Independent Contractors Helping to Shape the New World of Work

Of 530 recently surveyed independent consultants, more than 80 percent expressed satisfaction with their employment status, although 27 percent admitted that, given the chance, they would return to a full-time job.

M Squared Consulting CEO John Kunzweiler has a definition for the term flexible workforce: the new world of work. And according to a recent survey by his San Francisco-based company, the flexible workforce may be here to stay.

M Squared Consulting manages highly skilled professionals who, as independently employed consultants, help make up the flexible workforce. Kunzweiler says in this new workforce, top professionals working independently are calling the shots, especially if they have project management skills that make their temporary assignments an asset to employers. The model saves businesses money and real estate costs since most consultants work remotely. The deal also affords consultants greater work-life control.

But even if the economy were to suddenly boom, Kunzweiler says he doesn’t anticipate a reduced demand or shift in the flexible workforce’s attitude toward their work.

“When you see that 81 percent of our consultants are satisfied or extremely satisfied with this as a career choice, that blows my mind,” he says.

Of the 530 independent consultants surveyed by M Squared, more than 80 percent expressed satisfaction, although 27 percent admitted that, given the chance, they would return to full-time employment. In the survey 39 percent of the consultants said that they disliked short-term assignments. Lack of job security was a concern for 26 percent.

Despite the reservations, 69 percent of those surveyed said they believe that the flexible workforce has become a fixture in the workplace.

A January study by Herndon, Virginia-based MBO Partners reveals the steep ascent of the independent workforce. There are 16 million independent consultants working in the U.S., the study notes, and will jump to 21 million by 2015. By 2020 more than half of the private workforce will be independent, according to the study.

Park Ridge, Illinois-based Life Meets Work president Kyra Cavanaugh says that the on-demand approach to labor is well-suited for today’s business climate.

“In a push for efficiency and productivity, organizations can hire to meet customers’ demand and scale up or down, depending on what customers need,” says Cavanaugh, whose firm helps organizations implement workplace flexibility.

“Forget all this unemployment stuff,” Kunzweiler says. “Top-level professionals are in great demand and are hard to find.”

Organizations, he adds, are reluctant to commit to the expense of adding more top-level, full-time employees.

“So they want to be unbelievably cautious and will search out all alternatives,” Kunzweiler says. A professional who’s armed with skills, expertise and a consultant’s toolbox for project management is hard to beat, he says.

Cavanaugh says organizations can make mistakes when employing a flexible workforce. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the hiring manager, the recruiting department and human resources.

“It’s important that if an organization is going to start utilizing independent consultants on a much broader scale, they should come up with a strategy that involves their legal counsel, their recruiters, HR, as well as the hiring managers, just to be sure that they’re putting together a coordinated strategy,” she says. “Otherwise, HR finds out about it down the road, or recruiting finds out about it down the road, and it can create a disjointed talent management strategy.”

Susan G. Hauser is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

Asked what the most important technological tool is for finding and placing independent consultants, M Squared CEO John Kunzweiler answers without hesitation: “LinkedIn.”

He says, “When you say LinkedIn is what has fueled this change, ‘fueled’ is not a strong enough word. LinkedIn is what blows the doors off this model.”

In the “old days,” Kunzweiler says, it was seen as disloyal to send out your résumé while still employed. With LinkedIn, where every subscriber posts a résumé, that has changed. Now it’s expected that anybody will be open to the next great opportunity.

“If you’re not social networking, you’re a has-been,” Kunzweiler says.