The five workplace disruptors: Refining your talent mix with a blended workforce

By Lars Hyland
An illustration of a woman working remotely and a man working in a traditional office

Over one-third of US workers participate in the gig economy, through either their primary or secondary roles, and more than 85% of these gig workers intend to continue into the next five years. The UK’s gig economy doubled in just three years, and regions such as California and the EU have set out laws to improve the rights of workers operating under “atypical contracts.” 

Your workforce today may comprise a blend of full-time and part-time permanent employees, contingent workers, freelancers, casual workers and more. When you’re catering for so many audiences, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why HR teams must find a way to address everyone’s learning and performance needs, while keeping both permanent, in-house and “agile” talent engaged. 

If executed well, you will celebrate the differences present in your workforce, and these differences will provide a distinct advantage when it comes to productivity.

If the gig economy continues to grow at its current rate, more than 50% of the US workforce will participate in it by 2027. This presents a huge opportunity for organizations to properly support their blended workforce - and with it, the challenge of doing so effectively and efficiently.

The blended workforce disruptor

The dramatic shift towards freelancing, self-employment and “gig work” is accelerating. One in six traditional job workers would like to become an independent earner, suggesting that our workforces are set to include more contract workers. With 32% of organizations saying that they are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers, it appears as though this is a desirable shift from both sides.

This presents a unique and exciting challenge for HR. While “traditional” learning and performance initiatives may work for your permanent staff (though even this can no longer be assumed), you are now dealing with workers that range from freelance copywriters, outsourced customer service teams, self-employed delivery drivers and much, much more. 

These workers will increasingly be involved at all levels of your organization, requiring a varied approach to learning and engagement.

Wondering how you can engage your blended workforce?

Join Chief Learning Officer Lars Hyland's webinar on December 3rd to discover how you can reap the rewards of a blended workforce, along with the other four workplace disruptors.

Solution #1: Extend learning to your extended enterprise

Your first action should be to extend your learning and HR technology to those outside your organization. An extended enterprise system will enable you to create learning programs for each type of worker.

When you’re creating an extended enterprise learning program, there are three key considerations:

  • Cost. The license fees from many vendors make it cost prohibitive to truly extend your system reach to all stakeholders in your extended enterprise.
  • Technical concerns. How will those outside the organization access your systems? Will you implement single sign-on? Can they use their personal email address? Are there any security concerns to consider? Is your system accessible across devices? Is your content localized or translated?
  • Learning activities. What content is relevant to each group? What is the best format with which to ensure knowledge and skills transfer? How will progress be tracked? How can you make the best use of everyone’s time?

For instance, a freelance hairdresser may not have access to a “work computer.” Therefore, you should ensure that your extended enterprise LMS can be accessed on a smartphone between appointments. 

Alternatively, a self-employed courier may only work for you a few hours each week, and never come into your actual work site. In that case, they will need to access your system from their own device, using their own login credentials, and only be required to complete essential learning. 

Essentially, ignoring the workers outside your organization means you’re missing out on the full potential of your entire workforce. An extended enterprise LMS is the ideal way to reach out to the workers outside the traditional bounds of your organization for improved productivity.

Solution #2: Personalize your learning experience

The learning requirements of a permanent, full-time employee will be very different to those of a casual, self-employed worker who only works with you a few times a month. The employee may need a full training program covering health and safety specific to your workplace, role-specific training and technical training focusing on your systems. 

However, expecting the same training commitment from your contingent workers is unrealistic.

Senior learning strategist Lori Niles-Hofmann refers to this as the “learner social contract,” whereby we as HR and learning professionals have a duty to ensure that the learning we provide avoids having our workers invest an unnecessary amount of time and energy. This is where personalized learning comes in.

How can you support your contingent workers?

Take a look at Lori Niles-Hofmann and Lars Hyland's take on how you can better support your contingent workers in their ebook, The Learner Social Contract.

Think carefully about the individual needs of each of your worker audiences. A full-time employee working 40 hours a week can spare more time for training than a delivery driver who only works with your organization a couple of times a month. 

While it’s important to invest in training all your workers, this shouldn’t be at the expense of anyone’s free time. With Totara Learn, you can set up audiences to create personalized learning programs according to each group of workers, and ensure that each worker receives the most relevant training.

One way to ensure you’re not burdening your external workers with excessive training is to minimize the number of mandatory learning activities you set for them. However, you can also make additional training available so that the option to learn more is there if they want it. 

Totara customer Envigo reported that after they opened up their LMS to their entire workforce, a janitor in the US got in touch to say that he was excited to access the training for the first time ever to pursue his goal of becoming a supervisor.

Solution #3: Foster a supportive team environment - for everyone

Typically, workers view the permanent, in-house workforce as “the team,” with part-time workers and freelancers not considered part of this group. Very few organizations currently combat this train of thought, meaning that those in the “out-group” feel less invested, motivated and supportive.

However, as your workforce becomes increasingly blended, harnessing a sense of real community for everyone will be essential for the success of your organization. While many (or most) of your employees are working outside the normal workplace, it’s even more important to take these conversations online, whether that’s meetings, training sessions, virtual brainstorming or informal socializing. 

Totara Engage is an ideal place to start. Giving all workers, whether they’re inside or outside the organization, access to your learning experience platform (LXP) is a fantastic way to drive employee engagement and create a collaborative, inclusive company culture. 

Even simple acts such as voting in a poll or commenting on a coworker’s post can help foster a sense of community and build good will. And of course, moving learning and communication online also supports your growing remote workforce. 

Finally, make sure your contingent workforce is included in your company communications, such as internal newsletters, company updates and announcements. Bear in mind that workers in this group may be less available than your permanent workforce, so ensure that any live communications are recorded or summarized and made available as soon as possible to help keep everyone up to date.

Infographic showing the challenges facing organizations dealing with blended workforces






Download the infographic

What about the other workplace disruptors?

Get your hands on the rest of the five workplace disruptors (and the other 12 ways to deal with them) by downloading our free ebook.