Why flexibility is the new efficiency in HR and procurement

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Why flexibility is the new efficiency in HR and procurement
Joanna Fagbadegun

Why flexibility is the new efficiency in HR and procurement

If last year has shown us anything, it’s that resilience to change is really about flexibility. Here, Sales Director Jo Fagbadegun sets out the biggest changes for HR and procurement in talent acquisition for 2021 - including workforce model refreshes, the popularity of contingent talent and the need for flexible and proactive supplier relationships.

If last year has shown us anything, it’s that resilience to change is really about flexibility. As the pandemic tightened the noose, cutting off supply chains and restricting the workforce, organisations were pushed to change their operating models over and over again. And that chokehold of change has influenced the way businesses are now being run.

‘Flexibility’ is a word that keeps on coming up in my conversations. Many of my contacts are investing in technology, changing their workforce models or revaluating their supply chain to improve adaptability.

Where HR and procurement were once focused on agreeing a robust target operating model based on a medium-to-long term view of recruitment strategy and the associated expected demand , there is now a new focus on building greater agility proactivity and responsiveness into talent acquisition processes, with scalable teams and sustainable supply chains. So what does 2021 hold, and how can we help companies respond to this need for flexibility? Below I set out some of the changes I’m expecting to see in recruitment this year, and how we can help customers manoeuvre them. 

Organisations will makeover their workforces

It’s clear to me from talking to our customers and contacts, that the events of 2020 have not only resulted in much leaner teams but have also expedited a maturing of their approach to workforce make-up. Organisations may have previously been cautious in exploring alternative options to traditional perm, FTC, and contractor recruitment but for many now in 2021, the focus is on creating blended teams of fewer, more capable people.

With leaner structures proving too brittle for disruption, future focus will be on quality and versatility of the workforce, processes, and suppliers. The workforce of the future will be skill agile, with roles and structures realigned to critical skills needs over traditional, linear job functions. Roles will also become more varied and collaborative to promote cross-functional knowledge transfer, flexibility and formal and informal upskilling. We are already seeing this in the technology space, through both skills sharing and the popularity of Agile methodologies. 

So, how can we help? At Lorien, we can support with demand planning, talent pipelining and identifying where the next generation of digital talent is coming from using our on-the-ground tech expertise. We offer stand-alone services such as workforce planning support, and role triaging via a dedicated demand desk, to help organisations that are rethinking their workforce make up. 

Contingent workers will be in demand

Many organisations initially responded to the pandemic by reducing their contingent worker headcount, but now their popularity is on the rise again. According to Gartner, 32% of organisations are now replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure. Non-permanent workers offer a more flexible workforce solution, that can be easily scaled up and down, and can be quickly deployed against need, so it’s unsurprising that the uncertainty of the last year would cause an upturn in their use.  

However, we need to be mindful of the effects that the off payroll working rules (IR35) may have on contractor use specifically. In February 2020, before the rollout was postponed to April 2021, research by IPSE found that nearly a third of freelancers planned on stopping contracting in the UK, with one in ten (11%) planning to stop work or retire early and 8% planning to move into employment. Covid-19, which has made contracting an unstable place to be recently, may accelerate this. 

As a result, rising demand for non-permanent workers to enable greater workforce flexibility could potentially come into conflict with talent shortages. For organisations that plan on ramping up their non-permanent use, we offer a range of contingent workforce solutions that can help, including support with IR35 status determinations and contractor audits, provision of Employed Consultants as an alternative means of engagement,  rate benchmarking to ensure you can secure top contingent talent at a fair market rate, and managed service programmes for end-to-end contingent worker management.

Flexible models and supplier relationships will become a priority

Recruitment models were already on the move pre-pandemic, with solutions like Statement of Work growing in popularity, and full or partial RPO and MSP solutions becoming more commonplace across businesses of all sizes. Today, recruitment solutions providers like Lorien provide a range of different HR and recruitment services to meet the diverse business needs of our customers.  Covid-19 has sped this up again. Remote working will become a business norm, with 48% of employees likely to work remotely at least part time after COVID-19, compared to 30% before the pandemic. With this will come new talent models, including talent sharing, more globalised workforces and four day working weeks (or 80% for 80%). And in all likelihood, businesses won’t just choose one model, but will create customised models that – like building blocks – can be stacked up or toppled as needs change.

What’s interesting to me is the role that recruitment suppliers have to play in this future. More customers than ever are asking me what different talent acquisition solutions are available – and how can we partner to support their in-house recruitment team. 

The pandemic has lead a lot of companies to put the microscope over their supply chain, as this is the first line of defence to disruption. Clearly, they will be looking for suppliers that are both robust and agile to market changes. But they will also be looking for safety nets – where suppliers can provide added security to in-house processes, provide invaluable ability to scale quickly, and work in deep collaboration with their existing talent acquisition function. With many businesses struggling to accurately predict their recruitment volumes next year, I expect we will see a graduation from fixed, minimum commitment contracts to more evolved and flexible client-supplier relationships.

At Lorien, we always provide that innate flexibility with scalable delivery teams supporting a core, dedicated account team that acts as an extension of the business. We monitor our programmes closely, using micro and macro data, to ensure we flex both quickly and instinctively. Our solutions are always customised to the client, and we build relationships based on open conversations and true partnership. And our breadth and depth of experience for clients of all sizes, scopes and sectors means that we are able to identify change and quickly stand up and evolve solutions. 


The whiplash of change induced by the pandemic is temporary, but the effects will be lasting. The future of recruitment is one where agility takes priority over all else – from jobs to teams to supplier contracts. All of this will make for more nuanced recruitment partnerships, which focus less on transactional recruitment and more on planning ahead and agile delivery, futureproofing and sharing of strategy. 

How are you preparing your workforce for 2021? Reach out to me for more insight at Joanna.Fagbadegun@lorienglobal.com, or visit our Client Services to see our solutions. 

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