Employees aren’t all that loyal anymore, but that might not really matter. It’s just a first step in the inevitable — and already underway — shift to an agile workforce.
Back in 1997, Fast Company predicted the rise of self-employed workers. While the gig economy (and online marketplaces and communities that power it) is still considered “alternative” or “secondary” to traditional work engagements, it’s growing. We certainly no longer live in the era of lifetime or even long-term employment.
New generations of workers are abandoning traditional career paths and expectations about the nature of employment are rapidly changing. This is being driven by millennial and even younger members of the workforce, whose shortening job tenures are well documented: Millennials will change jobs during their first decade in the workforce at double the rate of Gen Xers when they were the same age.
We have found that 11% of the workforce is considered agile. Very few companies are truly open to the idea. They’re typically only using this type of project-based worker to fill a talent void, supplement seasonal staffing requirements or support long-term projects. However, our Randstad Workplace 2025 study revealed more employers and employees want agile work environments.
It’s time for employers to radically change the way they think about employment, just as the workforce itself has. To meet the expectation of future employees, employers need to be more progressive about recognizing how agile workers (freelancer, gig, contract) can fit into their corporate objectives and make agility part of a comprehensive workforce planning strategy.
Understanding The Value Exchange In An Agile Work Arrangement
When it comes to the agile employment model, there is much to gain for both employees and employers. The same Workplace 2025 study found that 68% believe it better fits their lifestyle, 48% believe agile work affords them better career growth than they’d achieve as permanent employees, 63% believe it will make them more qualified for future employment opportunities and 56% believe agile work will earn them more compensation. People are wanting the flexibility of multiple work environments, and the new challenges and consistent learning that come with it.
This also brings value to the employer. Agile workers have more diverse thinking and experiences that can help spur innovation.
Think back to the times of a one-job career. People had almost no exposure to other companies — how they were managed, how they problem-solved. Today’s employees have that outside perspective, and more holistic business awareness is a catalyst for innovation.
Figuring Out Where To Insert Agile Workers Into Your Workforce Mix
The report also found almost 90% of C-suite executives believe the companies that master the mix of traditional and agile talent will be the most successful in this new era. It’s HR’s job to help bring this to fruition. This requires strategic workforce planning, both long- and short-term. A mix of people is needed, and employers need to model what their ideal mix is based on the outputs they need.
No business can run with just short-term hires; it’s vital to have consistency around company vision and how departments can deliver. But there are plenty of scenarios and functions for which contract workers are well suited. Architecting a customer experience, marketing campaign, product design or creative design are just a few examples. Gig workers can bring a great deal of fresh ideas to creative work — many are at the top of their fields and have chosen project work for its flexibility, challenge and exposure.
Another clear “application” of contract workers is where talent scarcity exists, like software engineers or other technical roles that are incredibly hard to fill. Hiring someone to deliver on an immediate need helps a company be more agile to customer and market needs, instead of leaving a role open and a deliverable unfulfilled for an extended period.
Setting Up An Infrastructure To Support Agile Work
The first part of this is the hiring infrastructure and learning how to evaluate agile workers. Employers and their HR leadership need to start helping hiring managers think in these terms of what needs can be accomplished through a non-full-time employee.
It also requires breaking with the traditional way of evaluating workers: Longevity and promotions can’t be the mechanism by which people are judged for a job. Outcomes, experiences, portfolios of projects and results need to take precedence. All employees need to be judged on their work output, not just their years in a seat.
The next part of the infrastructure is the physical and digital systems. Office concepts that easily incorporate agile workers — a more hotel-like setup where people come and go — are critical to creating short-term collaboration and inclusion needed for a successful engagement. Collaboration tools, onboarding materials and other mechanisms for connecting them to the organization are so important and so often overlooked.
Businesses and their workforces are just learning how to work with agile remote workers, and this “infrastructure” will dictate whether an engagement with an agile worker will be successful and whether the organization will adopt agile workers at scale.
That infrastructure is also key to an employers’ ability to build an agile talent pipeline. Companies need to effectively utilize these people and deliver an experience to them (in exchange for their output), and if they do so, they’ll have a group of people who are willing to gain their next work experience with them or come back in the future.
The way businesses hire and get work done needs to play catch-up and evolve alongside the behavior shifts of the talent market. Nearly 4 in 10 workers say they are likely to consider shifting to an agile arrangement over the next two to three years. Exclusivity in the workplace could soon become a thing of the past. The employers who figure out how to capture agile workers’ value and bring them into their operations will thrive, and ultimately be more agile, too.