6 Tips for Managing a Contingent Workforce
May 7, 2018

6 Tips for Managing a Contingent Workforce

As companies look to continuously optimize their talent pool, contingent workers are becoming the norm. In fact, more than 40% of workers are now classified as contingent, up from 30% just a decade ago.

And, despite the insinuation by some that it’s because they can’t find “real jobs,” in fact 70% are freelancers or independent contractors by choice. The availability of freelance talent is a tremendous benefit to many companies. 

See "5 Ways to Build Trust in Your Remote Workforce" for tips on fostering positive relationships with your contingent workers.

Not only does it reduce the overhead associated with hiring a full-time employee, but it allows organizations to tap into ad hoc talent on demand and to be more agile in meeting business objectives and getting work done.

Nearly half of companies find their best talent through contingent workers, allowing them to bridge skills gaps in their current workforce. But anyone who has managed freelance or agency relationships knows that, as beneficial as it can be, it can also be a bit like herding cats. 

Work schedules and work styles often differ. The platforms, software, and tools used may be all over the place. Communication and coordination alone can feel like a full-time job, and it can be tough to keep all of the balls in the air.

Not to mention, these external vendors may need access to internal systems and assets, so security and access control can be a concern. And then there are the issues of utilization and cost: are you utilizing your contingent workers effectively? Are you relying on them too much?

For anyone struggling to maintain order with their contingent workforce, a cloud-based work management solution—also known as an "operational system of record"— can help bring order to the chaos.

With a central hub through which all work, communication, and document sharing takes place, it’s easy to bring any number of contingent workers together across multiple projects and get everyone on the same page.

Here’s why it works:

1. On-Demand, Secure Access

Especially when you’re dealing with competitive assets or intellectual property, allowing outside contractors to access internal resources can be a sticky situation. And, even with internal employees—if someone leaves the company, how can you make sure they don’t make off with your assets?

Cloud-based storage solutions like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and others can provide a platform to store documents and materials, or you could set up a shared drive on your internal server and permit contractors to access only that folder. The key is to ensure someone is in charge of policing access privileges to make sure assets are secure.

With a work management platform, you can give contractors access to the projects, conversations, and assets they need, but keep other areas securely off-limits. If you need to tag a new team member in on a project or discussion, adding them is as simple as social-media style tagging.

At legendary guitar-maker Fender, Workfront provided the ideal solution to give creative team members access to the resources they needed and the ability to share final assets with requesters, retailers, and distributors. The end result: all the access they need, with none that they don’t.

2. Simple Management of Internal and External Assignments 

According to recent data, only half of contingent workers complete projects and tasks on time and on budget.

With no visibility into what everyone is working on, project managers struggle to stay on top of what’s moving along and what’s falling behind. Assignment details are often emailed back and forth, sometimes getting lost in spam, or with attachments forgotten.

Some organizations can manage with spreadsheets, or with using the task assignment tools in Outlook. Others can use tools like Trello to keep track of who’s working on what. But sometimes, even this isn’t quite enough.

At Fender, many email requests were overlooked or deprioritized and communication was severely lacking. That led to projects mysteriously resurfacing weeks or months later and with sudden urgency.

Consolidating assignments for both internal and external team members onto a centralized hub like Workfront reduces “to-do list confusion.” Instead of emailing back and forth, all assignments are delegated and tracked in the hub, so the project manager knows what’s happening with each project in the queue.

External agencies can also be granted access to the hub on a limited basis. For example, one outside agency project manager is assigned tasks in Fender’s hub and ensures that the agency completes the work.

Another follows Fender’s internal workflow process within Workfront. Its project management team assigns tasks to creatives and conducts its own reviews before sending materials over to Fender for review.

For Fender, this process has meant tremendous time savings—about two hours each day—and a dramatic increase in the number of projects the team can move through the queue, up 75% since Workfront was installed.

3. Eliminate DAM Headaches and Costs 

Digital asset management (DAM) can be a headache for a lot of companies. Many freelancers and creative agencies offer DAM services to their clients, which can be one way of solving the DAM problem, but it’s often costly and inefficient.

For example, Kiwibank in New Zealand lacked a centralized system for storing collateral materials, so they relied on their agencies to do it for them. But, each time the bank needed to modify a piece of collateral, the agency charged an account management and retrieval fee of nearly $200.

Multiplied by dozens of pieces per month, the bank was paying about $5,700 a month just to access its own marketing assets.

With a DAM solution like Workfront’s, companies can bring this process in-house, not only enabling on-demand access to their own assets, but eliminating the per-item fee, which saves a tremendous amount of money.

“Instead of having our assets all over Wellington, we can control everything in the DAM,” says Vesna Nixon, personal marketing lead at Kiwibank.

“We can tag assets the way we want to tag them and simply send a link straight from the DAM to a studio for small design changes. … By having everything in one place—projects, assets, approvals, and reporting—we gain efficiencies and lower costs."

4. Time Zones? What Time Zones?

One of the biggest challenges surrounding the global contingent workforce is that work literally happens 24/7.

When consultants, service providers, and other resources are located on opposite sides of the planet, waiting until business hours begin to receive documents, updates, and information is extremely inefficient and slows down work progress.

Collaboration platforms like Slack and others can help alleviate some of these issues, but that’s yet another platform the team must use in day-to-day work. With a work management solution in place, work spans any schedule, consolidated onto a single platform.

Cross-continental or global teams always have access to the latest updates, drafts, assets, and task notes—no matter what time of the day or night. As globalization expands, it’s a significant competitive advantage for companies to be able to keep work moving forward 24/7 while their competitors are asleep.

5. Utilization Visibility 

Tracking utilization of contingent workers is an issue for many companies. In fact, an average of 68% of non-employee talent is unaccounted for in most companies’ budgeting, planning, and forecasting.

The biggest reason: most companies lack a centralized solution to track just how much they’re using contingent labor. If individual departments are each using their own service providers, that data is scattered widely and difficult to measure.

One solution is to require departments to track contingent services hours and costs and report those to a specific individual on a prescribed schedule. But this requires a lot of manual effort and time.

Using an operational system of record to manage projects with contingent workers gives you easy visibility into utilization, with no additional effort. This insight can help your organization make decisions about whether it’s time to hire more help, bring the work in-house, or expand the scope of work. 

At FOCUS Brands, Workfront enables the traffic manager to quickly conduct a creative audit and generate reports to understand demand. With more accurate reporting, the team has data to support the need for additional freelance resources.

“I don’t dread the five audits I do every year anymore,” says FOCUS’ creative services traffic manager Katie George. “I just open a report in Workfront, change the parameters to match the new campaigns, and instantly run a new report.” This lets George eyeball utilization in a fraction of the time it used to take.

6. Integration with External Tools 

Despite how easy a platform makes it to manage external vendors, it would be naïve to think that every freelancer and creative agency is going to drop their favorite solution in lieu of yours.

You can certainly nudge or even require them all to use your choice, or you can acquiesce to their preferences and use whatever makes them comfortable. The only drawback is that someone is going to be battling the silo problem, with work scattered in multiple platforms.

The good news is that some work management platforms actually integrate with other solutions such as Slack, SharePoint, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and Adobe DAM. That means your favorite freelancers and agency partners can continue working with their own system, but you can manage it all in one place, so everyone can work the way they want to.

At toy innovator Kids II, Workfront integrations enable the internal team to connect with international contingent service providers on six continents.

With Dropbox and Adobe DAM integrations, they can provide external, domestic, and international vendors and distributors with access to the business assets they need to keep projects moving forward in a way that everyone is comfortable with.

“Workfront APIs are integral to everything we’ve done,” says Nashira Betton, IT project manager at Kids II. “They’re the handshake, making sure all of our processes stay synchronized and our people stay informed—even those in offices 12 hours ahead.”

As contingent workers play an increasingly larger role in the modern talent acquisition and staffing strategy, project managers will need progressive, flexible tools that can help them manage work without losing their sanity.

Operational systems of record like Workfront provide the task delegation, management, visibility, and secure access control needed to meet the demands of the future of work.

See "5 CEOs Reveal Their Best Remote Working Practices" for more advice on managing a contingent workforce.

Get Workfront blog updates straight to your inbox.