Digital Services

Building An On-Demand Workforce

Building An On-Demand Workforce

Back in the day, the workforce, as far as businesses were concerned, were full-time employees dedicated to working at the site of the business. It was a permanent reservoir of workers that did the tasks that the executives of the business wanted them to perform. New employees would be hired with the idea that they would stay with the company for a long period of time and work their way up to higher-level jobs that required the use of their experience to achieve tasks. Periodic recessions would require the companies to lay off workers who would then be re-hired when the economy was humming again.

With the advent of the computer and Internet, a new workforce was created. Workers were free from working for just one company. Instead, they took on assignments for a number of companies and worked remotely from their home or office. Once the projects were complete, the workers would go on to work for other companies. In some cases, this workforce, known as freelancers, would hook up with a company for more long-term jobs. Many freelancers would be hired and then laid off and later re-hired by the same companies that they had started to build a trusting relationship with when the business had a need for them.

The arrangement was fine with both parties. It allowed businesses to supplement its permanent workforce when needed without requiring them to provide such benefits as health insurance, matched pension plans, paid vacations, child care, and more. It worked for the freelancer because he or she could take on a number of jobs with a plethora of businesses providing an opportunity that they could earn more money than they would in a full-time, permanent job with just one employer. They were also allowed to pursue other endeavors and perhaps further their education as they plied their trade.

It has been estimated that there are from about 20 million (about 12% of the workforce) to 57 million (more than a third of the workforce) freelancers working in the United States.

In the beginning, freelancers would hustle for such jobs; perhaps hook on with a company that became familiar with them due to jobs they were performing for other companies. Back then, there were no platforms on the Internet that assisted freelancers in hooking them up with employers. That didn’t start to appear until after 2000.

According to a report by the Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work and the Boston Consulting Group, in 2009 there were just 80 such platforms. Today, there are more than 330. During the 11 years since 2009, businesses have become more trusting of the use of freelance workers due to the development of these digital talent platforms. The Harvard report also surveyed about 700 senior business leaders at U.S. companies and note that:

It is apparent that changes in technology and demographics as well as economic uncertainties, have made more and more companies evolve at how they look at their workforce. They have become more open to the creation of a more flexible, blended workforce that allows them to expand or contract their use of highly skilled workers as the need arises.

This change in philosophy has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has shown that businesses can rely on employees who work at home remotely.

A Strategic Approach To An On-Demand Workforce

Due to changes that have occurred since 2000 and the recent influences of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies have had an opportunity to experiment on their workforce and it has caused a shift in the business model toward a strategic approach to the development of a new workforce –- an on-demand workforce. The new on-demand workforce relies on the digital talent technology platforms not only to utilize outside the company talent, but also to enhance hidden capabilities of their full-time employees.  Companies are discovering that if talent from outside the organization can enhance capability, then there is value to tapping the digital talent platforms to improve the capability of the embedded core of workers within a business.

Interviews with representatives from the talent platforms were also involved in the development of the Harvard report. These interviews have found that business clients of these platforms are showing a growing interest in hiring talent for one-off engagements with frontline managers and longer-term connection with senior management.

Demographic Shifts Signify A Challenging Future

According to the U.S. Census, by 2034, Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber children for the first time in history. It is evident that businesses will be dealing with mass retirements and the aging of their workforce.

Moreover, there are more demands on today’s workforce than ever before. As many as 47% of middle-aged Americans have to deal with an elderly parent and a dependent child. In addition, a report by the HBS Project on Managing the Future of Work discovered that 82% of employees who have to care for a family member felt that obligation effected their productivity at work. As many as 32% of surveyed employees admitted that they had to leave a job due to their care responsibilities. Women are taking on a disproportionate amount of family-care obligations that prevent them from working. In 2018, 23% of children were being raised by a single mother, up from 8% in 1960.

Digital talent platforms provide an opportunity for people with these challenges to work.

Meanwhile, most recently due to the Covid-19 pandemic, companies have been forced to rely on a remote workforce. This has resulted in companies investing more in new technologies to manage operations. And this has caused them to turn to a blending of their full-time employees and independent freelancers to reduce costs or close gaps.

Is Business Ready For The Transition?

According to the Harvard report, CEOs have a rosy picture of their company’s use of talent platforms. However, executives occupying upper management jobs are less optimistic about their company’s ability to transition toward an on-demand workforce.

To ensure that the transition to an on-demand workforce is successful, changes will have to be made to today’s business model. These changes include:

Redefining The Culture Of The Company

Full-time employees will have to be more flexible in their relationship with part-time and freelance employees.  They need to learn to trust a total stranger.

Rethinking The Employee Value Position

A company must train their full-time workforce to willing transfer work to and from outside employees. The full-time workforce must support the outside workers. This can be encouraged with incentives that reward managers for making effective use of freelancers. Companies should also explain the benefits of working with outside talent.

Restructuring Work Into Components

Teams need to learn to break down work into distinct tasks and to interact with each other to minimize ambiguities.

Reassessing The Capabilities Within A Business

In order to incorporate outside workers with an inside workforce, human resources departments should develop a portfolio of the skills necessary for an outside talent to perform well. To do this, you should identify the talent the company has and the capabilities it will need in the future. This will help in coming up with the proper blend between in-house and outsourced workers.

Rewiring Organizational Policies And Processes

Clearly articulate company policies and procedures.


Using digital talent platforms assists a company in molding their workforce to respond to challenges that arise in the marketplace. On-demand workers also assist companies to tap skills that they don’t have with their inside staff, thus broadening the capabilities of the entire business.