I attended a seminar recently that covered a range of ‘people’ or human resources topics and I walked away excited by the opportunities that lie ahead.  The speed of change in the modern world is amazing and technology is advancing at a rapid rate.  No longer is the concept of working from home a utopian fantasy for those who are tired of being stuck in traffic on a clogged highway.  The working day doesn’t stop at 5pm anymore.  Companies can work 24/7 through shift work and access to workers in different timezones to keep the wheels of enterprise moving.

The complexity of the human resources function has increased significantly in recent times due to a   range of factors, but I will focus on two trends that are keeping today’s HR leaders challenged.

1)      The Rise of the Contingent WorkforceHand holding a Solutions 3D Sphere

Contingent workforces are expanding rapidly and the ‘job for life’ concept in many parts of the world is dead.  Wikipedia defines a contingent workforce as “a provisional group of workers who work for an organisation on a non-permanent basis, also known as freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, independent contractors or consultants”.

Permanent full time jobs are no longer the norm in many countries.  A range of other options are now available to both workers and employers including hourly rate casual employment, day rate contracting, FIFO rosters, on-call and part time arrangements.  Each of these options may involve a direct employment relationship between the person and the organisation, or may be via some third (or fourth) party such as a recruitment company.

According to a recent Manpower study, Hong Kong continues to be the highest-ranked country for contingent workforce operations in 2014, followed closely by the U.S. and China.  This study measured and tracked the relative ease of sourcing, hiring and retaining contingent workforce in 75 countries.  Australia sits 15th in the 2014 rankings.

 2)      Where the Work Happens – Remote Staffing 

The idea of everyone in the organisation heading into the same location at the same time for work is also a thing of the past.  A lower percentage of an organisations workforce comes into the office or operations site everyday.  More staff are working remotely overseas via a third party outsourcing provider (with India, China and the Philippines as the most popular countries in this area).

Teleworking (such as working from home) or doing some combination of office based, home based and mobile work is also on the increase.  A SIBIS (Statistical Indicators Benchmarking the Information Society) study says that 40 percent of the European Union workforce expresses interest in permanent telework (where practically all working time is spent at home).  According to Esna “64% of employees would sacrifice pay to work from home”.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent some time working from home and it is not all it is cracked up to be… personally I’m much happier in the office engaging with my team, with easier face to face access to customers.

 Real HR issues

The fact is, the way of work is changing and this impacts the role of human resources.  The people challenges faced by today’s HR leaders are huge and increasingly complex.  The seminar I attended raised many questions including:

  • How do you effectively manage a contingent workforce?

 If you are not the direct employer you may have difficulty managing performance and require the assistance of a third party provider, but this is often not practical.  Having been a specialist Temporary Consultant in my past, I’ve handled performance discussions with temporary employees on behalf of my client.  This is part of the job, but can be tricky because I’m not physically working with the employee and don’t see the performance issues first hand.

  • Where does the workers loyalty lie? 

My dad worked for General Motors for much of his career and he was a GM man through and through.  In this case his loyalty was to the brand and this was simple and clear cut.  But in today’s working world a workers loyalty might not necessarily be with their host employer, but rather with the agency or third party who legally employs them and places them from job to job.  Their loyalty may be to their personal brand, particularly if they are a professional contractor who secures each new project role through their reputation and networks.  It might be to their union who is seen to represent their working rights.

  •  How do you keep in touch with people who work at different times and in different locations to their manager? 

I directly manage staff in three cities across two countries with multiple timezones.  My working day starts two hours earlier than some of my team so I face challenges in running group-wide meetings that neatly align for everyone.  Not to mention the cultural challenges of managing the performance of people who live in a different social, economic and political environment.

Whether your organisation embraces HR, tries to pretend it doesn’t exist, or lies somewhere in between, the people challenges in today’s working world are changing.  How your organisation recruits, trains, manages performance, remunerates and terminates staff will be determined more and more by the rise of the temporary/contract workforce and the geographic location of where they work.

Ben Walsh – General Manager; Recruitment

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