What Upwork’s IPO Filing Means for the World of Digital Staffing

Between the Contingent Workforce Weekly podcast and insights here on CPO Rising, we’ve come to learn that the Future of Work runs on three core attributes: technology, talent, and the convergence of the two. As the world of work continues to evolve, more and more focus will revolve around the idea that flexibility and transformational thinking are crucial elements in how the modern business addresses how work is done.

The world of digital staffing is incredibly relevant today for one critical reason: it represents the very “convergence” of talent and technology. Last year’s State of Contingent Workforce Management research study uncovered (amongst many, many other findings) two illustrative points about this new world of work:

  1. The vast majority of enterprises crave true business agility. The ability to respond dynamically (and in real-time) to new business challenges is a key element in this new world of work. Talent and technology are the linchpins in achieving this goal. And:
  2. When the need for talent and resources arises, companies look to one strategy above all else: scouring a total talent pool that includes FTEs, temporary workers, independent contractors, freelancers, and, of course, digital staffing outlets.

Also known as online talent platforms and talent marketplaces, digital staffing outlets allow businesses to leverage on-demand access to a deep pool of workers, align these workers’ skillsets/expertise with project requirements via “matching” algorithms, and, in some cases (for those platforms that offer enterprise-level services/functionality), provide analytics to understand talent gaps, utilization of talent, and other key insights related to how work is done.

Last week, digital staffing giant Upwork (often considered the largest solution in this digital staffing space) filed for its Initial Public Offering (IPO), the first major step in taking the company public. While financial details and the expected initial price are conjecture at this point, the move itself speaks volumes about the meta-industry that is brewing within the contingent workforce and talent management landscapes.

What Does This Mean for Upwork?

Simply put, after years of significant year-over-year growth, the move makes natural sense for Upwork. As previously noted, they have been the relative giant in the online/digital staffing industry for several years now, with consistent rounds of venture capital-backed funding. The “household name” effect will be compounded by the public filing and will certainly boost the company’s brand into new business arenas. From a technology perspective, this big move comes on the heels of the solution’s announcements of its Program Owner Experience solution, a new extension of Upwork Enterprise (the company’s platform that is geared for larger, enterprise-size customers). The POE offering’s main goal is to assist these larger businesses develop more robust talent engagement programs and better tap into the world of agile talent by allowing its users to track skills gaps, monitor program performance (by hiring manager, region, location, etc.), and understand how the overall business is leveraging non-employee labor.

What Does This Mean for the Market?

Ardent Partners research has found that utilization of digital staffing platforms has doubled over the past two years and is expected to rise yet again in 2018. As more and more businesses strive for organizational agility, the realm of real-time talent engagement is a foundational element in how work is done. In fact, the simple notion of “search and select” is old hat now in this industry; there are several disruptors in the digital staffing industry that are offering functionality and services that traverse beyond mere talent engagement.

Upwork’s IPO filing won’t just affect the company itself…there are far-reaching ramifications of this colossal move. Much like Vendor Management System (VMS) technology has spent the past several years closing in on true “enterprise technology” territory, this move also assists other digital staffing providers share the limelight. Upwork’s IPO filing signals a new age for the Gig Economy, one that may finally burst the bubble between the consumer and business worlds. For nearly three years now, the very notion of the Gig Economy has divided enterprise executives between those that buy into it as a critical source of new talent, and others that see it as merely a consumer-based fad.

While companies like Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB steal most of the Gig Economy-induced headlines, the truth is that the flexible world of gig-based lifestyles represents a major shift in how companies perceive and engage their talent. Simply put: the Gig Economy is no fad, but rather another indication that the world of work is evolving.

As for the impact of this news on the rest of the online and digital staffing market, the following providers will certainly experience the positive fallout of more attention on this growing and progressive arena of technology:

  • Catalant. Over two years after its rebrand to Catalant (from HourlyNerd.com), the provider has become a hotbed of agile workforce activity, helping its users leverage deep talent pools, programmatic functionality, and machine learning-fueled algorithms to match businesses with high-quality talent for critical, project-based work.
  • FieldNation. FieldNation’s digital staffing platform has long been a destination for on-demand service-based work, helping its users find the ideal match between complex projects and highly-skilled field service providers/workers. And, with the new FieldNation ONE, its customers can effectively track and manage both its on-site and on-demand workforce by incorporating management and scheduling of W2 talent, as well.
  • Shiftgig. Shiftgig has revolutionized the idea of the on-demand, hourly workforce by harnessing mobility, enterprise-level technology, and robust screening to help its customers find the best-fit talent within the foodservice, experiential marketing, and retail industries.
  • Toptal. Toptal’s digital staffing platform is a go-to outlet for businesses that require incredibly “top-shelf” freelance and independent talent. One major facet of the new world of work is that non-employee workers play an increasingly important role in mission-critical enterprise projects; TopTal’s platform hand-selects the best-aligned talent (individuals and teams) and allows users to leverage a truly agile, top-tier, on-demand workforce.
  • Checkr. What’s often lost in the online staffing shuffle is compliance; Checkr solves the problem of on-demand screening for the on-demand workforce. Dynamic background screening is critical for companies that serve as conduits for the real-time, gig-based workforce (i.e. Uber, Lyft, Instacart, etc.), and Checkr boasts on-demand background and criminal screening.
  • Wonolo. Wonolo’s pre-screened digital network is designed for the hourly workforce, allowing manufacturers, warehouses, delivery, and other industries access to tens of thousands of workers that are connected via Wonolo’s application. By pre-screening and undertaking rigorous up-front checks, Wonolo’s time-to-fill rate (under five minutes) aligns incredibly well with businesses that need these types of workers in real-time.
  • Fulcrum. With the myriad of digital staffing outlets available to the modern business, it can be difficult to formulate the ideal mix of providers. Fulcrum facilitates the management of talent marketplaces, can easily integrate into a company’s VMS (to find talent across vast networks when requisitions are created), and enables compliance screening of all workers funneled through its system. MSP for online staffing? Fulcrum may be the first of its kind in the new world of work.
  • Sense. Integrating with a business’ ATS, Sense enables users to automate and better control the engagement processes inherent in workforce management. As discussed frequently on the Contingent Workforce Weekly podcast (and in Ardent research), the “talent experience” is crucial in keeping and reengaging key expertise. Sense’s platform facilitates continued talent/candidate engagement to ensure that businesses are able to understand employee satisfaction and identify roadblocks to reengagement and redeployment.
  • Shortlist. Founded just three years ago, Shortlist has grown from a Freelancer Management System (FMS) to expansive digital workforce management suite. Co-founders Martin Konrad and Joey Fraiser have consistently secured funding since the solution’s inception, and, rightfully so, the platform has shined: Shortlist offers workforce analytics, SOW and services management, FMS capabilities, onboarding, and freelancer payment management.
  • VNDLY. VNDLY is a platform seemingly built for convergence, combining talent acquisition, SOW and services management, and contingent workforce management under a cloud-based banner that promotes collaboration between MSPs, procurement executives, CWM program leads, etc. The solution integrates with an organization’s VMS, and promotes a seamless user experience with interactive dashboards, next-generation analytics (powered by machine learning), and a full arsenal of workforce and talent management functionality.

The world of digital staffing doesn’t end there, however. From providers that leverage blockchain technology to revolutionize talent engagement (BHIRED) to platforms that have yet to launch to the public but show vast promise (AmalgaNation), the fallout from Upwork’s recent news is sweet to the ears of providers across this evolving industry.

Be sure to take 15 minutes and participate in the new State of Contingent Workforce Management research survey, which will highlight the place of digital staffing in the new world of work. Click here to participate in the survey (all participants will receive a complimentary edition of the resulting research report).

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