A blended workforce is a staffing model that uses a combination of permanent employees and independent workers to meet the unique staffing needs of an organization.
For many organizations, a blended workforce looks like a core group of permanent, part-time and full-time employees supplemented by contingent workers including:
- Seasonal workers
- On-call workers
- Other temporary workers
A blended workforce can also be a hybrid workforce, consisting of office-based workers and remote workers split across geographic and time zones.
The blended workforce has become an increasingly popular staffing model, especially during the pandemic. Currently, 35% of U.S. workers are involved in the gig economy in some way. A contributing factor to this is the development of a range of technologies to support blended and hybrid workforces.
Advantages of a blended workforce
A blended workforce presents opportunities for both employers and contingent workers.
- Increased agility. A blended workforce allows employers to scale up or downsize their workforce in response to fluctuating labor demands. By using a mix of contractors, freelancers, consultants, and other temporary workers to adjust staffing levels, employers can meet changing business, customer, and industry demands. Temporary workers are only hired for the time or project they’re needed for, while a degree of continuity is maintained by the organization’s permanent workforce.
- Access to a diverse workforce. The ability to hire different types of workers gives employers access to a diverse workforce in terms of skills, experience, and background. Employers open to remote work have access to top talent around the world. This widened talent pool brings fresh perspectives to an organization with highly experienced workers willing to share their knowledge.
- Greater access to specialized skills. A blended workforce allows employers to directly hire workers with the specialized skills an organization can’t provide in-house. This is ideal for filling skill gaps on a new project.
- Potential cost savings. Employers are typically not required to offer the same benefits to contingent workers as permanent employees, such as health insurance and vacation and sick leave. On top of this, many contingent workers work remotely, saving an organization the associated costs of maintaining a physical office.
- Flexible working conditions. Contingent workers can often choose their location, schedule, and working relationships. This higher level of autonomy can lead to a better work-life balance and higher levels of engagement.
- Greater choice of employer. Contingent workers also have a greater choice and variety when it comes to their employer and the type of work they will undertake. This gives them a higher degree of control when seeking the professional experiences they want.
- Higher earning capacity. Contingent workers can typically charge more for their work, to take into account the costs of self-employment and their specialized skill set, as well as compensating them for the temporary nature of their contract.
Disadvantages of a blended workforce
A blended workforce can also present challenges, especially for employers.
- Disengagement. One of the main concerns with a blended workforce is potentially higher levels of disengagement from temporary workers. Contingent workers may feel they receive less feedback than full-time employees and are generally out of the loop on organizational issues. Contingent workers have fewer relationships with an organization.
This directly impacts their motivation and productivity. Over time, there’s a risk that a blended workforce could end up costing an employer more, despite initial cost savings.
- Managing remote workers. For managers, effectively coordinating a blended team often means managing individuals across multiple time zones and locations, which can present practical challenges.
- Higher turnover. Due to their increased flexibility and lower level of commitment to an organization, contingent workers are less likely to stay with one employer long-term.
- Complex compliance issues. It’s essential to correctly classify workers to ensure they receive the benefits and protections they’re entitled to. Misclassifying a temporary worker as an employee—and vice versa—can lead to significant tax, financial, and legal implications for an employer.
How to manage and engage a blended workforce
With these challenges in mind, there are several steps you can take to effectively hire, manage, and engage a blended workforce.
Develop a blended workforce strategy
A blended workforce strategy identifies workforce planning needs and which roles can be filled with permanent vs contingent workers. This helps you make proactive—rather than reactive—hiring decisions, reducing the risk of bad hires and their associated costs.
Use a mix of hiring strategies
When hiring a blended workforce, you may need to use different hiring methods and channels to access different types of workers. For example, given the short-term nature of their employment with the organization, you could use an online recruitment platform to streamline the hiring process for contingent workers.
Set clear expectations
Setting clear expectations—especially around availability, work schedules, and remote work arrangements—from the outset ensures all workers are on the same page, regardless of their classification.
Offer permanent employees and contingent workers the same benefits
To engage your entire workforce, ensure both permanent employees and contingent workers are offered the same non-monetary benefits, where possible. This might include offering flexible work arrangements and greater autonomy to your permanent employees while providing your contingent workers with more regular feedback.
Ensure you give all employees—permanent and temporary—the choice to participate in any reward and recognition program you run, as well as training and development opportunities.
Ensure effective communication
Given the different needs of a blended workforce, especially a hybrid one, you need to ensure all employees can communicate effectively with each other. Online chat apps are a good way to connect both permanent and contingent employees.
Focus on creating an inclusive workplace culture
Building an inclusive workplace culture by including permanent employees and contingent workers equally in its processes encourages cohesion and teamwork. Onboarding is a useful tool for this. While your delivery method may change, the content of your onboarding should be the same for all employees when it comes to topics like the organization’s culture and values. An effective onboarding process also builds loyalty to an organization from day one regardless of whether an employee is permanent or temporary.
By using a blended workforce of both permanent employees and temporary workers, organizations can remain agile when it comes to responding to their staffing needs. Employers should use a combination of strategies to manage a blended workforce to ensure all employees remain engaged, regardless of their status.