Conquering the New World of Contract Work

Conquering the New World of Contract Work

Conquering the New World of Contract Work

The COVID-19 pandemic liberated the workplace. Where do contact center-using organizations go from here?

The COVID-19 pandemic stood the workplace on its head and in doing so, cleared workers’ heads as well.

Offices shut down, jobs went remote, and work-life got recalibrated. Workers were freed from corporate routine and regimen, and many embraced the change.

For companies and contractors, this new-world business environment still requires order.

Contract work, with its flexibility and freedom, became appealing. More employees, drawn to this life, are expected to join the freelance ranks.

For companies and contractors, this new-world business environment still requires order. There must be a balance between:

  • Autonomy and accountability.
  • Flexibility and productivity.

Think of them as complementary forces—the yin-yang of personal wants and professional work.

Numbers Tell the Tale

Recent research tells the story of this unprecedented change, accelerated by the pandemic-created crisis. Skilled talent desires greater professional control and more choices than any traditional role can offer.

As a result, the number of independent workers surged dramatically in 2021, rising 34% to 51.1 million from 38.2 million in 2020, according to a report by the talent platform Business Talent Group (BTG).

This is expected to continue, with 56% of non-freelancing professionals saying they’re likely to freelance in the future.

Such trends impact virtual contact centers. Many already retain contractors for sales and service, project to project. Still, their reliance on them may increase as more employees say, “No thanks.”

Desire to be Independent

According to respondents, the top reasons to go independent include picking their projects (70%), selecting when and where they want to work (63%), the variety of work, and not having to be accountable to a manager or boss.

Among respondents with four-plus years of independent experience beyond their traditional careers, 61% say they are unlikely to return to permanent employment.

With newfound freedom comes expenses, though. For contractors, health insurance is sometimes an issue.

Before the pandemic, the Affordable Care Act provided them with reasonable options. As the crisis subsides, Obamacare continues offering insurance outside of corporate healthcare plans. Our annual worker surveys reveal that employer insurance is not a significant issue for thousands of independent agents.

Too Many Jobs, Not Enough Workers

Call it the gig economy, you-only-live-once (YOLO) economy or creator economy. Whatever the name, it poses a problem for American businesses with old models.

Companies today have historic numbers of traditional jobs open—and not enough takers. That’s because the old ways of working ain’t working no more. (Say that three times fast.)

Reuters reported that in Q1 2022 the U.S. labor market was very tight, with job openings near a record high in January.

Benefits Persons with Disabilities

While remote and flexible work opportunities appeal to many individuals, they prove to be particularly beneficial for those with disabilities.

In July 2021, 43.7% of persons with a disability who were not working reported some type of barrier to employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A person’s disability, level of education or training, the need for special features at the job, and lack of transportation were among the barriers reported. Among disabled persons who were employed, more than half experienced some difficulty completing their duties because of disabilities.

Companies with a remote-work business model and the flexibility that comes with contracting often can offer an ideal job situation for persons with disabilities.

Terri, one of our agents, has lupus and other autoimmune disorders, including fibromyalgia and a thyroid condition, which causes her to suffer often from fatigue. She collects Social Security disability that requires her to work only a limited number of hours. As a senior housing specialist on a client program, Terri has a flexible schedule to accommodate these parameters.

“Liquid Workforces” Offer Solutions

Adding to pandemic-induced, workforce shortages are disasters, including those caused by extreme weather that impact on-site operations and in-person labor. Events such as blizzards and hurricanes cause people to want to stay home and work. This demographic shift is probably as big as any climate change.

Understandably, the dynamics of this new-norm workplace compel people to react. But before anyone goes reinventing everything, take a good look around first. Today, there are virtual business models in place that benefit companies and contractors alike.

Virtual contact center outsourcing cracked the code decades before the pandemic. This model created on-demand workforces, scaling for demand. It offers flexible, remote jobs for skilled contractors. In turn, it provides client programs that can span months—or even years. Working with them, agents can stay, or come and go as they please. Their choice.

Assessing today’s workplace, analyst firm Accenture uses the term “liquid workforce.” For example, actors, screenwriters, and crews sign on to make a movie. Once the film is done, they move on to other productions. At-will work.

Whether entertainment organizations or contact centers, this fluid model adapts well to different industries.

The key is having the right processes, professionals, and performance metrics in place. They are essential for companies and contractors to ensure clarity, order and consistency.

Working Effectively with Contractors

No matter the arrangement, contractors—by law—are not employees. Sometimes, though, they assume benefits afforded employees are theirs, too. Not so. That’s why companies must be clear about the job and compensation upfront.

In the contact center industry, different rules apply for contractors and employees. With more individuals now freelancing, they’re worth reviewing.

Recruiting

Transparency begins with recruiting contact center agents. At the virtual contact center outsourcing company I’ve led for 26 years, the job description states it’s contract work for a specific client program. The application process reinforces the fact—in writing and during interviews.

As contractors, applicants are expected to be skilled already for the job. So, they need to be proficient in sales, customer service or tech support.

Applicants are told:

  • There are no insurance benefits—health, life, or disability.
  • They provide their own equipment, which meets certain tech standards.
  • Once off a client program, they choose whether to bid on another one.

Education and Development

This clarity continues with agent education and development. For instance, employees are trained—and the word has legal implications.

Contractors instead are educated in a specific client’s customer-care operations. Ongoing instruction is referred to as agent development.

Contractors may receive a stipend for being certified to represent a client, but they are not paid for time they invest in education.

Operations

As agents, contractors have the flexibility to choose when, where, and how much to work.

A compensation plan is set at the beginning of each client project, paid on actual work performed.

Agents can work for multiple clients (most keep to two), as well as other service providers.

As an agent, a contractor’s ability to take ownership is a desired quality.

If individual performance issues arise, it’s the agent’s responsibility to address them. Self-help is available for contractors to sharpen their skills.

It’s important to note you must choose one or the other, blending contractors and employees has long been frowned upon by the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service.

Once you decide, stick with your model. Paying one person a wage and another a contractor rate for the same task is not advised.

Contractor Success Traits

As an independent contractor, it takes enterprise to be successful. There’s no longer a corporate cocoon wrapped snug and warm around you. The world is now one of your own making.

Words such as self-driven and problem-solver apply more than ever. Moxie is good, too. As an agent, a contractor’s ability to take ownership is a desired quality. So, too, are introspection and reinvention.

Contractors must be able to see their own shortcomings and correct them, learn from experience, and turn it into expertise. They must also be caring enough to share what they know to help others.

It’s a brave new world for contractors confident enough to conquer it. Carpe diem.

Kim Houlne

Kim Houlne

Kim Houlne is President and Chief Executive, Working Solutions, based in Dallas, Texas. Kim Houlne turned an idea into an industry. As Working Solutions founder, she pioneered virtual contact center outsourcing across the country. Long before the gig economy, her company launched its on-demand business model in 1996. For eight years in a row, Working Solutions placed in the FlexJobs Top 100 Companies with Remote Jobs. For the last seven, it made the Top 10 of this respected list—ranking #4 in 2022.

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