbally and in writing. Also, avoiding acronyms.
  • Ensure you provide enough time for the contractor/freelancer to do the job justice and for the finished product to go through regulatory checks. If in doubt, get their thoughts on timings.
  • If you’re too busy to provide answers to everyday questions, give the person a dedicated contact they can turn to. 
  • Include contractors/freelancers in project meetings to hear their opinions, help with background understanding, develop team awareness and provide input with direction and timelines.
  • If a contractor/freelancer is there for an extended period, afford them similar courtesies as your full-time staff – such as spare time for appointments etc. These people tend to be extremely conscientious (their reputation hinges on it) so they usually ensure they meet their obligations.

Getting the most from contract teams

In 2017, McKinsey & Company published an article entitled Seven ways to stop wasting money in contractor management. Whilst this is quite a dated article, it’s still very relevant in today’s climate. 

Effectively, it looks at how good contractor management can improve your bottom line and lead to a win-win performance-based partnership. Especially for larger teams of contractors in manual sectors. 

Accurate job definition and scoping is the first thing mentioned in the article. As discussed earlier, the clearer and more defined the brief, the more likely contractors will adhere to requests. There’s no cost or time creep for ‘additional activities’, simply because the contractors felt it might be expected.

Understand the work content in detail prior to briefing contractors is essential. Without it, you will have no ability to analyze the contracting companies’ price and recognise whether the costs could be lower. To that end, it’s just as important to be aware of pricing standards for across suppliers. And remember, dramatically cheaper is rarely better.

Transparent invoices from contracting companies will ensure you’ll know if any costs have been added without upfront agreement. ‘Associated repairs’ for instance can attribute thousands of dollars to an invoice, when many of the repairs could have been looked after internally. For that reason, you may wish to ask for invoicing and reporting templates to be built into the contractor’s terms – so that they are discussed during negotiation and fully accepted by all parties. 

Checking against negotiated rates is worth the effort. Even if a procurement team negotiates a great contract, organisations can still lose value because of inconsistent adherence to contract terms. Digital tools can help to automate this process. 

Don’t hold up the team. Administration and work clearances all add up to hours of wasted time – which can also blowout deadlines. Even if a contracting group is on a fixed price for a job, their wasted time will ultimately cost you money.

Audit the small spend. Any corporate policy of signing off automatically on bills below a certain threshold can lead to multiple small invoices for major jobs that exceed the budget. Admittedly there are very few contracting companies that would operate in such a dubious way. However, they do exist. 


Without a dedicated procurement team or Contractor Manager, it can be quite difficult to ascertain the specific requirements for certain roles, who would be a great fit for the specific role, sorting through applications or tenders and assessing talent. That’s why it’s advisable to use a recruitment specialist. 

Whether you’re looking for short-term temporary hire, or a long-term fixed contractor, we have the knowledge, expertise and capabilities to fulfil all of your staffing requirements.

We understand that no two organisations are the same, and we pride ourselves in our ability to obtain a thorough understanding of your business. Most importantly, we listen, this allows us to develop a recruitment solution that is completely tailored to your needs. We aim to build strong relationships and forge long term recruitment partnerships with all of our clients.

We can source blue and white collar candidates across Logistics & Supply Chain, Production & Manufacturing, Engineering & Trades. Feel free to contact me for a non-obligation chat

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