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On-Demand Staffing Platforms

Naveed Usman

October 25, 2019

For many professionals, online hiring platforms are re-shaping the nature of work and significantly transforming how employers source and hire skilled workers. In the growing gig economy, more and more organizations — from retail and hospitality to technology firms and  creative agencies — are outsourcing their functional tasks and assembling virtual and temporary staff and teams to meet the demands of an unpredictable and highly dynamic work schedule on an as-needed basis. They’re also using digital staffing apps like ShiftGig, Upwork, Wonolo, and Workpop to match skilled workers with specific tasks and assignments on-demand. 

The advantages for employers to rely on these platforms extend beyond the ability to find the right candidates. These platforms also make it quicker and cheaper to find and place qualified candidates to fill specific roles for temporary assignments. It typically takes six to eight weeks to hire through traditional staffing agencies, company ads or personal referrals. Whereas a platform, according to a recent study by the University of Oxford, can significantly reduce the search-to-hire process to under a week. The Oxford study also found that workers hired through platforms delivered similar or higher-quality work compared to their counterparts hired through conventional sourcing channels.

Healthcare is no exception. Increasingly, hospitals and other healthcare providers are recognizing that leveraging a contingent workforce — that is, freelancers, independent contractors and consultants who are not on the company’s payroll — can have enormous benefits.

The U.S. will need to hire 2.3 million new health staff workers by 2025 to meet the needs of our aging population, according to a study by workforce consultant Mercer. This includes highly trained professionals like doctors, dentists, lab technicians and nurses, as well as home health aides who play a vital role in a patient’s daily care. 

Temporary staffing in healthcare is big business – the 43 largest traditional staffing agencies in the US generated over $11.3 billion in temp healthcare staffing revenue in 2017 alone, according to a study by Staffing Industry Analysts. It is also costly and time-consuming for hospitals, in the form of higher wages and fees for finding and placing skilled workers, and higher on-boarding costs (turnover costs are $60,000 on average for each full-time nurse).

Other industries have been experimenting with on-demand platforms, with interesting results. For years, job seekers in the creative services industry have found inventive ways to accommodate plug-and-play workers. For creatives competing in an on-demand environment, such platforms have matured to support a more turn-key solution. It gives you work, a vehicle for collaborating remotely, manages your time, rates your performance and even cuts you a check. And we’ve been complicit in this transition – all in the name of efficient markets. So long as we can use our skills to earn a living, creatives frequent these online platforms, seeking opportunities that might allow them to maintain a comfortable work/life balance. For every project they successfully complete, it proves that the platform works. Employers get the right expert resources to complete a project affordably. Workers get paid on an as needed basis and on their own terms. The new value proposition serves each side of the market exceptionally well. Rinse and repeat.  

But for all this efficiency, organizations and professionals risk paying a steep price. What often gets missed in these transactions is the team-building required to produce great work. While these platforms effectively match the tangible dimensions of a worker such as skills, rates and past performance, they miss the larger picture around motivations, personalities and the intangible soft-skill attributes on which effective teams are built. Those attributes include the ability to communicate clearly, be adaptable and flexible, collaborate with others, and solve problems. 

Can an algorithm effectively select for personality traits and a diversity of perspectives that mesh well together and can build the kind of trust, chemistry and rapport necessary for dynamically built teams to thrive? Moreover, how can effective collaboration occur where team members have never worked together before, work in disparate locations, and may never have any real human contact with each other? 

There are practices organizations can adopt to successfully manage and get the best work from  on-demand teams. Eight Ways To Build Collaborative Teams, published in 2007 in the Harvard Business Review, is still relevant today in its outline of what makes adhoc team leads successful and how humans (and more importantly, algorithms) can use common HR practices and pre-defined shared values that will add a richer, and sorely-needed layer of team compatibility into the candidate selection process.

These platforms go beyond matching the right candidates for open positions. With predictive analytics, they can also be used to manage, measure and anticipate productivity. Imagine a day when the system can recognize gaps in staffing, evaluate the capacity of existing staff and identify the attributes of the jobs needing to be filled. 

How do you use platforms to source workers, or find work opportunities? We really want to know. If you’ve got two minutes, please take our short survey.