You may have thought that the rapid transition to hybrid workplaces (a combination of working both in-office and from home) was the last significant organisational change we would have to deal with for some time. But the next trend is already ahead of us, particularly relevant for South African organisations.
The hybrid, or blended workforce, is a staffing strategy that combines permanent employees and workers within the gig economy to meet the operational needs of an organisation. Some argue that this leads to a more diverse workforce, and in the United States, freelance and contract workers are estimated to make up around 40 per cent of the workforce.
In South Africa, the gig economy – and side hustles – are being lauded as the possible solution to our massive unemployment rate. With proper access to technology, gig workers can learn new skills, leverage existing special skills, and enjoy flexible working hours. As of last year, it was estimated that South Africa has 3.9 million “giggers”, a massive portion of our workforce – and this figure will likely grow exponentially.
There’s also the “great resignation” with which local organisations need to contend. It was most notable in the United States, but recent research has shown that South Africans are also trending towards quitting due to dissatisfaction with their work – just on a lesser scale. It appears to be the skilled workers transitioning to freelance, making their way overseas or working remotely for international companies. This trend means it’s up to organisational and business leaders to start making their entities more attractive to contract workers. But why?
A blended workforce has numerous benefits, particularly for larger companies. First and foremost, specialised skillsets for short-term needs. You may not always need a User Experience or User Interface expert, but developing your company’s first app is a mandatory skill set. Rather than employing someone full-time, you can work on a contract basis, and if the partnership is successful, you can revisit this person for later projects without the costs associated with full-time employment.
Naturally, fewer direct employees mean more scalable operations, less office space required, and more financial flexibility. But this flexibility also extends to the workforce, meaning it’s easier to bring in more workers during the busy seasons, and you’ll always have access to top talent.
But giggers have different needs than direct employees, and an established business can cost-effectively offer numerous incentives for these short-term contracts. In South Africa, digital access remains a major concern for giggers. From data prices to load shedding interruptions, there are several inconveniences that the average person working remotely has to deal with. Organisations working with contract workers should offer to cover the costs of wi-fi internet, or even offer the use of a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) for the duration of the contract.
These incentives will ensure uninterrupted service and build the relationship with the gigger, increasing the probability that they’ll work with you again when you need their specialised skillsets.
This approach may also be financially feasible, considering the lower cost of hiring temporary workers – due to no pension fund or medical aid contributions, general equipment and spacing costs, etc.
However, creating a truly blended workforce requires significant change to an organisation.
Firstly, a solid IT infrastructure for both permanent and temporary employees ensures a smooth remote working experience. Reliable equipment, cloud-based platforms, and IT support channels are central to retaining a flexible work environment. Secondly, good Human Resources systems will make their onboarding/offboarding as seamless as possible.
Lastly and most importantly, capable leadership and change managers can implement systems, guide permanent and giggers, and facilitate these ongoing developments. Ultimately, for the companies that have already developed their change capabilities, shifting to a more blended work environment – both in terms of people and workspace – can be less tricky.
Change managers can contribute to identifying the key people you want to retain, who will mediate between teams about the nature of the blended workforce and focus on why the change is necessary. As our ways of working continue to evolve in the most surprising ways, managed change remains necessary.
Tom Marsicano is CEO of ‘and Change’ a global advisory and change management consultancy.