Skip page header and navigation

Return to office: Who has the last say?

CWS 3.0 - Contingent Workforce Strategies

Return to office: Who has the last say?

Stephen Clancy
| July 9, 2024

main content

The debate about remote work continues across the broader marketplace, pitting talent against management and emerging as a hot topic among contingent workforce program managers.

Some jobs, such as light industrial and retail, require a local onsite presence where other roles and engagements have proven to be more productively effective as remote positions. For example, many statement-of-work engagements accepted remote work readily, even before the pandemic pushed the concept to the forefront. Remote work has a long-term effective history with an early 1980s example of a deal engaging workers to input data via Zenith Data Systems’ Z19 Terminals from the comfort of their homes.

The CW Program Perspective

What do contingent workforce program managers think of the remote work option presently?

For some jobs, the productive, cost-effective leverage of remote work has been an accepted practice for quite some time. Communications and networking technology has changed the possibilities completely by enhancing and accelerating remote working models around the globe.

Respondents to SIA’s most recent Workforce Solutions Buyer Survey supported the fundamental understanding of in-office versus remote working requirements. Organizations primarily using IT skills had a much higher percentage of their contingent workforce working primarily remotely (60%) than companies using industrial skills (4%).

A higher percentage of finance/insurance and technology/telecom companies also reported contingent workers working remotely, with some reporting 70% to 60% of their CW talent engagements working primarily remotely. Overall, a median 20% of contingent workers and 25% of internal employees were working primarily remotely at the time of this recent SIA buyer research survey, with the expectation of that staying more or less the same two years down the line.

Benefits to the program. Some of the key benefits of engaging contingent remote worker talent relate to saving on overhead costs by not having to provide office space and office-related expense. Other potential benefits of engaging a CW worker talent remotely are:

  • Sourcing without borders.
  • Increased productivity.
  • Teamwork and communication.

Remote work engagement modes can, in many cases, bring significant CW execution benefits to your organization. The on-demand staffing sourcing channel can help to connect you to talent beyond your immediate operating market and gives you access not only to CW remote talent but also lower cost of living markets. This can help you get outside of a potentially saturated talent markets and find available candidates in places where demand may be lower and a cost that reflects that.

Benefits to the worker. Workers stand to benefit in key ways as well:

  • Reduced commute time. In the US, the average one-way commute time is 26.1 minutes, according to the US Census Bureau. For a full-time, five-day-a-week job, that adds up to 4.35 hours a week and over 200 hours per year.
  • Other travel cost savings. For example, vehicle expenses, tolls, parking.
  • Clothing expenses. Workers need fewer work-specific outfits.
  • Fewer interruptions.
  • Virtual meetings reduce distractions.
  • Virtual offices can be anywhere.
  • Work-life balance. Managed professionally and effectively, remote contingent workers can execute a work-life balance schedule that potentially delivers more professional productivity and desired personal life engagement needs.


Remote work engagements do not come without challenges. One of the biggest challenges for organizations looking to engage the gig economy is the basic concept of contingent workers being remote. While most companies consider remote work a benefit, for the growing population of gig workers, it is a way of life. This working operation model can feel uncomfortable for companies that are used to a traditional office environment. Apart for the social components that make remote contingents challenging, you must also establish remote office procedures for these resources to ensure the security of data and systems. These challenges can be overcome with some slight adjustments in meeting structures and standardization of system access protocols.

Some other challenges of note:

  • Asset management recovery.
  • Tracking required productivity.
  • Fraudulent talent replacement.
  • Wandering talent (state or other jurisdiction tax issue).
  • Office space leases.

Emboldened Talent

Talent is going to have a big voice in this discussion.

Consider the results of Dell’s return-to-office initiative that launched earlier this year. According to Ars Technica, workers had to classify themselves as fully remote or hybrid, which would entail working in the office about three days per week. Those who opted to remain fully remote would not be considered for promotion or hired into new roles within the company. Internal tracking data reportedly found nearly 50% of the workforce opted to accept the consequences of staying remote, undermining the technology brand’s plan to restore its in-office culture.

Talk about culture loss.

Some of the best talent in the marketplace is emboldened to take their skills into the marketplace and compete for the work-life arrangements they prefer, sometimes not even as a traditional employee but as an independent contractor. Sourcing and talent/gig matching technology is accelerating this trend by enhancing access to compete in the marketplace. The question is, will management compete for this growing talent preference with policies that treat remote work not just a benefit, but also a requirement for work-life balance?