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May 19, 2021

The Role of the Staffing Firm Back Office in Powering the Future of Work

Imagining what the future holds is fun (when it doesn’t turn dystopian.) Organizing administration is not… at least for most people.

Like tying a tax form to a frisbee or having a dental appointment on a rollercoaster – a metaphor, not a suggestion – today we’ll be melding the boring and tedious with the fun and exciting. We’ll tackle two very different and seemingly separate staffing topics: the future of work, and the role of technology in elevating the back office. But as you’ll soon see, these two subjects share more in common than it might seem.

What shape is work likely to take into the future? And what role does back-office technology have in forming it? There’s no better time than now to toss this particular tax-form-laden frisbee.

What does the future of work hold?

“There are a lot of unknowns around the future of work,” says Angela Alberty, VP of Growth at staffing start-up myBasePay. “Will there be more of an increase in the contingent worker or a third-party mix? Will globalization truly take hold, removing talent borders? Will data become critical in ensuring the needs of the candidate and worker are fulfilled?

“One thing I can confidently say is that the future of work will be – and should be – built around the worker.”

The fact is that younger generations of workers don’t care about the same things as older generations. There’s no longer a need to commit to a 40-year plan, to prioritize security over fulfillment.

Alberty offers up some broad-stroke examples of the generational change she’s already seeing. “Women care most about finding the right culture; one that will be conducive to their personal and professional lives. Millennials care more about freedom and flexibility than health insurance. Gen Z wants their employer to be acutely aware of social issues.”

The tenure of the average Millennial is about half that of the generation before. As an industry, staffing no longer puts as significant a focus on job turnover on resumes nor employment gaps, particularly post-COVID. A few years ago interviews were filled with probing questions like ‘why were you only there for a year?’ and ‘what is this gap in employment about?’ But there’s been a significant and overwhelmingly positive shift away from what turns out to be rather superficial information on the modern candidate.

It's called the curriculum vitae – the course of life – for a reason. As long as somebody can articulate the decisions that led to them taking their particular course, you’ll have a viable candidate that's going to be able to articulate themselves in front of a customer and to the rest of your team.

“All the constructs mentioned above are vastly different from what we've typically annotated to workers in the past, and they all point to the future of work being more about the worker than it has been in the past,” explains Alberty.

Given this information, employers and staffing firms should ask themselves:

You Own the Experience Podcast - Listen Now

A move to a more contingent workforce

There is an apparent need for increased flexibility, and the workforce of the future looks set to be particularly contingent, according to Alberty.

“The pandemic has shown the value of flexible working relationships, both for the worker and the employer. This has led to employers looking for a more agile workforce. Then there’s been this worker revolution, where increasing numbers of people are applying for an LLC.”

There are a number of reasons for the recent LLC surge. Some of it has been put down to people finding new passions or opportunities during COVID. Other times it has been driven by necessity, as millions found themselves out of work. But a large portion of this new contingent workforce chose this path because the pandemic forced them to think about how they were supporting their families and themselves. Many could no longer stomach the idea of having their livelihood, their future, in somebody else's hands.

“It’s the perfect storm for contingent work – all signs point to higher demand,” Alberty continues. “And with this greater focus on a contingent workforce, there’ll be more consideration and oversight on how to compliantly follow all the requirements necessary for temp workers and independent contractors.”

This brings us neatly to the role of the back office.

How back-office technologies might shape the future of work

When building a staffing tech stack, the back office is generally the last team considered. The problem is that this team is seen as a necessary evil, not the potential differentiator that it actually is. In part due to this lack of attention, there is actually a real opportunity for meaningful back-office differentiation, and most of it revolves around technology integration.

If you look at the standard makeup of a staffing agency, you’ll commonly be dealing with at least 12 different vendors just to stay afloat; your pre-screening provider, your workers' comp, your insurance broker, your payroll processing platform, and your ERP/invoicing systems, to name but a few. Most staffing firms continue to treat each solution separately, leading to not just back-office staff, but oftentimes candidates, needing to navigate a confusing web of portals and processes.

The key to back-office differentiation is system integration. You need all these systems to be integrated in order to successfully lean on technology and to use it to evolve. In an ideal world all this candidate, client, and vendor information will be served up via a single dashboard that offers real-time data on all stakeholders, for all stakeholders.

On the candidate side, as on-demand and white-labeled products begin to hit the mainstream, making sure that the candidate has a single, unified experience is fundamental (the main reason Able was born). One place where candidates can find everything they need: upcoming interview information, assignment specifications, onboarding paperwork, their W2 and pay information, and more. 

As an industry, we need to wrap our heads around flexibility and consolidation. There are a million different ways that firms organize their process and workflows in staffing. In fact, the only consistent thing about staffing is that it's all over the place. 

Rather than waiting for a single solution that fixes all our problems – and that honestly will never come – we should instead focus on implementing tools that we can plug and play, like Able. It’s about finding the individual solutions that meet your needs, then building up a customized platform that offers a frictionless candidate experience. No more having 12 different logins for 12 different portals to get all the necessary information.

It’s all about a great candidate experience

Remember that the average candidate signs up with four to six staffing agencies. If you offer a subpar candidate experience, one defined by the myriad of different portals and information sources that a candidate has to deal with, you’re not going to be able to create a great candidate experience, and you won’t be the candidate’s preferred agency.

Workers are expecting more from their recruiters and employers. The back-office, while not seen as the most exciting part of staffing, nonetheless plays a critical role in ensuring a firm offers up the very best candidate experience possible. And it’ll do that not by tying forms to frisbees, but by employing clever and cohesive technologies.

For more on this topic, check out the You Own the Experience Podcast episode here