Extended Workforce Ecosystems, HR, and the Future of the Contingent Workforce – A Conversation with Workforce Futurist Terri Gallagher

One of the best parts of my role here as Head of Research here at Flextrack is all the great people and organizations I get to speak with as I explore our ecosystem for insights and partners who can help us give the extended workforce the status, recognition, and investment it deserves. 


I recently sat down with Terri Gallagher, Workforce Futurist and CEO of Gallagher and Consultants. Gallagher and Consultants is an independent consulting and advisory firm that helps mid-market and enterprise companies leverage their non-traditional talent for growth, savings and risk management via solutions that can be built in-house or outsourced. 

In our conversation, we covered the emergence of “workforce ecosystems,” the changing demographics of the extended (or contingent) workforce, and the technologies and practices needed to tie them all together. Some excerpts of that conversation are below so you can benefit from Terri’s insights.


Jeff Mike – Flextrack Inc. 

Terri, we’ve been hearing a lot recently about ecosystems and business. And that includes talent and workforces. Where do you see the concept of ecosystems play out in the contingent or in the extended workforce?


Terri Gallagher – Gallagher and Consultants

Yeah, it’s funny because that word is everywhere. Everybody’s got an ecosystem of something. What we see it is that talent has become so dispersed across several different platforms, along with the rise of solopreneurs, and the rise of the remote workforce. And so the ecosystems are really needed to kind of support and engage this workforce now. So that’s technology and solution providers. And they’re really going to be the enabler and the guides to bringing together this very disparate workforce. 


Our industry is very competitive. The thought of various suppliers and solution providers coming together to enable this workforce is a foreign concept. We’re really big on collaborating with competitors. A lot of this is about partnerships that need to come together, different providers need to come together and solution agents to be the enablers for this talent and be able to go and find them in this very dispersed environment. 


And core to this coming together is technology – the seekers, the finders, the enablers – serving as the nucleus of these different partnerships. So these solution providers coming together, and these different technology providers coming together, it’s already happening. These ecosystems are already popping up organically. 


I say this over and over about the talent shortage – it’s not true. The talent is there. They’re not hiding. It’s just that they want to work differently, or they want to work part time, or they want to live in an AIRBnB in Croatia and work from there. Or they’re retired, and they now want to come back into the workforce. This ecosystem really needs to kind of spring up to support this widely dispersed workforce and find a way to bring them into organizations and connect those workers to the people who need their services. That’s how we see ecosystems. 


Jeff Mike – Flextrack, Inc:

I really like your perspective on this notion of the talent shortage being a myth. While there are definitely some skills gaps, what you’re saying is the talent is there and it’s ready to contribute and to learn and develop those skills. Given that perspective, what are some of the main changes in the contingent or the extended workforce that you’ve seen over the past few years?


Terri Gallagher, Gallagher and Consultants:

Well, I think the biggest thing we see is that contingent and extended workers have become a more vital part of the workforce because of the explosive growth of this segment. The extended workforce is not some kind of “non,” “alternate,” or “other,” where you bring someone in for a temporary role. They are a critical source of talent for your business. 


We’re moving away from this old construct that regular employees are the Holy Grail of talent. The environment now is more conducive to leveraging people where they want to work, how they want to work the way that they want to work. There’s still a lot of misinformation around contingent or independent contractors or consultants that they’re not going to be skilled as a permanent worker, or they’re not going to be as dedicated. But this segment must be even more dedicated, and more skilled, because if you’re not, you’re gone. You don’t eat.  


Overall, we’re moving to more outcomes-based work versus tenure in the workforce. This is removing the stigma of job hopping, you know, someone’s somewhere six months, and they go somewhere else for a year, 10 years ago, that was a problem. Now that I think a wide variety of experiences is becoming more the norm for professionals. And a lot of this is just letting go of that traditional employment construct and embracing the extended workforce. This includes embracing the way that they want to work, because now some of your best talent is in these talent communities, they don’t want to be a permanent employee. The workforce is there, but the organizations that need to embrace this workforce, need some help catching up, as well as you know, state and federal agencies that want to regulate it.


Jeff Mike – Flextrack, Inc:

I love your comment regarding the stigma of job-hopping or overall being a part of the extended workforce. Is there anything else on how that stigma has changed in your in your view?


Terri Gallagher, Gallagher and Consultants:

Well, I think it’s about embracing that this workforce wants to work differently. You know, they like the flexibility and the autonomy, the benefits of working as part of the extended workforce. This is the way that they’re showing up. And we need to hold space for that. 


Gallagher has been doing this for years. When I first started, I had to use micro consulting, because we were a woman-owned business and I didn’t have any funding. I had to get creative to get things done. And I found that using a part of someone’s brain, or 10 hours of their time a week, was perfect for them because they were also working for Disney and Caesars and all these other companies. And working that way is actually very effective. And it also lets the worker show up the way that they want to. 


I’ve noticed with some of these consultants, and they’re very good at what they do, they want to show up a certain way. I had one a couple weeks ago and said to her “I need you to be at this meeting.” She’s like, “Yeah, I’m not going. I’m not really feeling that.” What do I say? She doesn’t do meetings, but she crushes the deliverables that I need her to do, you know, so there’s a little bit of me that let her have it her way. Who cares? I could speak that piece if she shows up. 


So a lot of this is just letting go of this kind of top down control way of doing things and really embracing the contingent workforce the way that they want to work, and then letting them work


Jeff Mike – Flextrack, Inc:

Along with perceptions of the extended workforce, are you noticing any difference in the makeup or the demographics of this workforce?


Terri Gallagher, Gallagher and Consultants: 

Definitely. We talked about this to the whole idea of non- and otherness. I think that’s going away, those lines are getting blurred. A lot of companies are also looking at DE&I now, you know, how do we embrace that within the contingent workforce now that they’re a bigger part of our enterprise? How do we make sure that we are embracing more DE&I within that workforce? How are we making sure that we’re focusing on some of the things we put in place for permanent employees to ensure that we get more minority and women owned and other categories into our workforce? 


It’s been a little slow going, there’s a couple things organically that are happening to help it along, especially women. Women really took a double whammy during the pandemic. Some of them had to leave the workforce to stay home and school their kids. There were lot of changes as far as women being able to work the way that they wanted to, or just being laid off, or so many changes that kind of interfered with their ability to make a living. Now that there are calls to return to the office, they are saying, “You know what, I don’t want to go back to that environment, I want to be a solopreneur I want to start my own company.” 


So organically, the workforce is already becoming more diverse from that perspective. That’s really helpful, but the biggest thing around contingent workforce and we’ve worked on is to look at how companies were approaching DE&I within the contingent workforce. And the willingness is there, so they are saying how do we embrace this? How do we do it in a compliant way? 


There’s a lot of fear around really looking at numbers and data. Who’s coming in? Will we get in trouble by the EEOC? Maybe if we give it to the staffing providers, they can worry about it, because they’ve got ways of doing that. And we see a lot of that happening. So, I do see a lot changing as far as how the extended workforce is going, how this workforce is going to be viewed, and I’m seeing more efforts being made to include it. But it’s a little slow going. Because again, there’s still that, that outdated paradigms about Microsoft perma-temp, and co-employment, and can we have them at our meetings? Do we have to give him a blue badge? There’s still a little bit of this keeping everyone at arm’s length, so everybody’s terrified of the IRS. I think that some of that’s going to change to, to kind of enable embracing this workforce and embracing DE&I very aggressively within this workforce.


Jeff Mike – Flextrack, Inc:

What are some of the some of the behavior changes that you’re either seeing, or that need to happen in order to fully take advantage of these shifts that you’ve described?


Terri Gallagher, Gallagher and Consultants: 

One thing we’re seeing on the organization side is that they definitely see the value of bringing more of this workforce in and they want to understand it, but they’re still very kind of bound by these other more traditional employment constructs – especially the Fortune 100 and 500. And a lot of them are really just needing advisory around what tech products do we use, and can we use more ICs and how do we do that compliantly and what’s really out there to help us enable the workflows of sourcing and seeking and onboarding this workforce, then integrating that that workforce? And I think there’s a lot of opportunity to really step into an advisory and consultative role, and try to do that as neutral as possible. A lot of them are also getting advisory and consultation from, you know, big box software companies saying, “You just need to implement our tech and everything will be fine. There’s your consultation.” And I think that there’s kind of a next level of consultation that’s needed around that. 


Jeff Mike – Flextrack, Inc:

Should HR become more involved in the extended workforce given all the demands that are already on its plate? 


Terri Gallagher, Gallagher and Consultants: 

I think HR has no choice, whether they like it or not. Traditionally HR has been all about risk management for the company, and compliance and performance reviews. And now, they’re being asked to sit at the table with all the CXO’s, CIO and CHRO, and CTO and help with HR’s technology decisions and help with workforce strategies. They are being asked to level up as far as their involvement and their sophistication level, especially around tech and analytics. So, absolutely. They need to be more involved in that they really already are. 


I’ve said everyone keeps talking about the future of work, and it’s here. It’s not in the future – this is the way we work now. And HR leadership is really needing to step in and take their seat at the table and work with some of these other leaders to make decisions and execute strategies. The more that these parties can come together, and the more that HR is integrated into these types of decisions, sooner rather than later is only going to help the company. It’s only going to, you know, benefit the company to kind of get to that next level around embracing this workforce. 


Jeff Mike – Flextrack, Inc:

From your perspective, what are some of the technologies that are needed to move from a siloed, or a tight supply chain approach, to something that’s more ecosystem oriented?


Terri Gallagher, Gallagher and Consultants: 

Well, if you look at just the new technologies that are coming out around HRIS, on demand, workforce platforms, recruiting networks – all of these different subcategories of technologies, they constitute an ecosystem. There are about 2500 different tech platforms that are in this ecosystem, and there’s more coming up every day. So I think that that can be very overwhelming. 


You know, we get these questions all the time: “Which two tech products should I use for my company? Could you just narrow that down?” It’s such a huge question. We need to get away from just working with one or two pieces of tech. I keep saying “decentralization is a new centralization.” I think we need to be a bit more holistic around looking at multiple pieces of tech, not only HRIS, but on demand workforce platforms, those entry points for workers who come in, IC indemnification and compliance, and then being okay with having a kind of a fragmented tech stack. And, you know, and a data warehouse is the nucleus, right, you know, to bring it all together so that they can track data. You know, there’s a lot of as, you know, middleware products that are popping up in API’s. You’ve got to look at the client’s environment, and what their appetite for change is. Are they conservative? Or do they want to do something more progressive, and then you need to look at what’s going to make the most sense for them. 


And what we found the technology implementations we’ve gone through with some of our clients is that iterative is better than Big Bang, you know, implement a piece of tech to fix some pieces of your business then build on those wins. And, you know, make sure that you’ve got the right discovering requirements. The biggest thing around the tech is everybody get away from thinking you’ve got to pick like the two best products. There’s no such thing.

Jeff Mike

Jeff Mike

Head of Research, Flextrack

Jeff Mike works closely with HR, Procurement and IT leaders to design extended workforce ecosystems that fuel and future-proof enterprise talent strategies. Jeff brings over 15 years of experience leading HR functions, along with five years leading global HR- and workforce-related research, to combine the best thought leadership, business practices, and platform technology into purpose-built solutions.

Jeff Mike