Could Covid-19 Change the Way We Think about Contingent Workers?

By John Alana Director, Global Solutions, KellyOCG

John Alana explores the ways that the coronavirus could accelerate a move towards a more flexible workforce.

Over the last few years, the concept of work has slowly but steadily shifted. As the gig-economy gathered pace and the technology to enable remote working across industries became normalized, the concept of a permanent role in a permanent location began to feel outdated. Millennials and Gen Z were rejecting the rat race in increasing numbers and more organizations were turning to the human cloud for specialist skills. But despite the changing work landscape, no one could have been prepared for the pain that Covid-19 would bring. On a human, societal, and economic level, the pandemic has wrought incredible destruction in just a few weeks. Remote working has become the new normal for many workers, while others have been left displaced or are in precarious positions as a result of illness or measures to combat the spread of the disease. But what does this upheaval mean for the contingent economy, particularly inside the Life Sciences sector? I explore the changing nature and increasing importance of the contingent workforce in the current climate below.

The Importance of Scalability

For employers, the current pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for workforce scalability offered by contingent talent and flexible contingent solutions. With some finding a huge upswing on orders – across the pharma and medical device industries – and others seeing demand dwindle to almost nothing. I have spoken to business leaders who have had to make heartbreaking decisions to reduce their permanent headcount and impact families and communities, while others are urgently looking to fill roles to manufacture vital products and devices. Those who are able to scale up and down flexibly have been able to weather the Covid-19 storm much more successfully. While contingent workers engaged through MSPs or other flexible solutions have been able to more easily access work in those areas where demand is booming. The current crisis has served as a stark reminder that agility in times of organizational stress is vital. 

Seeing the Value in Contingent Work

Contingent workers are carrying out some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs around the world right now from supporting the most vulnerable in care homes to manufacturing critical medical supplies, and cleaning and maintaining overwhelmed healthcare facilities. Despite the changing work landscape of the last few years, there has been a lingering bias that perm work somehow equals the most valuable work. I hope that after the dust has settled, we can all appreciate the incredible support that this global contingent workforce has offered and re-examine the ways we provide access to meaningful work, rewards, and benefits. 

A shift towards contingent, freelance, and gig working was already underway in a pre-pandemic world. We will have to wait and see how the landscape evolves as we move through the crisis and out the other side. Whatever happens, it seems unlikely that work (or life) will ever be the same again.