Organisations are increasingly bringing contractors in when there’s a need for a quick solution. They’ll also use someone leaving as an opportunity to adjust structural design rather than just replace the role. They’re questioning whether outsourcing might provide a better solution and allow internal restructuring, It’s very common in technical departments where specialist expertise is needed quickly, and also in talent management.

What are the challenges associated with this from an HR perspective? What issues does it pose around line management, office culture, brand/identity and onboarding?

The impact on people within the organisation, and the culture. People will feel threatened and insecure if they see people coming and going, and it can have a big impact effect on motivation.

How should contractors, freelancers and gig workers be viewed/treated by HR? Is it realistic to treat them in the same way as employees? Are there risks here too, if such people also work for other organisations?

Their contract of employment is different but if you want your contractors to do a really good job you need to treat them as an extended part of the team. However, you should never lose sight of the fact that they are on a different contract. They need to make sure there’s total clarity of contract and deliverables, including KPIs and measurement, and then communicate that to the line manager who has responsibility for performance. If the contractor isn’t doing what’s expected of them, the whole point is to be able to bring in someone else who can. If HR has to be brought in every time there’s an issue it can have a big impact on resources.

How can HR keep their ever changing ‘outfield’ warm? What needs to be done to ensure people remain engaged and feel involved, even if work can be sporadic?

They should be treated like they’re part of the team – extended workforce as opposed to contractor. Invite them to social things, bring them into meetings about projects they could be involved with, ask their opinion about key issues. This doesn’t’ just ensure people remain engaged, it provides extra insight internally, from someone who has a wider perspective.

What are the implications here for office space and usage? Does this also create challenges for HR, as people are less likely to have their own areas or feel part of a team?

 This really depends on the office model and the options available for permanent employees. For offices with flexible working patterns – flexi-time, the option to work remotely – there will always be a degree of organisation involved. More and more organisations are encouraging remote working to cut down on real estate costs, with teams coming together weekly or even monthly. Contractors should be factored into the equation when it comes to hot desking, remote working and being part of the same meetings and team gatherings.

If offices have a less flexible approach, then temporary solutions should be created to ensure that teams of contractors have their own space by adapting a meeting room or other communal area. It’s also really important to make sure they have access to resources such as password-protected printers and other hardware, and they have the security clearance they need to be able to swipe in and out. There’s nothing that says ‘us and them’ more than having to wait outside in the rain to be buzzed into a building, or asking around the office if someone can print an essential document needed for a client meeting. This means extra work for HR and the security teams in granting and revoking access, but it’s essential to avoid low morale.

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