2021 State of contingent workforce [Full interview video]

From recruitment tactics to the pandemic to automation, Dr. Heather Myers (Traitify by Paradox) and Brian Hoffmeyer (Beeline) examine the state of the contingent workforce in 2021.



Connect with the experts:
Heather Myers, Ph.D. - heather.myers@paradox.ai, Heather Myers, Ph.D.
Brian Hoffmeyer - hoff@beeline.com, Brian Hoffmeyer, homechefhoff

To learn how Traitify by Paradox can help you attract, select, and engage contingent workers, connect with us!



HEATHER: Hi everyone, I'm so excited to be here today. I'm Heather Myers, the Chief Psychology Officer from Traitify, and I have with me today Brian Hoffmeyer from Beeline. Brian, would you like to introduce yourself?

BRIAN: Sure Heather, thanks for having me today. So hi everyone, Brian Hoffmeyer. I work for Beeline. Beeline is an extended workforce platform designed to manage the end-to-end process for finding, engaging, paying, and reporting on all types of non-employee or contract labor. You can think of us as a mash-up, if you will, of HR software, procurement software, and applicant tracking software. We fulfill all of those kinds of things, and we help our clients manage this business-critical part of their workforce. The non-employee workforce set at large companies can comprise up to 20-25% of the total workforce and is absolutely critical to our clients, in terms of getting their product out the door, no matter what that product does. So Beeline helps them do a number of things: get higher quality, achieve cost-savings, achieve compliance, any number of exciting benefits. I have the privilege of managing Beeline's partner ecosystem, which includes partners like Traitify, that help our clients achieve more with this contingent workforce.

HEATHER: Excellent, thank you so much, and it's been such a fun partnership for us as well to kind of venture into the contingent workspace a little bit more. But first things first, now I've heard rumor that you're one heck of a cook here. So I have to know what kinds of things do you like to make? What are your favorite things?

BRIAN: Well, thank you for that compliment, I try. I do love to cook and love to host people for dinner. In life in general I guess I'm a pretty varied guy, I like a lot of different things and that's certainly true of cooking. My cooking tends to be pretty seasonal, but one big area of passion has been tacos recently. About a year ago now, I started what I call my "taco project" where I'm making a different taco every Taco Tuesday for a year, and so I am now 49 weeks into that, have three weeks to go. And I've stuck to my guns, and I've made — so far — 49 unique tacos over that time with no real repeats. And what I've discovered is: tacos are incredibly varied. You can put a lot of things in a tortilla and call it a taco. So I've had a lot of fun with that, though I will say that my wife is looking forward to not being absolutely tied to having tacos every single Tuesday.

HEATHER: Yes, I'm sure. Although, I have seen some of your tacos on social media, and have tried one or two, and they are pretty tasty.

BRIAN: Thank you.

HEATHER: So we appreciate the good work, and it's been fun. So what made you get into the kind of space of the contingent workforce — sort of switching gears. What's your background and what ended you—what landed you here?

BRIAN: Yeah, I've worked for Beeline for over 16 years now, which is kind of ironic that in our industry people tend to stick around for a really long time, in an industry that's helping manage work that is very temporary in nature.


BRIAN: But it's sort of one of those things that happens. I've been privileged to have just a really long career with Beeline doing a number of different things. Before I was here I did have a background in software and product management and that's how I started at Beeline was within product management, and then over the last 16 years I kind of lost count of the number of actual jobs that I've had. But they've all been really focused on helping our clients and our partners get the most out of our software, and ultimately meet their goals regarding contingent workforce. And I think that's what's kept me energized, is it's just there's so much work to do, and there's so many challenges regarding this critical part of the workforce. One other thing, we've got 300-some odd clients—325 clients, and one of the things that I—you know—sort of a saying that people have heard me use it a lot of times and my team probably gets sick of me saying, is that the only things that's the same about our clients is that they're all unique. And you know, they all have their unique needs, they come from different verticals, they have different goals they're trying to achieve, different corporate cultures that they have, and all that plays into how they use contingent workforce and what their strategic and tactical goals are. So that makes sticking around pretty exciting.

HEATHER: And I think that's a really good point that it really is true that every business thinks they're unique, but in this case, they really are unique, and it's all about what their goals are, what their needs are. Now for those in our audience who might not be familiar with the term "contingent workforce" (I know for us it's easy to get into the jargon), how would you define that for them and explain really what you mean by the "contingent workforce?"

BRIAN: Yeah, it's a great question because it is a varied definition. I remember a presentation a couple of years ago. We created a word cloud that showed all of the different terms that our clients use for the contingent workforce, and it was a busy word cloud. There were a lot of different words up there. So you hear "contractor," "temporary," "contingent," "gig worker," "consultant," "independent contractor," — you know, and then you know — there's regional and country-specific variations in what they call these things. And they all have different perceived, or even real legal meanings. But most broadly, when we talk about the contingent — or more commonly we're trying to use the word "extended" workforce these days, it's anybody that does work for a company that's not an employee of that company, right? So they don't have an employment agreement with that company and in what the big difference is is that the engagement has a defined start and end date. In today's world — it's a whole other conversation, I don't believe anybody is truly a permanent employee, because most people move companies very regularly — but people that are employees have a start date, but you don't have a defined end date. People that we're talking about, the workers that our system manages always have a defined start date and end date, but there's many different ways that companies engage with them. They're engaged as individuals to augment a team, maybe you know somebody's out on extended leave, or for a special project where there's a skillset missing and a manager's like, "I need somebody with this development skill, a java developer," or what have you, that also engaged in groups under statement of work-kind of engagements where a company says, "I'm going to outsource the development of a new website to this external third party, and I'm not paying people on an individual basis. I'm paying a firm maybe based on deliverables." But what's common is its people delivering that work. It also varies in terms of the kind of people, ranging from people that are working in a warehouse picking and packing boxes at a distribution center all the way up to very high-end IT consultants. There's a very big range. It does include things that are sort of popular buzzwords like gig workers.

HEATHER: So a very defined job that someone's hired for to do, and that can span a lot of industries and a lot of types of work. It's really more about kind of the finite quality of the work.

BRIAN: Yeah, very much so. It does. Our clients come from every industry vertical out there, you know, as well as every geography. We operate in 100-some odd countries around the world in all the major verticals. The ways companies use contingent labor does vary for vertical to vertical, and even from company to company, because you know one of the big drivers we'd be really remiss not to talk about is that sometimes it's not up to the company to decide how they're going to engage a particular worker because in certain skill sets it's the worker themselves that are saying, "You know, hey, we want to work in this way. We like the variety it gives us, in terms of, doing a three-month project and then taking a month off and moving on to another three-month project." In many highly-in-demand skill sets, it's the worker who gets to decide.

HEATHER: And do you think that changes the way we recruit, for sort of a traditional employee versus the contingent workforce?

BRIAN: In my view, not a ton. You know, maybe where there's less commonality is — and I know we're going to talk about this a bit — is in what we call high-volume staffing. In that world, you know, maybe it's a distribution center for a retailer and they run an advertisement that has a bigger than expected response, and they get tons of orders. And you know they find out that on a Sunday night at 8 p.m. that they've got this massive order that has to be shipped on Monday. They literally need 40 more people Monday morning, that's kind of a different process.

HEATHER: So maybe we can shift gears a little bit to what the current state of the contingent workforce, or the extended workforce, really is. I mean, obviously, there are pain points that exist, so what are you seeing in terms of the typical pain points right now with this workforce?

BRIAN: Yeah, great question. I think there's a couple, and there's a lot. First and foremost, many large organizations simply don't have a good handle on who their extended workers are. There's an analyst firm that we work with, it that does an annual survey, where they ask their respondents, "What percentage of non-employee workforce workers are accounted for in any of your corporate systems?" And over the last few years the number—the percentage has hovered around 50%, and so this workforce is growing and companies aren't making progress at dealing with the problem. And so, when they say "well-accounted for" in corporate systems, they're saying just, "Do you know who these people are, and what they're doing, and what you're paying them, and where they are?" Right? And so a lot of companies can't answer these very basic questions about this critical part of their workforce. It would be astounding if I were lucky enough to be the Chief Human Resources officer of a large company, and my boss came to me and said, "How many employees do we have?" and I couldn't answer that question both quickly and relatively accurately, I probably wouldn't be employed for very long. But somehow it's okay in this critical part of the workforce to not be able to answer that basic question. And if you can't answer that basic question, you can't answer the truly important questions of like, "How should work get done within our organization? What should be the mix of employees and contractors?"—you know—"I've got this need. How should I best meet it? Am I getting more quality per dollar for my employees versus my contractors." All those kinds of more interesting questions, so that's a big problem. I think another one that we're very focused on is that too often — and this is changing, and it's a welcome change — but too often the contingent workforce has been treated like a procurement problem.

HEATHER: Oh, interesting.

BRIAN: Rather than a talent problem. So, certainly when I got into this industry, but even more recently than that, HR and talent acquisition often didn't want anything to do with this part of the workforce. They're like, "That's procurement's problem. You're just going to manage the suppliers who are the employers of these people and treat them like suppliers. And that in our view isn't correct. You know it's very easy to say, "I'm a manager and I need some new Sharpies," right? And I order a box of sharpies and they come in and I'm like, "Yep, that's 12 black Sharpies," and I'm good to go. It's much harder to say, "I need a project manager with these skill sets." It's really hard to know, "Okay, I'm looking at five candidates. Who is the best fit?" And then ultimately I make that decision, and then is that person truly as advertised, right? And are they truly delivering? And so, if we can deliver tools to our clients that help do that, that's huge. And so I—and we are seeing more and more HR and talent acquisition involvement in the contingent workforce, because they've realized that, "This is 20% of my workforce. I can't afford to ignore it." And one thing I should be really clear, if any of my procurement friends end up listening to this, I'm not saying procurement isn't important. It's incredibly important. We think that a blend of those skill sets—because procurement's great at managing contracts and suppliers and all those kinds of things, and HR's great at managing people.

HEATHER: Yeah, I think that's really important to kind of get the confluence of those two things, as opposed to just firmly seeding it in either one. Obviously, our world has changed so much—right—recently, through the global pandemic, and I'm curious as to how this has impacted the industries that you see. Because clearly it's impacted different Industries in different ways.

BRIAN: If there's a silver lining of the global pandemic—I mean actually, I think there's a number, because it's been remarkable to see how the world and humans have come together to innovate on things like vaccines.

HEATHER: Absolutely.

BRIAN: But companies have realized that they need to know who their contingent workers are. You know, are they safe? Are they healthy? Can they work remotely? So we saw a big uptick in companies sort of asking those questions, and realizing they need to get their hands — to my earlier point about one of the common pain points — around this contingent workforce. And then they had to start answering questions about things like remote work, because typically, even if an organization allowed their employees to work remotely, contractors weren't, right? And so at the start of the pandemic there was this shift of like, "Oh my god, what do we do? How do we get them the equipment?" And all these kinds of things, right?


BRIAN: Two probably interesting examples. One is life sciences. You know a lot of our Pharmaceutical clients had to very quickly staff up to literally do things like develop vaccines. You know, we have one of the vaccine makers as one of our clients and they were using—

HEATHER: Oh wow.

BRIAN: They were using scientists who were contractors who developed that vaccine. And so they had to staff up very quickly, not just the scientists themselves, but all the support, you know, around that—


BRIAN: —their IT needs, for example. And then another good one is what we broadly would call "high-volume staffing," right? So you think about retailers of all types that have big online presences. We all know that their volumes skyrocketed during the pandemic and maintain at high levels, And so they needed workers very quickly, and a great way to do that is via non-employees, but they're also faced with a lot of challenges in that — especially at the lower end of the pay rate, the covid-related benefits at times were higher than what they could afford to pay. And how to make those decisions, and of course you can't work in a distribution center remotely, and so where do you find your workers, and how do you keep them safe? And just tracking and knowing who they are, via a system like ours, is important. As well as, even in lower-end kinds of roles—you know—making sure that the person is fit for the job is still an important part of the thing. You know, different organizations have different ways of working, different cultures, etcetera.

HEATHER: Yeah, no absolutely, absolutely. So how do you think—you know—are there any other ways in which the contingent workforce has played a role to kind of solve some of these problems, that you haven't already mentioned?

BRIAN: You know, what companies have realized, and this applies to both their full-time workforce and their extended workforce, they don't necessarily have to hire them in the place where they're located. right?


BRIAN: And so it's opened up options. So you know my company's based in the Bay area, you know, high cost of living, commensurate high salary—I know you're based in the Bay Area—

HEATHER: Oh, that's—yep!

BRIAN: But you know, if I can find the same skill set in—I always use Des Moines, Iowa as my—I don't know if Des Moines, Iowa is that inexpensive to live in or not, but it seems to fit.


BRIAN: If I can bring people in there, and they're just as effective, great! I can save money and get the same quality, but then that creates these other problems. How do I manage them? How do I know somebody that I've never met before is going to work out? Not only from: Can they code Java? But what is their personality type? And, you know, that's one of the ways that we love what Traitify does. It really helps in this environment where you're hiring people you've never met before, never met in person, to know: What are their characteristics? What are their strengths and how do they compliment my team? How do they fit with my management style? And one of the great things about that, too, is it's great not only for the company, but for the worker themselves, because it lets them know, "Oh, I might not be the best fit here."

HEATHER: Right, right, and you know, if it's not a good fit, it usually won't work out well for either party. So yeah, that's for sure.

BRIAN: And the other one that I'd be really—it'd be remiss of me not to mention is diversity, equity, and inclusion. That's become a big part of the contingent workforce, as well. It's probably the number one thing that we're talking about with our clients. How do they ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion in their contingent workforce? The big shift we see is that it used to be that companies felt like they had diversity as long as their suppliers were owned by diverse individuals.

HEATHER: Oh, interesting.

BRIAN: Diversity ownership is not an equal and diverse workforce, because if you've got a diverse slate of suppliers, if they send you people that are all the same, you're not diverse.


BRIAN: It's that big realization that companies have also realized that — across the board, again, DE&I is incredibly important — and they can make a very quick change in the diversity of their workforce by increasing the diversity of their contingent workforce, because by its very nature it's temporary, right? It turns over, and so even if you're—let's say you're a 10,000-person company and 20% of your workforce is non-employee. That's 2,000 people. It's not very diverse today, but your average length of those assignments is three months. In three months, those 2,000 people could be much more diverse. And so, figuring out strategies to attract diversity, and make them be included and be part of your workforce—a true part of your workforce is a big topic today.

HEATHER: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

BRIAN: And again, you know, that's another great way that Traitify comes in. Because Traitify helps with diversity of strengths and thoughts and personality. That's, to me, a very much a part of diversity, as well. Because if everyone thinks and acts the same, not great either.

HEATHER: Yeah, right. You don't necessarily want a team that's comprised of all the same people with the same personality characteristics, because then you'll have a zillion people with great ideas and nobody to actually follow through and get it done, right? Or vice versa. So yeah, for sure, for sure. Kind of switching gears a little bit, what do you see in terms of the role for recruitment automation, and sort of other innovations in this kind of post-COVID, pandemic contingent landscape?

BRIAN: I think there's a huge, huge opportunity for automation, you know? My belief is to let computers, broadly, do things that humans shouldn't have to do, right? Do repetitive tasks. Help make better decisions. But again, to the point earlier of like—you know—you can probably very easily automate the procurement of Sharpies.


BRIAN: You can't fully automate—you can't take the people out of the recruitment process — and that applies to all types of workers. But what you can do with all these tools is you can make them better. You can get rid of mundane, repetitive tasks. You can assist with better decision making through artificial intelligence. All of those kinds of things. So I think that's just a huge role, and one we'll see continue to evolve. And, I mean, there is some—you know—there are even some elements of recruitment that can be automated, as well: the repetitive aspects. And that let's recruiters be more effective, because they can then focus on the things that only people can do.

HEATHER: Do you have any stories around that? Like, is there anything that you've seen that's really, kind of brought to light the way this can be used to make this functionality better?

BRIAN: Yeah, I mean I think we're seeing—I'll give you an example of something we've done, right? We've got a chatbot built within Beeline that automates the process of extending someone's assignment. So it's a very common in our world—you know—someone's engage for three months but the project isn't done for—isn't done at the end of three months, and you need to send them—


BRIAN: —a contract for another two, or what have you, right? So a very repetitive task that can be automated. And again, then the manager who is responsible for that person can concentrate on doing something that truly adds value, right? Managing that person whose assignment is being expended better. Working on other projects. And so, that's just one small example. Again, everything we're focused on is helping humans and machines work better together. And again, you know, I think everything you guys are doing helps with that. A really simple, quick test—like I really nerd out about what Traitify does, as you know—and it helps make decisions better and faster.

HEATHER: Right. So how do you see, more broadly, the contingent workforce (or the extended workforce) impacting the way talent acquisition and procurement works in 2021? Because, as you've said, clearly there needs to be an interplay. So, do you—how do you envision that looking?

BRIAN: Yeah, I mean I think it's—first and foremost the number one thing is that those stakeholders have to tie their goals around the contingent workforce to corporate goals, right? They have to say, "We're using non-employees, because we have a need to grow 10% this year, and we don't have the employees to do it," or "We have this special project we're trying to do, this massive initiative within our organization." So that's just the number one thing, like the number one piece of advice. Like clients will often come to us and say, "We need cost-savings. We want we want to drive"— because contingent workforce is generally the second biggest cost at most companies, after employee salaries—

HEATHER: Oh, interesting. Sure.

BRIAN: —so people are looking for savings. But like, why? Why are you looking for savings? And what is the trade off of that savings, right? If you—


BRIAN: Like with people, and with all things, in some ways you get what you paid for. So if you drive down the cost, but your project takes two months longer to complete, you haven't achieved anything.


BRIAN: Or maybe you've achieved something, but it isn't what you're trying to achieve. So I think that's just the number one thing that procurement and talent acquisition has to do. And that will then let them start to make those decisions about: what is the right mix of workers?


BRIAN: And ultimately, when a manager needs to get work done, what is the best way for that work to get done at that particular time? And so like, that's very much an area of focus.

HEATHER: Yeah. I mean that makes a lot of sense, because its perceived value—or perceived savings is not actually—necessarily doesn't translate to actual savings sometimes.

BRIAN: No. Definitely not.

HEATHER: And so I think that's, you know, a very important thing to kind of figure out.

BRIAN: Yep. Agreed. Agreed.

HEATHER: And then I guess just finally, is there anything else about Beeline and it's work with the extended workforce that you want people to know, that you'd like to share?

BRIAN: Yeah, I mean I think it's a—it's a broad question obviously, but I think it's—you know—if you're not managing your non-employees in a system — if you don't have a program to manage them that again is tied to your corporate goals — you're missing out, because no matter what your company does and how you do it, you most likely can't do it without your non-employees. If you're not optimizing your use of them, you're behind the curve, right? And so you've got to get a system in place, and a system like Beeline's in partnership with our partners like Traitify will help you do that. You know one of the reasons that we have partners is the non-employee workforce is incredibly complex. Beeline can't be all things to all people. We want to focus on being that Central system of record and bring in tools like Traitify that help optimize our clients use of the non-employee workforce. And so, I guess that would be my call to action, is to people listening: if you're not managing this well, why not? And what are the steps you need to take to get there?

HEATHER: Yeah, that's excellent, excellent advice. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today.

BRIAN: Of course!

HEATHER: As always, it's a pleasure and I really appreciate it. If people wanted to get in touch with you, how might they do that?

BRIAN: Yeah, glad to chat at any time. My email address is super easy. It's "hoff" h-o-f-f at beeline.com. I'm on LinkedIn, Brian Hoffmeyer. I'll get myself a shameless plug for my Instagram, as well. That's homechefhoff, if you want to learn about 52 different tacos. But I'm always glad to talk about this, and if I can't answer your question about Beeline, or tacos, I'll figure out somebody who can.

HEATHER: Excellent, thank you so much. And I too will plug your Instagram, because as I said I have gotten some good recipes from it.

BRIAN: Thank you very much. And thank you as always. It was great chatting with you.

Connect with the experts:
Heather Myers, Ph.D. - heather.myers@paradox.ai, Heather Myers, Ph.D.
Brian Hoffmeyer - hoff@beeline.com, Brian Hoffmeyer, homechefhoff

To learn how Traitify by Paradox can help you attract, select, and engage contingent workers, connect with us!