what is flexible staffing?

Flexible staffing is a strategy by which companies employ contingent workers. HR teams and other departments use a contingent workforce to meet evolving business and operational challenges, and as an alternative to hiring permanent employees. Contingent workers are not on a company’s payroll—they are contractors, independent freelancers, gig workers, and agency-provided workers.

Companies use flexible staffing for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • filling a temporary talent gap, such as when a permanent employee is on maternity leave
  • meeting a temporary surge in labor demand (e.g., seasonal work)
  • trialing contingent workers as potential permanent hires
  • supporting one’s small business in lieu of costly, full-time hires
  • accessing top talent among workers that prefer to have a flexible schedule, such as parents and students

Learn more: 7 stats that show the relevance of contingent workers

staffing strategy.

building your flexible staffing strategy.

Now that you recognize flexible staffing as an important asset in modern business, you can develop your own flexible staffing strategy to leverage its benefits. You can begin by identifying your own unique needs, then update your strategy for temporary labor to align with operations and business objectives.

Start creating your own internal team to review flexible staffing opportunities across your company. Identify where are your skills gaps, which roles can be filled with contingent workers, and which should remain permanent. Consider whether transitioning existing employees to a staffing agency’s payroll makes sense. Although you may only need flexible staffing for a single department, role, or process today, the relationships you build can contribute to needs in other parts of the company later as well.

how to get started with flexible staffing.

Traditional hiring calls upon company stakeholders to identify, invest in, and build formal relationships with individual employees. With flexible staffing, the focus of the relationship shifts to a talent pool—for example, an assortment of freelancers and contractors. This pool may also include staffing agencies, which bring their own, already-vetted relationships with contingent workers to the bargaining table. 

In this way, companies can approach flexible staffing relationships as a complete business solution, rather than approach individual relationships to fill individual roles within the company. With this approach in mind, stakeholders should ask themselves some key questions:

  • How can flexible staffing help us fulfill the immediate talent needs of our company?
  • How can flexible staffing contribute to our long-term business goals?
  • How does flexible staffing help us reach talent we couldn’t reach otherwise?
  • Which tasks are right for contingent or permanent workers—whether or not needs exist today?
  • Which tasks can we outsource to increase the value of our own employees’ labor?
  • To whom should we turn for contingent labor—freelancers, an agency, or others?
  • What are the legal, financial, and HR requirements of maintaining a contingent workforce?
  • How will we successfully manage ongoing relationships with contingent workers and agencies?

Even among companies prioritizing permanent hires, a flexible staffing strategy provides protection against talent shortages that could be disruptive or devastating. Building a flexible staffing strategy is as much about fulfilling specific talent needs as it is about protecting the company’s future with this in mind.

Download: the 6 building blocks of a profitable team

attracting and retaining contingent talent.

Companies need to improve how they attract and retain contingent talent as it becomes more important to them. To begin, their HRl leaders must familiarize themselves with contingent workers’ unique needs. Although companies approach flexible staffing as a business solution, they are engaging a community of talented individuals seeking roles that will help them fulfill their own professional goals.

why do workers choose flexible roles?

Workers become temporary or contingent for a variety of reasons. Contingent work offers continuity for skilled professionals who have been laid off, for example; it provides talented graduates with professional experience at the start of their careers as well.  Benefits contingent workers often seek out in a company include:

  • opportunities to build relevant professional experience
  • exposure to training and other staff benefits
  • pathways to permanent positions
  • referrals and recommendations from supervisors
  • association with recognizable industry brands
  • trying out different jobs to decide what they want in a career
  • more time to travel, attend school, raise children, or care for family members

It’s sometimes difficult for companies to determine which talent is right for them, and how each worker’s motivations align with their own company goals. There are practical considerations and key steps you can take into account as you develop your own recruitment strategy to help you get started. Staffing agencies can help you get started as you build your understanding of the flexible staffing market, and build your own brand among contingent workers as well.

building your contingent talent brand

Although you may or may not build long-term relationships with individual contingent workers, you will build your own “contingent talent brand” based on the experiences and opportunities your company provides. As market demand for contingent talent grows, you should work on your brand to attract contingent workers. 

Your internal team can optimize engagement with contingent talent and build its own talent community with the personal goals of those workers in mind. 

  • attracting contingent talent:

    Consider how your employee value proposition should change for a flexible workforce. For example, advertise training or growth opportunities as part of your contingent roles. Demonstrating that value is critical when enticing contingent workers to join. 
  • retaining contingent talent:

    Nurture your flexible staff to ensure they are open to future assignments. For example, make contingent workers’ professional development a strategic part of your initiative. Take time to understand their preferences and adapt your strategy accordingly.

blog: how to retain contingent workers

Remember that flexible staffing is more than a means to end. For example, some industries are more unique than others in terms of what contingent workers typically look for in a company. A broad, common-sense approach that prioritizes the well-being of contingent workers is essential for long-term success.

a staffing agency can help.

For decades, staffing agencies have helped companies fill labor shortages and even build relationships with successful full-time hires. Today’s staffing agencies have evolved to meet the modern needs of businesses with critical capabilities such as:

  • connecting companies with talented workers, quickly and efficiently
  • interviewing and vetting talent to the benefit of companies seeking them
  • fulfilling formal requirements for recruitment process outsourcing (RPO)
  • nurturing a tight-knit community of enthusiastic and capable workers
  • optimizing staffing best practices for remote work environments
  • scaling up staffing efforts while helping you plan your workforce efficiently

Staffing agencies have only grown in importance as economic uncertainties drive new business and labor requirements. Whether a company is downsizing or acquiring talent to take on new business challenges, staffing agencies can help.

choosing a staffing agency.

flexible staffing FAQs.