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Case Studies in the Gig Economy: Creating a Workforce that Includes Independent Talent

by Diane Mulcahy

Case Studies in the Gig Economy: Creating a Workforce that Includes Independent Talent image
Case Studies in the Gig Economy: Creating a Workforce that Includes Independent Talent

The first step companies take to start adapting to the Gig Economy is to experiment with hiring independent workers for specific projects. If that goes well, the next step is to scale the use of independent talent to create a blended workforce, which requires a strategy to efficiently find, hire, and manage independent workers, as well as integrate them into existing HR, recruiting, and onboarding processes.

There are several companies leading the way and setting an example for how to approach and leverage the benefits of a flexible workforce. Below is a sample of the creative, strategic, and tactical approaches companies are implementing to scale their use of independent workers.

Cisco’s Talent Cloud and Analytics

The Talent Cloud is Cisco’s way of creating “our own Gig Economy for employees.” The goal is to offer some of the flexibility and control available in the Gig Economy to employees within the relative security of their full-time job.

The Cloud is a repository of data on employees including skills, tenure, certification, and prior employment, as well as manager assessments. Cisco uses predictive analytics and job market data to create talent insights it can use to make strategic HR decisions. For example, it takes employee skills assessment data, including prior employment and certifications, to identify internal skill gaps it needs to close through hiring.

Analytics can also combine recruitment criteria with job market data to help the company make office location decisions in places where they can most easily find the talent they need. “At Cisco, talent analytics helps us determine where we should be hiring, where to find the talent, and how we can best plan for shortages in specific occupations and given regions,” said Ian Bailie, Director of Talent Acquisition.

More tactically, the Cloud creates a ‘liquid workforce’ that Cisco’s managers can search to find the skills and capabilities they need to staff projects and form agile teams with the exact capabilities they need, on-demand.

The Cloud gives employees a way to assess their skills, find opportunities for developing their abilities and knowledge, and create what Cisco calls “one company, many careers” while they are employed.

Cisco’s approach is notable for its comprehensive and sophisticated application of data gathering and predictive analytics to deeply understand and manage talent. So far, they have leveraged their insights only to manage their internal workforce, but it’s easy to envision them extending their capabilities and learnings to an external pool of independent workers.

PWC’s Talent Exchange

In early 2016, PWC launched a proprietary labor platform called the Talent Exchange in part because they saw more and more talented employees seeking the flexibility of independent  work.

The Talent Exchange connects PWC’s internal teams with external independent workers based in the US. It allows PWC to efficiently identify, evaluate, and hire the freelance talent it needs for specific projects and it gives independent contractors transparency and direct access to PWC’s internal project teams.

The platform targets a number of Focus Areas, such as cybersecurity and user experience, that are in high demand, and invites independent workers to submit their resumes and identify the focus areas that match their skills and expertise. If they are selected by a PWC team as a candidate for a project, they submit their rates, and are evaluated against any other candidates based on their price and qualifications.

PWC designed the platform to manage the entire independent talent relationship – from identifying, evaluating and recruiting candidates, to submitting invoices and expenses. The Exchange is also designed to facilitate a long-term relationship by giving PWC access to a dedicated group of interested and known freelance talent. PWC describes how they’re “…building direct and ongoing—not short-term and transactional—relationships between independent talent and PwC teams.”

PWC isn’t the only Big 4 firm to create a labor platform for independent workers. Ernst & Young launched gignow.com, and Deloitte has created the Open Talent Community. Proprietary labor platforms are a popular approach to recruiting and hiring independent workers because connect companies directly to their freelance talent. The direct connection gives employers better control and management over their independent workforce and eliminates the fees that third party labor platforms charge.

The Washington Post Talent Network

The Washington Post is another example of a company using a proprietary platform to manage external talent. Similar to PWC, the Post’s Talent Network was created in-house to make the process of finding and hiring freelance talent more efficient and effective. The Washington Post says that their aim is “to open up the newsroom to more ideas for news coverage from across the country and the world.”

The key difference with the Post’s platform is that it is two-way: It allows writers to both reactively respond to freelance assignments, and to proactively pitch story ideas to editors.

It’s notable that the Talent Network encourages inbound pitches, since other platforms only allow freelancers to react and respond to projects that are posted. Imagine if this two-way platform gained traction. What would it look like if your company allowed independent consultants to pitch ideas and projects about the ways you could improve your business, then offer to execute those ideas? How would your organization respond? It’s an interesting future to contemplate.

YMCA’s Permalancer Workforce

Not every organization has the bandwidth or budget to adapt to the Gig Economy on their own. The YMCA is a non-profit organization with limited funds that was able to leverage the independent workforce with the help of Aquent, a third party digital, creative, and marketing staffing firm (and host of this blog!).

The YMCA wanted to undertake an ongoing project to improve their brand integrity and collateral but didn’t have the bandwidth or budget internally to staff and execute the initiative. The branding project required a range of creative skillsets that the YMCA did not have on staff, including production artists, designers, writers, proofreaders, and project managers.

Aquent, which works with the majority of the Fortune 500, specializes in staffing creative talent, so was able to work with YMCA’s marketing and creative teams to scope the range of skills and experience they needed to find. Aquent focused on recruiting a curated team of high-caliber freelancers that were available for longer-term project-based work. Like PWC and Cisco, Aquent maintains a proprietary online talent management portal, MyAquent, where clients can access pools of freelance talent, schedule interviews, process payment, rate performance, and more.

In the end, the YMCA was able to access a high-quality group of “permalancers” – freelancers that were available and likely to be engaged repeatedly over time, when their skills were needed. The YMCA enjoyed working with same talent over periods as long as four years, at a lower cost than they would if they had worked through the middleman of a traditional creative agency. The independent workers benefited from ongoing work over a long period of time, at rates they set, for a client they knew.

The YMCA’s approach of working with a third-party staffing company offers a viable approach for firms of all sizes, and even startups and non-profits that might not have the staffing or financial resources to find, recruit, and manage independent workers on their own.

Creating a Blended Workforce

It’s increasingly common to see companies building a blended workforce that includes both employees and independent talent. The Gig Economy is growing and here to stay, and employers are experimenting with ways to respond that best meet their business goals and staffing needs. The range of examples discussed above – from Cisco’s data intensive and sophisticated analytics to the YMCA’s initiative to bring in long-term independent workers – illustrate the breadth of options companies have to attract talent that seeks flexibility and independence.

How will your company respond?

About Author

Diane Mulcahy is an Advisor to Aquent, the author of The Gig Economy (AMACOM, an imprint of Harper Collins) and a frequent consultant to Fortune 500 companies and startups on the Gig Economy and the future of work.

Author's Website

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