The W2 Vs. 1099 Field Workforce Conundrum: Addressing Struggles on Both Sides | Future of Field Service
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The W2 Vs. 1099 Field Workforce Conundrum: Addressing Struggles on Both Sides

By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

This week’s podcast is a really interesting one – I am talking firsthand with an IT service technician who is an independent contractor. There’s so much discussion and debate around what the service workforce should look like and how best to leverage W2 and/or 1099 workers to meet the needs of each company’s demands, but I’d never sat down with an independent contractor to ask some of the questions I believe our audience would want to understand:

  • What, if anything, would make you consider going back to a W2 role?
  • The #1 concern I hear about contract workers is protecting the employee experience – is this valid?
  • What steps do companies take in working with you that make your relationship with them most successful?

Tamika Fields, the independent contractor who specializes in IT services, happily answered those questions and more – giving her honest and thoughtful input. To hear all her answers and the deeper discussions we got into, you’ll have to tune in on Wednesday. But there are a few points that I want to discuss a bit here.

We Aren’t Giving Our W2 Workers What They Want

Recruiting and hiring full-time technicians is a major challenge across industries and geographies today. And while there are several reasons for this, it’s important to stay focused on how to control what you can to get the best results possible given all circumstances. With that said, I think the issue is that companies know the needs and desires of today’s workforce are different than those of the incumbent workers, but many (probably most) aren’t taking action to change to better deliver today’s wants.

I asked Tamika, is there anything that would entice you to go back to a W2 role?

She said, “I know there are some things that are beneficial when you have W2 employment, but the only thing that really would make me reconsider a full time employment role would be if I was in a position where the organization allowed me to have the exact same growth opportunities, flexibility, and autonomy to get the job done with an efficient manner in the standard of the white glove service that I provide irrespective of office politics, which is virtually impossible. I’ve only had that as an independent contractor.”

There are some key words here that stand out immediately to me, but I wanted to understand a bit better, so I asked Tamika about what some of those “office politics” feel like or prohibit.
She shares, “I find myself to be more proactive when I’m working 1099. I’m focused on the process and improvement. I do that anyway, but there’s so many things that limit that in a W2 role because there’s so many steps and approvals and people who don’t see what’s really happening and what really would change things and scale things to what they actually need. They see things on papers, it’s abstracted, it’s not tangible. They’re not dealing with the forward-facing aspect of it, nor are they dealing with the actual infrastructure and what it is that they’re doing or trying to do based on the industry that they’re in.”

Tamika also identifies herself within our conversation as a creative (which I love). So, if we begin to break this down a bit, there are some core concepts that I believe many of today’s workers want that most of today’s service organizations aren’t finding ways to deliver:

  • Flexibility. Yes, I realize it can be challenging to provide flexibility in the sense we often think of it (work from home, flexible hours, etc.) given the need for service organizations to react adeptly to customer needs – especially so in some industries where SLAs are tight and responses urgent. However, I do believe that if companies were to force themselves to become more creative, they would find a way to delivery some flexibility.
  • Autonomy. Today’s workforce – OK, basically everyone – doesn’t want to be micromanaged. Sure, you are working hard to protect efficiency and to improve the CX, but you have to build trust with your employees that gives them some freedom to do what you need them to do in a way that feels right for them, because no one wants to feel they have no control over how they do their jobs.
  • Voice. When Tamika brings up how far away some decision makers are from what’s really happening on the frontlines, she’s emphasizing the incredible knowledge your field workers hold. By not giving them an opportunity to share what they are learning in their customer interactions – what problems or opportunities they see – or, even worse, giving them the voice to weigh in but then not listening, you are essentially saying you don’t respect the knowledge they have. Not only does this kill employee engagement, but it prohibits you from benefiting from really smart individuals who are having a higher volume of firsthand customer interactions that many others in your company (probably including you).
  • The ability to contribute to innovation. A creative like Tamika has keen observations, strong ideas, and a drive to implement improvements. But she doesn’t feel like in a W2 role, she’s able to contribute to change or innovation within the business because of all the “politics.” We need to work on creating a culture of creativity, collaboration, and innovation that allows those who incline toward these characteristics to have an outlet so that their ideas are channeled toward positive improvements instead of into frustration.
  • Empowerment. Tamika likes feeling she can take pride in what she refers to as her “white glove” service, and this is because she’s able to make it her own. When your employees feel empowered to be themselves, to bring their personality to what they do, to make (reasonable) decisions on their own, they give more of the CX you’re looking for them to give.
  • Growth. As Tamika says, she feels she has more growth opportunity as an independent contractor than she would in a W2 role. This is probably because most companies haven’t modernized the trajectory of their frontline roles to be in line with what many of today’s employees want – opportunity to progress. A worker who comes in with initiative and drive but is entering a system where they are expected to be at the same level of work for five, 10, 15 years likely won’t stay long. We need to evolve to providing growth opportunities within our own businesses rather than strong talent needing to go elsewhere to achieve their aspirations.

We Aren’t Giving Our 1099 Workers What They Need

Ok, so we can take from Tamika’s input some valuable perspective about why a worker who is often approached to take a full-time role after she provides contract service emphatically says, “No, thank you.” But what did Tamika share about what we can do better in working with independent contractors?

We discussed a few different points, but the one I’ll share here is around the #1 concern companies have when deciding to use contract technicians: that it will negatively impact CX. I asked Tamika her thoughts on whether this concern is valid.

“We are the unintentional mascots for any organization,” she says. “I’ve worked for hospitals, nonprofits, schools, government agencies, contracts, subcontracts, security teams. You name it, I’ve done it. And you are the person the customer remembers, you are the face, so yes, it is a valid concern.”

While she agrees it is a valid concern, she goes on to explain that it is one that really isn’t too hard to address – companies simply don’t often do the work. We aren’t investing the effort to set our contract workers up for success.

“If you have a professional who’s adept and at a certain level in the industry, there’s a level of embedded communication skills and decorum just by virtue of being in the industry at that level,” she explains. “So, then you have to think in terms of whoever the HR person is or whoever the temp employee services person is that are bringing these people on and onboarding them. Are you sharing the expectations? If you have time for people to sign NDAs, you have time to have them sit down and even just have a meeting, like, “This is our company, this is our vision. We know this is a short project, short turnaround, but you represent us at all phases, and these are our mission statements. This is what we bring to the table. Our customers are used to this expectation. This is our standard operating procedures.”

It sounds simple, right? According to Tamika, it is a simple step often overlooked or skipped. “It’s a 15-to-45-minute moment of communication. Bring everybody in, make space for that, lay it all out, have them repeat it back to you. Maybe add another 30 minutes to role play, and then you’re done,” she says. “So, what have you invested? Maybe an hour and a half of somebody in HR and communications time to do that with a contractor. But most people don’t think that way. It’s not even the fact that they don’t have the skills and resources available, they don’t think about it. They’re just like, ‘Well, we only want people who already know, who are already working here.’ You’ve got people working there 10, 15, 13 years who don’t even understand the vision and the brand of the company, who could care less. That’s just a fact.”