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The widespread use of contingent workers within organizations as a strategic solution is still underutilized, says Barry Asin, President at Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA). Although more companies rely on talent sourced through online platforms, they haven’t quite bridged the gap in integrating the flexible workforce into strategic planning and mindset.

Companies typically use staffing players and managed service providers (MSPs) to provide tactical services like tracking usage or managing workflows. But that’s not good enough anymore.

In Asin’s presentation at Upwork’s Work Without Limits™ Executive Summit, he challenged business leaders to see a new future for how teams work. Below are highlights from his presentation, Evolving the Human Cloud: What’s Ahead for the Future?

How human cloud platforms are disrupting an industry

Most organizations find flexible talent from intermediaries a traditional staffing agency or vendor management system (VMS). But just as on-demand services like Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi industry, human cloud platforms have the potential to disrupt traditional staffing intermediaries.

Freelancing platforms, like Upwork Enterprise, enable companies to source talent and start projects so easily and quickly that employees can bypass staffing intermediaries. Today, employees can act as their own staffing agencies with just a few clicks.

Upwork has found that human cloud platforms save so much time, employees can vet talent and start a project within two days, instead of the average six weeks with traditional agencies. The platforms also deliver quality talent at 60 to 70% savings.

Converge or drop out

The potential for disruption is a warning to traditional staffing intermediaries that to remain relevant, they must adopt more advanced technology. Some workforce companies are responding by adopting a hybrid business model.

In these hybrid models, the staffing companies typically form partnerships with technology vendors and management consulting firms. These partnerships provide clients more hands-on and personalized services. The hybrid staffing model is becoming such a popular solution, and as companies and other talent intermediaries continue to explore digital transformation, SIA predicts it may soon be difficult to distinguish between traditional and online staffing.


How Fortune 500s assemble work teams is also changing as new and evolving tech makes work increasingly specialized. Adding to that, the U.S. freelance workforce is growing faster than the overall U.S. workforce. This means, “the odds of you having the right talent at the right time as full-time employees is becoming increasingly lower,” says Asin.

To keep up with the skills needed, organizations must work more like movie crews: divide work into projects and pull skilled talent in as needed.

SIA believes the next big trend is including the human cloud into total talent acquisition. Instead of seeing talent in traditional roles, talent becomes an agile group. A fluid group that assembles, disbands, then assembles again in another group.

In this new way of working, companies no longer limit themselves by asking who should do the work. Instead they ask: What work needs to get done? and What is the best type of worker to do it?


The key to growth is understanding how talent wants to work. An SIA survey shows that 63% of talent want traditional employment. While that’s a hefty number, organizations can’t ignore the 37% seeking alternative work like freelancing, especially as the U.S. is still in a talent shortage. Consider these seven tips from Asin for adopting a contingent workforce:

  1. Look for remote talent. This is currently the best fit for most B2B human cloud solutions.
  2. Drive engagement through talent strategy. Ask what work do you need to get done? What’s the best option to access that talent?
  3. Focus on “and” versus “or.” Human cloud workers aren’t a replacement for your current talent supply chain. They’re an addition to it.
  4. Ensure compliance. Proper worker classification is critical and be sure to track legislative developments.
  5. Combine tech, people, and process. “Without the people and process, the technology won’t work,” says Asin.
  6. Gain executive sponsorship. Support from executives and business unit partners will remove barriers to utilizing more contingent workers.
  7. Experiment, learn, and iterate. Continue testing and exploring the potential for how contingent workers can generate value.

Although companies are slowly adopting human cloud platforms, most seem to know adoption is inevitable. When SIA asked Fortune 500 leaders what they planned to implement in the next two years, 51% report contingent work as part of strategic planning.