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How HR professionals can use tech to embrace post-COVID-19 ‘quantum employment’

‘Quantum employment’ is carried out by freelancers and contractors.

John Whelan

quantum employment
Credit: MICHAEL LANE via Twenty20.

How can employers update its tech to attract these types of employees? Unleash Your Potential

The world of work post-COVID is set to be dynamic.

HR professionals have seen nothing like this in their careers; from furlough returners, to the so-called “Great Resignation’, from double jab passports to flexible working, the degree of change is unprecedented.

For some HR professionals, this new world of constant change piles more unwelcome pressure on their shoulders. For others, on/off holidays and shortages of key workers are challenges creating an additional dynamism in the work environment. These are challenges to their skill sets that make their role so satisfying.

HR departments whose organizations traditionally employed contractors, freelancers and casual labor may have an advantage here over others.

These organizations are part of the so-called ‘quantum employment’ economy, where increasingly smaller units of work are undertaken. They are equipped to employ, tax, pay and provide benefits to this fast-growing labour pool.

Are you a ‘quantum employer’?

Once upon a time ‘quantum employment’ only applied to sectors like retail, construction and distribution.

Now, though, it is on the rise across the board. More and more businesses are looking more like ‘quantum employers’.

Recent Office of National Statistics data show that while employment edged up one percentage point in the last 12 months, non-permanent work rose five times faster this year. Many companies are ‘quantum employers’ without even knowing it.

In times of change, like those we have all recently lived through, technology is a god send.

Many HR pros have suffered Zoom fatigue, while also enjoying the benefits of reduced commutes. Home delivery apps have helped keep the economy moving during the lockdown too.

HR and payroll from bygone eras

At work however many HR professionals are finding the tech they use each day is not fit for purpose.

Designed for a different era, of mostly permanent, full-time work, it cannot hope to keep up with the realities of ‘quantum employment’, rapid churn in the workforce and increasing expectations of flexible work from part-time workers and independent contractors. 

Today’s modern workforce expects more of HR and payroll executives. When workers can arrive at work using a ride-hailing app, pay for their shopping on smartphones and work remotely, yesteryear processes are a turn off.

In the extreme, ease of employment, seamless payments even for the smallest amount of work and reassurance they will never have any tax issues, could cause a prime candidate to change employers.

When, as at present, some employers need to offer unprecedented incentives just to attract candidates, poor HR processes can actually hurt the bottom line.

Smoother temporary worker tech

As with most tech-driven innovations, one of the key advantages of all this disruption is a move to greater efficiency.

Uniting the previously distinct processes of identifying candidates, confirming their employment, tallying timesheets, assigning tax codes, accruing benefits and processing payrolls is an obvious target for improvement.

While many in-house teams have succeeded in streamlining these core business processes for permanent staff, many are only beginning to realise the efficiency savings the new era of ‘quantum employment’ offers.

Until now, many employers use umbrella companies to partition off these processes for their non-permanent workers. But while this has proved a smart way to remove complexity from their core HR teams, the use of third parties can bring coordination issues of its own.

In addition, the UK Government, MPs and trade unions are lobbying to change the way umbrella companies are used by employers.

Whatever the outcome of this debate, it seems clear that the world of ‘quantum employment’ is set to change and soon. This is where forward-looking HR and payroll departments can embrace change with new technologies.

Serving the most flexible workforce ever

So, given the seemingly unstoppable rise in flexible work, the appetite for roles which suit individual employee life circumstances and the unprecedented amount of worker mobility between roles, what is the best tech strategy?

HR professionals with non-permanent teams need to look for systems which combine employee databases, with up-to-the minute UK tax rule accounting and payment systems.

Whether using an umbrella company structure or keeping a more direct relationship with employees, they need to know there will be no surprises for their employees or their organization, even as workforces churn at faster and faster rates.

From a practical perspective, generic payroll and HR software cannot hope to keep up with the constantly changing tax codes, pension entitlements and payroll details of the most flexible workforce ever.

For this reason, HR and payroll executives need to avail themselves of specialist, but proven, cloud software, which takes as a baseline the new world of quantum employment, where poor service can mean more employees voting with their feet.

Designing tomorrow’s world of work

The accelerated digitization of the workplace is well-documented. But it would be too easy to believe this is an endpoint for the innovation which the quantum economy will bring.

Already today, contractors and part-time workers are building their own individual work life balances. Some are employed as healthcare professionals for parts of their workday and as drivers or warehouse workers for other parts of the day or during their week.

For younger workers, the rise of ‘side hustles’ and the ability, thanks to ‘quantum employment’, and their desire to ‘try before they buy’ a career path has strong appeal. This makes ‘quantum employment’ very appealing.

More mature employees who are looking to supplement their delayed pensions may appeal to employers due to more stable personal circumstances. Both will want to work more on their terms.

Employers too are being forced to recognize increased mobility around workplaces and the pressure in certain roles to offer ‘signing on’ bonuses.

While the labor market is likely to settle down, perhaps removing the need to use such measures to attract new employees, the rate of churn is likely to remain high.

The march of smartphone apps to manage aspects of personal lives will inevitably shift expectations workers have of employers.

When items can be easily bought online, paid for later but delivered today, why should payroll processing be stuck in decades old processes?

For tomorrow’s HR and payroll teams to cope with the rate of change which quantum employment is bringing, only the most up-to-date cloud-based IT systems can cope.

The return to work we are now seeing is driving a generational shift in employment, workforce relations and ultimately how employees need to cater for their teams.

Today’s workplace is anything but ‘business as usual’.

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