At first glance, the term “blended workforce” seems to call to mind the same images as a “diverse workforce,” a wide range of employees differing in age, race, religion, experience and more, all working together toward a common goal. In reality, a blended workforce has more to do with how a company chooses to utilize its in-house employees and freelance workers.
Fortune writer Dan Schawbel says the blended workforce, a product of today’s gig economy, is “a new kind of diversity, with full-time permanent employees working side-by-side with freelancers.” Schawbel cited a workplace trends study that indicated more than 90 percent of companies already have a blended workforce, thanks to cost-cutting efforts to remove healthcare coverage and benefits, and often place their freelancers and full-time employees on the same projects. Although this collaborative method can be beneficial to companies–freelancers with specialized skills can become part of a team that can best utilize their specific talents–it can also pose a new set of challenges.
According to Schawbel, companies need to find new ways to manage these hybrid teams since the majority of freelancers work from locations outside of the office. “The ability to manage without borders is going to become a critical skill globally,” Schawbel wrote.
According to Digitalist Magazine’s Meghan Biro, freelance workers should be screened and hired by the same process as full-time employees. “HR should manage hiring, and it should be connected to other branches of hiring. It should be considered an issue of recruitment, not filling a hole in the dam. Whatever the role, and whatever the duration, should be coordinated with the rest of the organization’s talent strategies,” she wrote.
A recent story in Wired offered suggestions on the tools employers can use to manage a blended workforce but emphasized the importance of human interaction. “Platforms like videoconferencing, chat, messaging platforms, and project management tools make such blended workplace scenarios possible. Still, the human factor is important,” the article states.
Damien Filiatrault, CEO of freelance firm Scalable Path, emphasized daily interaction between companies and its blended teams. “You’ve got to talk to them every day,” he said. “You’ve got to have a daily meeting with them.”
Filiatrault said it was important that all members of the team felt like equals, and suggested that each participant have his or her own screen during video conferences instead of having the in-house team seated together in a shared space or conference room. “Everyone should join the virtual meeting as equals,” Filiatrault said.