While many businesses are winding down for the holiday period, those in the retail and hospitality sectors are gearing up for their busiest time of the year. To cope with this increased demand, they must recruit and onboard a small army of temporary workers.
This represents a huge challenge. How do you find the right people at short notice? How do you differentiate yourself from competitors in an already crowded market? How do you instil your brand’s ethos and identity in temporary workers, and ensure that they uphold these during their time with you? And when it’s time to part ways, how do you maintain contact with those you’d like to see again?
This rapid assembling and disassembling of temporary teams may seem a challenge unique to sectors that recruit seasonal workers, but as full-time positions give way to more temporary assignments in the future of work, these are the questions that employers will be forced to ask across the business world.
The rise of project work
Where work was once stable and predictable, it is now defined by constant change and technological disruption. The notion of a ‘job for life’ is a thing of the past, and neither employers nor employees can realistically expect long-term loyalty from each other. In the face of this constant change, employers are forced to become increasingly agile in order to survive. Having a hefty staff of full-time employees may no longer be feasible in the future of work.
Instead, businesses may sign up project workers to complete temporary assignments, while maintaining only a skeleton staff of key decision makers on a full-time basis. Project workers would be recruited and mobilised for specific tasks, within a certain timeframe – just like seasonal workers in the retail industry.
Say your organisation has a particular goal in mind: to rebrand itself in an attempt to resonate with a younger audience, for example. Instead of relying on in-house staff, you would assemble a veritable dream team of strategists, marketers, graphic designers, copywriters, PR specialists, etc., for the duration of the project. Once the project is complete, everyone goes their own separate ways. This way, organisations can assemble and disassemble expert teams as and when needed.
While this model seems an ideal solution to the unpredictable, ever-changing nature of modern work, there are plenty of potential issues along the way for the employer. Let’s break down some of the key challenges.
In a world of temporary assignments, individuals naturally become more entrepreneurial. Each new project is an opportunity to showcase their skills, and adds an extra layer of experience to their own personal brands. They will seek out opportunities that they deem exciting, and employers that resonate with their own values.
So how do you attract top talent for temporary assignments? You have to sell the project. To grab their attention, you need to offer them the chance to be part of something big and exciting – the chance to make a real mark. And you need to sell yourself. What makes your organisation different to the rest? What makes this particular project exciting?
Recruiting a whole team for a temporary assignment is totally different to adding a single person to an already established team. There’s no real way of knowing how these different individuals will work together. The best thing you can do is to ensure that everyone is in tune with your company culture. This way, you can unite a group of complete strangers behind a particular set of values.
Ensure that you ask the right questions during the interview stage – not only about the relevant skills but also about their attitudes and ideas. Cultural fit can be just as important as expertise.
Recruitment is never an exact science, but research has shown time and again that diverse teams outperform homogeneous ones. And that means not only diversity of identity – such as ethnicity, social background, age, etc. – but also the diversity of thought. The broader the range of ideas and experiences that people bring to the table, the more creative and adaptable the team will be.
There may a temptation to treat temporary staff differently to permanent ones, and to invest less time in getting them up to speed – but that would be a mistake. For the duration of their assignment, these individuals will be your brand ambassadors and will be responsible for upholding and exhibiting your values through their work. But how do you instil these things in people who are only with you temporarily? As with permanent staff, the key is effective onboarding.
The onboarding process sets the tone for the work ahead and is your chance to make the right first impression. By the end of the process, project workers should fully understand who you are, what you stand for, and what working with you means. They should also understand their role in the project, and what that means to the wider organisation.
Project work is inherently engaging. The individual signs up for a finite amount of time, with clear goals to achieve towards a definite outcome. This gives project work a sense of urgency and achievement that is perhaps absent in ongoing, repetitive, full-time work.
But this doesn’t mean that the employer has no role to play in ensuring that temporary workers are engaged. In order for any assignment to be a success, temporary workers need to know exactly what is expected of them. They need to know precisely what difference their efforts will make to the project, and what difference the project will make to the organisation. It might even help if they know what difference the organisation makes to society.
People crave meaningful work and purpose, and that means motivation beyond financial reward. Without clear and open communication around the aims and purpose of a project, a team can quickly lose focus and become disengaged. And just like permanent staff, project teams need ongoing feedback and support in order to stay on track.
Project work solves many of the issues around staff retention. The work is finite, and both parties know this, so long-term loyalty isn’t really a factor. However, in a world where project work is the norm, it will be essential for both employers and individuals to maintain an active network of contacts.
Those individuals who shine during an assignment, or who particularly resonate with your brand and ethos, should be kept as go-to contacts for similar projects in the future. One way to do this is to create a community of alumni. This could be a virtual space or an email list, where all former project workers can be kept up to date on company news and future opportunities.
If temporary assignments replace ongoing, full-time employment as the go-to approach for organising work, employers will have to adapt quickly. This will involve a shift away from traditional talent management issues – such as the long-term engagement and retention of staff, and succession planning – and towards a more flexible, agile approach, where supply meets demand on a project-by-project basis. Clear communication around goals and progress, as well as regular feedback, will continue to play a key part of success, however.
Alongside the challenges outlined above, this new approach could bring a number of potential benefits. First, it would allow organisations to continue to thrive in a world of constant, rapid change. Instead of being weighed down by a large staff of full-time employees, organisations can mobilise expert teams to complete distinct strategic assignments, as and when needed.
For the individual, this type of project-based career could provide the best of both worlds – periods of steady, well-paid work, but with the freedom to seek new and exciting opportunities on a regular basis, and approach one’s career as a personal project. This has the potential to make work more meaningful and to perhaps finally address those ongoing issues around employee engagement and productivity.