Accommodating a liquid workforce

How to create the right workspace for the blend of freelance and full-time employees

The rise of the liquid workforce is transforming the way people work together, with demand soaring for freelance services and a growing pool of talent ready to supply it. Over the past five years, the number of contingent, “on-demand” workers has spiked, now comprising roughly 30 percent of the U.S. workforce. And yet, full-time talent recruitment and retention remain a vital part of the equation, considering clear benefits such as institutional knowledge and long-term employee engagement.

So, how can we offer the right workspaces for this blended, liquid workforce?

First, let’s consider the factors that brought these together. By understanding freelance and full-time team members’ various needs and values, you can revamp your workplace strategy to ensure everyone has a place.

The roots of our increasingly liquid workforce

We’re living in a time of profound social and technological change. Many people are craving more autonomy in their work, which can make freelance work’s flexibility highly appealing.

At the same time, geopolitical and economic uncertainty are pressuring organizations to become more agile. Since the global economic crisis, businesses have had to become more competitive. Demand for shorter product lifecycles and converging industries is forcing continual innovation.

As a result of these converging trends, the “Hollywood Model” of enlisting on-demand workers for specific projects is taking off in multiple industries. After all, it’s a win-win when a team of willing experts can be hired to swoop in and innovate, then swoop back out whenever they like. With this model, you can avoid healthcare costs and other employee benefits, and ramp up or pull back on spending more easily than with a full bench of salaried employees.

They may not be long-term collaborators, but freelancers can make a meaningful contribution to the project — and organization as a whole — when they’re set up to succeed alongside their full-time colleagues.

Workplace strategies to empower the whole team

A blend of workers needs a variety of workspace options. But how can you create a flexible workspace without making people feel displaced? What mix of work areas will best empower freelancers without sacrificing a sense of ownership for full-timers?

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, one core tenet to workplace design for a liquid workforce exists: Offer a boundary-less workplace. Stuffy, boxy workspaces are out, and so are desk assignments. Winning at the future of work depends on enabling every worker to work in the right place at the right time.

Here are some key considerations in designing a flexible, inspiring workplace:

1. Offer a vibrant workplace hub.

The modern worker craves choice — and that includes choice of space within a collaboration-friendly headquarters. This means offering a mix of touchdown space, hot-desking and collaboration zones alongside easy-to-reserve private conference rooms and other quiet areas for heads-down work.

The central location is ground zero for showcasing your organization’s culture, which can instill pride in full-timers and at the same time, viscerally engage freelancers who are only there for a short time. That dual benefit is important, considering nearly 60 percent of CEOs say having the right culture is the most important ingredient for successful innovation.

2. Manage uncertainty with workspace planning.

Old real estate planning models were based on the ratio of people, to desks, to square feet. That kind of thinking isn’t going to cut it anymore. Now savvy workplace strategy is no longer based on simple formulas, but instead, curating spaces that will drive experience, empower workers and ultimately further organizational goals.

“To plan ahead, use analytics to understand and predict the ebb and flow of HR needs.”

To tailor the right spaces, begin by evaluating the need. Ask these questions: What are the different daily tasks that go on in each section of the office? Will freelancers and full-timers vie for the same space?

Study work practices, using tools like seat sensor data as well as employee surveys, to establish which needs are currently being met and which ones aren’t. From there, you can map out the best way to configure existing space and determine whether more or less of it is needed. Naturally, specific needs will vary — depending on the department or project. For example, sales teams will often be out on calls, potentially requiring less full-time desk space than people on the accounting team, who will more often be working at their desks.

One simple way to set up for success is to choose adjustable, portable furniture, such as foldable desks and chairs, filing units that double as informal chat chairs, and sound-absorbing privacy panels.

To plan further ahead, use analytics to understand and predict the ebb and flow of HR needs. With such insights, you’ll have a better sense of how much change you’ll need to accommodate people over time. This can also help you determine how much flexible, unassigned space to provide, so that you can comfortably handle more people when needed, but also prevent an atmosphere of emptiness when they’re not.

3. Empower offsite work from anywhere, anytime.

Having quality choices at  HQ is important, but it doesn’t satisfy the people’s growing need to work outside the office. According to a JLL research, 54 percent of people work at home at least five days a month, and 33.6 percent work regularly at other places like cafes or coworking spaces.

Quality, connected offsite work is becoming easier to do every day with plentiful collaboration enablers such as Skype, DropBox, Jabber and Hadoop. Whether you offer access to a coworking space like WeWork, or simply support their desire to work from home or their favorite coffee shop, flexibility options pay off in terms of freelancer and full-timer satisfaction alike. According to a survey, 7 out of 10 HR leaders now use workplace flexibility programs as a recruiting and retention tool.

4. Cross-pollinate HR, workplace and technology goals.

A large body of research shows that high performance connected technology benefits the employee experience. For example, in addition to tech-enabled remote working options cited above, automatic lighting and personalized temperature control options help ensure full-timer comfort — and are also simple ways that incoming contractors can make themselves at home.

When real estate, technology and HR teams work together, they can better support different teams and styles of workers, whether they are working side by side, on-site or remotely.

No talent left behind

There is no longer a gold standard for how, or where, we deploy talent. Freelance and full-time contributors have their place and it’s our responsibility to ensure that they are accommodated for in the workplace.

So don’t forget: to inspire this newly blended workforce, remember to blend your spaces, too.

Want more? Talk to the team