Complementary practices

Forget temps. There is a whole new way of working to make the most of staff.
Anybody just starting out in the world of work will already be well aware that the days of large corporations hiring hundreds of people a year and expecting to keep them for life have gone. What they are less likely to realise is that - in the continuing attempt to make the new working methods palatable - the terminology is changing.

According to research recently commissioned by Manpower, which claims to be the UK's leading employment specialist, the word "temp" is out - to be replaced by "complementary worker".

This band - apparently increasingly likely to be composed of men - refers to those people who are in a "non-permanent capacity with a host organisation". Corfield Wright, the employment consultancy that produced the just-published report, says that the old labels for this group - "for example, casual, temp or peripheral, no longer convey their important contribution to today's business performance". In many organisations, it adds, there is an "interdependent relationship between permanent and complementary workers which now delivers high-quality products and services".

The report, produced with the support of such organisations as BT, IBM, NatWest, Rank Xerox, American Express, the BBC, Boots, the Inland Revenue, and the Communications Workers and Banking Insurance and Finance unions, points out that - just as "temping" has replaced traditional working methods - so it has been supplanted in modern corporations by a myriad of other forms, such as temporary assignment, contracting, sub-contracting, consulting and outsourcing.

At the same time, the reasons for using such approaches are becoming more complex. Although reducing costs, rebalancing after downsizing and building strategic flexibility will continue to be factors behind the policy, the report argues that the primary driver will be the need to increase flexibility at the same time as raising quality and reducing costs. Success in balancing these often conflicting priorities will make the difference between gaining the competitive edge and losing market share, it says.

Accordingly, there is a "widespread willingness to pay for high-quality services for all kinds of work", with many employers recognising that strategic labour flexibility comes from a combination of two elements - higher-quality trained staff who can be deployed in a responsive way.

"It is this combination which produces cost-effective savings and generates increased revenues, not the rate paid to complementary workers," say the authors.

Their report comes as a survey by property consultants Nelson Bakewell indicates that more than 40 per cent of Britain's top 1,000 companies expect their property requirements to decrease over the next five years, largely because increasing numbers of people will operate from home.

While only a fifth of the companies surveyed said that home working had affected working practices during the past five years, nearly two-thirds of those who expect their property holdings to reduce or remain the same before the turn of the century cited home working, "office hoteling" or the technology that makes remote working possible as the major influences on a trend that could mean up to 25 per cent of the workforce in such companies working from home.

The survey "New Technology, New Working Practices and their effect on property occupation", provides an insight into the growing realisation of property's importance to the balance sheet. Having tried to relinquish as much property as possible by "downsizing", companies are looking at how to make their remaining holdings work most efficiently - and reduce their liabilities further.

Michael Hatt, director of Nelson Bakewell's corporate property services division, said: "UK companies are facing a revolution in working practices and their failure to recognise the property implications could cost them dearly."

Meanwhile, Iain Herbertson, director of Manpower, said the Corfield Wright report was "a useful addition to the debate concerning contract or complementary workers. It reveals that those employers who quite naturally keep an eye on costs but give proper weight to training and quality do much better than those who keep an eye on costs alone. Quite simply, choosing the cheapest possible option very often gets you lower-calibre people."

And his view that the research shows that this sort of working - whatever it is called - is here to stay fits in with the beliefs of the companies surveyed by Nelson Bakewell. These were confident that the Internet alone, for example, would have a significant impact on their methods of working in coming years.

Indeed, there is so much change going on that graduates setting out on careers in business should not get too used to the term complementary workers. Coming years are likely to see many modifications of working practices - though a return to anything like the traditional structures is improbable.