Coronavirus affects the world of work — How can businesses cope with the COVID-19 outbreak? (Part 1)

Note: This Spend Matters PRO brief about the coronavirus and issues related to the contingent workforce and services (CW/S) space has been unlocked from the paywall to inform all of our readers. Subsequent briefs in this series may be for PRO subscribers only.

Among all of the coronavirus outbreak’s severe, extraordinary effects on people and the economy, the impact on work has been one of the most visible. Businesses have been scrambling to sort out adjustments they can make to keep their workers safe, contain the virus’ spread and continue operating.

How contingent workforce and services (CW/S) can be leveraged to mitigate problems and advance new solutions over the different stages of this crisis will likely be an important topic of executive team brainstorming and discussion in the coming weeks and months. There is an opportunity for businesses to question status quo ways of doing things and look beyond them. In doing so, the use of technology as an enabler may bring opportunities into sharper focus.

Indeed, technology has played a significant role in sourcing and managing CW/S  for three decades (think of VMS, job boards, P2P, CLM, etc.). And, in the past 10 years, new technology (the cloud, mobile, AI) and applications (external workforce/services platforms/networks, intelligent data analytics solutions or solution capabilities, etc.) have given rise to new offerings that may not have had adequate attention from top management levels in past years.

In this multi-part series, we will look at how, what and where businesses executives can consider technology-enabled solutions for sourcing and managing contingent workforce and services.

Part 1 of the series is a general introduction that provides a view on how different types of solutions are applicable in four crisis/post-crisis stages.

Four Crisis/Post-Crisis Stages

It may be tempting to consider the current crisis as that which is staring us in the face right now, but we believe it is helpful to break it down into four crisis/post-crisis stages in order to discuss how different solutions can be usefully applied (or planned for):

  1. Reactive/acute: At this stage, worker safety and business continuity are clearly the top priorities. A small sample of relevant problems includes: keeping supply chains, distribution centers and last-mile delivery networks staffed and operating; managing help desk/customer service center volume peaks; filling critical gaps when employees or temp staffing workers aren’t available, etc. At this stage, companies may be able to make limited (though perhaps critical) use of some alternative technology-enabled solutions, but realistically it may be that the greatest value is captured by noting opportunities that can be seized upon in the later stages.
  2. Transition/mitigation: At this stage, all of the above will still apply (even as freedom of movement becomes less restricted). Starting to step up operations again after an unprecedented slowdown will be a top priority. A great deal of support work will be required for a limited period of time to manage information, review policy/procedures, plan for returning employees, etc. There will be peak demand for a range of services providers (from legal to cleaning/maintenance; IT security to trucking), creating supply gaps and necessitating alternative approaches to sourcing services.
  3. Recovery/upswing: At least in some segments of the economy (most likely not durable goods) demand for goods and services will begin to increase more rapidly, depending on the broad state of the economy. In those specific segments that start to grow many of the above issues will again apply. Staff augmentation requirements in one segment may be significant and specific (e.g., a backlog of on-site tech services work orders). This stage is also where the need for analytical and forecasting capabilities will increase (even as there is already a shortage of data analyst types).
  4. Long-run/business-as-usual (BAU): When the crisis has become a thing of the past, it will not be a thing of the past. Smart businesses will not simply move on and return to business-as-usual. They will incorporate what they learned into new and better ways of doing things. That may be making sure that they have expanded their workforce/services sourcing channels beyond the conventional ones, or they have established enterprise integration with platforms external work/services platforms. It may also be incorporating more data and analytics into their workforce management processes to enhance agility, enable quick decisions and support scenario-building.

Four Types of Technology Enabled Solutions

The major categories of technology-enabled solutions we will be looking at will include:

  • External platforms/networks for remote/online workforce and services enable businesses to globally engage contract workers and specialized service providers that will perform and deliver work/services remotely and across a digital platform. There are hundreds of work/service categories available and a broad range of such platform providers, which will be discussed further in subsequent parts of this series.
  • External platforms/networks for geo-specific, locational workforce/services enable businesses to engage contract workers and specialized service providers that can perform and deliver work/services in some specific physical location (e.g., in a warehouse, at a customer site). There is some range of platform providers (not as many as remote /online), with some focusing on specific kinds of work/services.
  • Direct Sourcing solutions for workforce/specialized service providers are horizontal, generally-applicable enterprise solutions that enable businesses to “direct source” (without using staffing supply chain) and engage/manage their own affiliated (bring your own) contract workers and some specialized service providers in private resource pools.
  • Data Management/Analytics solutions for workforce/services provide businesses with various data collection and management services and fit-for-purpose “advanced analytics” capabilities/outputs. There is a limited number of such solutions that are suited to contingent workforce/services. Some are standalone solution providers, others are parts of broader services providers (like MSPs) or software providers (like VMSs).

It bears mentioning that there are conventional solutions and sourcing options that can be helpful over the crisis stage. For example, relying more on external service providers and outsourcers should be considered (ranging from MSPs to call-center outsourcers). But we emphasize the above technology-enabled solutions because they may not be well-understood by senior executives, and they may have unique applicability and value in this coronavirus crisis situation.

In subsequent parts of this series, we will focus on and drill into these solution categories, respective solution providers and how some solutions might help at different stages.

Applications Across Stages

Most senior executives are aware of the growing importance of the contingent workforce in their companies, the need to manage control over cost and risk, and possibly the need to focus on strategic, total workforce planning. However, most top executives have not been keeping track of how many non-traditional solutions have emerged in recent years.

In the current crisis environment, they may have unique value over and beyond the standard, mainstream CW/S technology solutions. To offer an initial appreciation of where and how they play across different stages of the current coronavirus crisis and eventual return to equilibrium, we have developed the matrix below, suggesting a small number of illustrative use-cases (with color coding to indicate potential impact in each stage).

(Click image to enlarge)

* External platforms/networks for remote/online workforce and services such as Upwork can be used to find and engage freelancers and small service providers across the globe who can perform activities totally online. Work can be managed, accepted and paid for online. In its basic form, it can be up and running in a number of minutes with a credit card. These workers work remote and can be turned to even in the reactive/acute stage of the crisis.

** External platforms/networks for geo-specific, locational workforce/services such as Wonolo can be used to assemble and deploy temporary light industrial/warehousing workers on demand in major cities across the U.S. Workers can be sourced and work product accepted and paid for online. It can be in gear in a relatively short time. But since these are local, on-ground workers, the solution might not be suitable to use until the Transition/Mitigation stage of the crisis.

*** Direct Sourcing solutions for workforce/specialized service providers such as ShortList can be used to directly engage a company’s contract workers such as consultants already in use, alumni workers or directly sourced new, etc. The SaaS solution enables much of the source-to-invoice cycle for workers and service providers and is typically integrated with a company’s invoice/payments system. It will generally take some time (1-2 weeks) to be made operational, and there will be lead time to build up talent/supplier resource pools. Therefore, this kind of a solution would not be useful until the Recovery/Upswing stage of the crisis.

**** Data Management/Analytics solutions for workforce and services such as Brightfield TDX can be used very quickly to start off for rate and market intelligence. There is a subscription fee for HR or procurement personas. The solution will become useful during the Transition/Migration stage of the crisis and its broad capabilities would become increasingly valuable in a range of different ways too numerous to be covered here during the Recovery/Upswing and Long-Run/BAU stage of the crisis.

The above solution providers are examples of many that are available for different use cases.


How can considering these types of technology-enabled solutions help business executives?

  • Better accomplish certain things: Access additional workforce/talent, support rapid agile, stop-gap measures, continue operations or critical projects.
  • Create innovative opportunities: Thinking through the uses of these solutions may yield new ideas for shifting work locationally, reprioritizing work and projects, etc. (In other words: If we can’t do this right now, let’s accomplish this and form a team to do it.)
  • Uncover penetrating/expansive insights: Become more aware of limitations and opportunities at the moment, around the corner or farther in the future.

In the long run, discoveries resulting from the applications and taking unprecedented actions now may contribute to an organization’s workforce agility, performance, resilience, etc.

Questions to be thinking about:

  • Where do we think we can use contingent workers or service providers during the four stages?
  • Will special circumstances arise (be foreseeable) as the stages unfold?
  • Short-term, will there be stop-gap requirements that arise and require a quick response (perhaps certain data sets need to be analyzed by a data scientist)? How can we stay connected with valuable contractors, etc.?
  • Longer-term, will there be layoffs that create niche — but critical — requirements, sooner or later (perhaps rapidly establishing a partnership agreement)? As business starts to reactivate, will there be short projects that need to be staffed in order to provide the basis for other mainline activities to get underway?

Thinking about needs or potential opportunities that may arise over time is one thing. Add in a better understanding of technology-enabled solutions that are available, but not well understood, can expand the range of possible ways of getting things done.

Identifying key solutions and providers (for different kinds of use cases) will be our job in this process.

We are highlighting specicfic solutions for sourcing and managing CW/S in the “CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE” PRO series (here and here).

At the same time, this series (“Coronavirus affects the world of work”) will continue to discuss problems and solutions, issues and opportunities over the different stages of the crisis. Continue to Part 2 of this series, 'Coronavirus affects the world of work," here.

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First Voice

  1. Kelly Tiel:

    I dont think the consequences will be severe for big companies – it is hard to predict. Maybe prices will rise up to the sky and maybe they will drop down. Interest rate dropped drastically the other month but for now as may be seen it is starting to grow gradually to the previous levels (as before the Coronavirus)

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