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2021: The Year of the Human Cloud


Quarterly financial reports for 2020 (April onwards) from recruitment organizations show that in a COVID-19 world, temporary hiring is more resilient than permanent hiring, faring on average about 10-30% better (albeit both types of hiring are seeing negative growth overall). Meanwhile, gig work has increased on average 10-15%, over the same period. These figures are not surprising as organizations undertake recruitment that minimizes labor cost risk. And, in 2021, with the economic situation likely to be the same as 2020, organizations will want to maintain flexibility with their workforce, making contingent hiring the most attractive option.

With a multigenerational workforce demanding more flexible working arrangements (avoiding the 9 to 5, choosing working hours, characterized by freelance or gig work), now is an ideal time for organizations to embrace a holistic (total talent) approach to talent acquisition. Organizations have also demonstrated their resilience in embracing technology/tools to enable remote working. So, now is the time for organizations to combine the two: using additional technological channels to find the flexible skilled workers they need to get tasks done, while minimizing labor cost risk in an economically challenging market. 

Human clouds, where task-specific jobs, projects or gigs are carried out on demand from any location, using an online/digital platform, have seen a growth of ~15% in 2020 over 2019. And they could see a further uptick in use in 2021 as workers laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic seek new ways to find work.

Challenges in determining the most suitable human clouds

At first glance, there are potential challenges in determining the most suitable human clouds to use, when:

  • There is a choice of at least 1,800 online recruitment platforms/human clouds (KellyOCG, 2020)
  • Some advertise a broad range of skills, while others are highly niche. How do you know which ones are most suitable for hiring specific skillsets?
  • There are choices on human cloud/platform types: organizations would likely seek candidates by entering a direct legal relationship with an individual worker, using an online marketplace platform such as Toptal. But another option is to use a crowdsourcing platform, where several workers bid for, then independently work on, specific elements/constituent parts of a project. 99designs is an example of such a platform. In another example, restaurants refocusing their business for online delivery may use a service platform such as uber eats to seek drivers to deliver takeaway food to the public
  • These marketplaces operate in their own environment, with their unique ecosystem and end-to-end process
  • For procurement, it is an expensive way of getting labor (by paying separately for resources on different platforms).

One vendor that has addressed these potential challenges is KellyOCG.

KellyOCG’s one-stop-shop solution

KellyOCG has recently launched its human cloud aggregation service, offering a one-stop-shop for access to best-in-class human cloud platforms. Initially offered as part of its MSP/CWS offering, the service fills the gap in its holistic/total talent acquisition offering. The service combines human support underpinned by technology.

The Kelly Human Cloud technology (co-developed with Avature) automates and consolidates the process steps and harmonizes the profile information from each human cloud (with their unique profile formats). Some platforms involve going through a mini RFX process, where freelancers bid on the work to be done. Other platforms have a white glove hands-on approach, with a consultant that understands the requirements and finds the talent. The platform links to the organization’s VMS, enabling the hiring manager to review worker information and manage the project via the most appropriate human cloud. The system integration allows an organization to use existing invoicing and time-sheeting functionality within the VMS without re-inventing the wheel externally.

Once a new organization comes on board, it signs a client-specific contract or an addendum to a master services agreement, allowing for very easy onboarding with minimal administration. This saves the organization from needing to negotiate all the platforms separately. The organization determines whether a human cloud environment is suitable to get the work task done. KellyOCG liaises with the hiring manger to determine ground rules around using human clouds, then configures the decision-tree functionality within an organization’s VMS to determine the best hiring option. If the work can be delivered remotely (with talent sitting anywhere in the world), human clouds can work, though obviously they are not suitable for organizations that want the physical presence of a worker in an office environment.

One of KellyOCG’s clients needed to undertake quality control on 50 billboards it had set up across 50 airport locations. After posting a requirement on a platform, the client identified candidates to undertake the work of going to an airport, taking a picture of the billboard, and uploading it to enable the client to check on the quality of each billboard. The candidates received payment for the work done.

After initially reviewing eight human cloud platforms, KellyOCG settled on an initial five with which to launch the aggregation service: 99designs (leading in the creative space), BTG (Kelly major stake), The Mom Project (diversity), Toptal, and The core five cover most of the skillsets hired within its clients’ existing hiring programs. KellyOCG plans to expand the human cloud aggregation service, adding more human clouds over time.

The need to use remote talent will endure 

In addition to the ongoing budgetary concerns about the cost of labor in an uncertain economic market, other restrictions remain in place, making remote talent an attractive proposition. Many countries are not processing visa applications, so workers cannot travel internationally. The second wave of COVID-19 is already well-established, potentially forcing further lockdowns at a local or country level well into 2021. Embracing human clouds should not be concerned with the “if” but rather the “when”.

While KellyOCG does not yet have any data/analytics around the usage or success of leveraging the human clouds in its aggregation service, there are some statistics that serve as a starting point. For example:

  • 99designs have 20K designers working on the platform every month, and a new design is created every two seconds, with 97m designs created overall
  • In 2019, posted 1.9m projects
  • In 2020/21, The Mom Project expects 10k projects to be posted on the site.

Undoubtedly, the number of candidates registering on human cloud platforms will increase, as more traditional methods of hiring requiring in-person interviews are stalled. Companies need to act to capture these work-ready candidates.

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