Here’s a quick riddle: What do Apple, JetBlue, Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and IBM all have in common? Success? Money? Longevity? You’re close. The answer is twofold:
- They survived the Great Recession of 2008.
- They used a hybrid workforce to do so.
These business giants understood a simple, core truth: genuine agility is built on an agile workforce. In the twists and turns of the frothing, white-water modern business environment, you need the ability to plunge more—or fewer—oars in the water to make it around the next bend while avoiding the rocks. Using hybrid workforces, Apple and IBM kept computing, JetBlue and Lockheed Martin kept flying—and Amazon kept alive and then proceeded to change, and dominate, the world of commerce.
The rest of the business world is following the footsteps of these recession survivors. More than 36 percent of the U.S. workforce consisted of freelancers in 2017. And this is just the beginning: the number is predicted to surge to 50.9 percent within seven years. This begs another question: Why do tech giants, aerospace companies, retail revolutionaries, and other recession survivors turn to a hybrid workforce? This answer is also twofold:
- Lightning-fast agility
- The freedom to scale
Hybrid Workforces Add Speed to Agility
In reality, virtually any company can change. The problem is, the change often takes too long. By the time all the pieces are in place, the window of opportunity has closed on your fingers. Meeting the challenge of capitalizing on small but fruitful windows of opportunity is one of the reasons hybrid workforces are becoming the norm.
For example, Amazon was fueled not by a grassroots, populist, commercial uprising but by an innovative concept: bypass brick and mortar. Deploying the tech to make this happen required less time than ingenuity. But deploying the personnel to manage the growth could have taken decades. Finding the money to pay for the new office spaces, management personnel, recruitment processes, and gargantuan real estate acquisitions needed to house thousands of new in-house staff could have sunk the ship. But with a hybrid workforce, the titanic retailer was able to turn on a dime. In a short time, Amazon has been able to provide customer support to millions of new customers across multiple business sectors,—thanks, in part, to its flexible workforce.
Agility on the Fly: Light on Your Feet, Heavy on Innovation
It’s not just the big dogs that use a hybrid workforce to accelerate agility. The principles work well for businesses of all sizes, especially when innovation opportunities—or necessities—arise. In some cases, a company can take several quarters or even years to launch a new product or adjust for a new target market. But in today’s business world, time is a luxury. You have to be light on your feet, especially when you have to innovate or adjust on the fly.
For example, during the 2008 financial crash, small businesses that survived often had to change their products or services in small yet significant innovative ways. Everyone from tech companies to delivery services to general contractors took a second look at what they offered. Some contractors, for instance, switched their focus from high-end, luxury remodeling to roofing services. Tech companies have launched similar, more customer-accessible initiatives that come in at lower price points but still make enough to keep the company solvent. Regardless of the change, innovation is needed to help it fit into a viable business model. During the recession, it would have taken too long to train existing staff how to do new things, so successful small businesses quickly turned to a hybrid workforce. This empowered them to quickly turn their ideas into profits by recruiting the right people with the right talent.
The Freedom to Scale: Flexibility for the Win
The hiring process for a hybrid workforce allows for flexibility that was previously inaccessible. With a traditional in-house workforce system, new hires are often picked based on their skill sets. The hope is that each skill set will, eventually, match a task that has to be performed. With enough specific training and general orientation, this model does work well. After a while, the company can scale its workforce upward by repeating this process again and again. But if your objective is to scale up in order have specific, revenue-generating tasks performed or crucial support roles filled, there’s a better way.
Hiring freelancers gives managers the freedom to scale in less time, spending less resources and having less of an impact on the workflow of others. New team members for a hybrid workforce can be brought on in these few steps:
- Identifying a need that requires more staff
- Accessing a diverse pool of talent to find someone who has already done that specific task
- Hiring the person and providing minor instruction to help them get up to speed
The process can be repeated easily with several people at once or executed in phases. The turnaround time from when a freelancer is hired to when they are producing effectively for the organization is shorter because they have already been identified as someone with the requisite skills. Introducing them to elements of the company’s culture and vision is merely icing on the cake.
Scaling Down with a Hybrid Workforce
Scaling down is similarly more straightforward. In fact, the ability to scale down quickly is facilitated before the need even arises—if you have a hybrid workforce. When freelancers make up a significant number of your workers, you have a large group of people who are ready for and accustomed to their talents being used on an as-needed basis. If the work dries up, they don’t expect to be paid just to stay on or to be trained in a new skill so they can meet a different need.
On the other side of the table, as a manager with a hybrid workforce, you don’t have an obligation to provide severance pay or negotiate a termination period. You can pause the professional relationship until things pick back up again. The scaling process—up or down—happens free from the obligations of providing for a permanent position.
When the next seismic change will happen is no riddle. The answer is now, even though the world is in the midst of reckoning with how elemental this change will be. But be encouraged: with the examples of how well a hybrid workforce has worked in the recent past, business owners can follow in the steps of the world’s best change-managers and still succeed.