Non Standard Employees – Part 1
More and more workers are operating outside the traditional confines of regular, full time employment. They may be free agents or elancers, that is freelancers in the digital world who work for themselves. Or they may be employees of an organization your firm is allied with. Employees of an outsourcing or temporary help firm or even volunteers. Last year, almost 18 million people worked as non-standard employees for 15 hours or more a week. Software maker Intuit estimates that 40% of the workforce will be non-standard employees by 2020.
It’s already happening now in a number of industries. In terms of the kinds of work available, it’s not just low level clerical tasks. It’s also managerial and professional work. Think accounting and finance, information technology or marketing. One of the payoffs from using non-standard employees is that they may be cheaper than their full-time counterparts, especially since they typically are not eligible for benefits. Moreover, the size of the workforce can expand or contract as necessary based on the demand for particular services. More generally, companies can tailor the skill sets they need to fit the work to be done without hiring and firing full-time employees.
At the same time, there are risks associated with non-standard employee workers. Will they be as committed as full-timers? Will their rapid turnover require extensive orientation and training of new ones? Will they stick around long enough to develop the kind of depth of understanding of people and operations that will enable them to contribute meaningfully? In terms of managing and integrating work, there are three broad considerations. The first consideration is strategy.
Namely, considering the overall work to be done, which parts of it are core, proprietary operations that need to stay in-house and whichparts might be done elsewhere. Consider Nike or Apple for example. In both cases, a core competency is design. The look, feel and functionality of the product. Both firms design their products in-house and then outsource the actual manufacture of the products elsewhere.Design allows Nike and Apple to retain activities that are at the very top of the value chain and to outsource those lower in the value chain.
A second consideration is procurement. More specifically, procuring the kinds of knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary to do the work that non-standard employees can do. This is where talent platforms can be extremely helpful. A talent platform is simply an internet enabled marketplace that matches work to free agents. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for example was originally built to solve Amazon’s own internal data processing problems.
To do that, it created a platform where work could be broken up into tiny pieces called microtasks and distributed to a low-cost workforce.Examples of microtasks include information gathering such as completing a survey, or photo and video processing for example, tagging images. This approach is inherently global for once you post work on a digital talent platform you won’t know and you may not care where the work is being done.
The final consideration is accountability. Managing means getting work done through other people and following through to ensure it’s done properly. Managers have to be exquisitely clear about their expectations for deliverables and they need to specify four parameters in great detail. By when, that is time. In what quantity. At what level of quality. And at what cost. When the deliverables arrive, managers need to check to ensure that the deliverables meet the standards previously set for timeliness, quantity, quality, and cost.
In summary, when the boundaries of an organization are no longer fixed as is happening more and more these days, then non-standard employees may do at least some of an organization’s work. In order to manage and integrate that work into ongoing operations, managers need to do three things well. Determine which elements of work must be done in-house and which can be farmed out to non-standard employees. Procure the kinds of knowledge, skills and abilities that are necessary to do the work that will be farmed out.
And specify in detail four dimensions of expectations about deliverables. Time, quantity, quality and cost. Do these three things well and you’ll be well on your way towards developing an overall strategy for managing and integrating work when organizational boundaries are permeable.
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