By Belinda Sharr
A new wave of workers is arriving, and they hold a Statement of Work (SOW).
When companies have specific tasks that require a highly specific and often specialized set of skills, they may choose to retain SOW workers — especially in cases where they won’t need a permanent employee long-term and the skill-set is too specialized for hire temporary ones.
To find the right fit, many companies turn to managed-service providers (MSPs) to add SOW employees into the mix of contingent labor.
One benefit of hiring a SOW worker is that a company can choose a highly-skilled specialist to work on a specific task that needs to be accomplished. Hiring in this way is more about employing a skill, rather than a person. And hiring a specific skill is going to require a monetary investment on the company’s end.
“Companies should know that they are buying a service; it shouldn’t be about the individual worker as much,” Scott Brewer, vice president of service practice at Pontoon Solutions, says.
“You’re relying on the expertise of that worker. You’re going to be paying more because you’re getting that expertise. This person has the knowledge and expertise, so you are paying a premium.”
David Arp, director for global MSP practice at Staff Management, says that having a SOW plan allows companies to hire skilled workers for specific tasks that their average employees may not be able to perform.
“It’s not run of the mill type work. It lends itself to projects that are capital intensive, it may be that there’s a particular type of training that a company needs,” he says. “With SOW it seems to be tailored along the particular lines unique to the client’s project. So it’s not one size fits all.”
Some MSPs offer suggestions on how their clients can manage productive SOW workers, no matter what type of project they are working on.
Tracey Richardson, vice president of RPO Practice at Agile1, says, “Be very clear on what you want to have delivered in the timeframe you have given. If the scope changes, be sure to document it and change the request. She advises her clients to provide the SOW worker with information on the group they’re supporting so they can get a feel of the environment while seeing what the goals are, and what they are accountable for.
Jill Parrino, vice president of solutions and innovation at Geometric Results, Inc., stresses the importance of having firm policies and processes in place when engaging SOW workers.
“Clients who haven’t traditionally managed their SOW workers closely need to be aware of the benefits and risks,” Parrino says. “They need to make sure they partner with procurement, legal, risk, and compliance, and make sure they are going through the proper vetting [for engagement]. Establishing standard terms and conditions and contract templates will protect the company and govern the way they’re engaging those workers.”
Some industries are more amenable to successful SOW engagements than others. For example, more project-based industries may have an easier time finding and retaining SOW workers for projects, while other industries may struggle and revert to traditional employee processes.
“[Hiring SOW workers] varies in scope and is complexity driven. It’s a matter of ‘how do you strategically use it’,” Richardson says. “I haven’t seen companies use it strategically yet on a small scale where it’s part of their plan. Larger IT and marketing companies are much more sophisticated [using it] because they’re very project-driven.”
Arp says, “If you get a project that involves some capital pieces to it, an SOW [plan] would be a good way to go for any size company. But in practicality, it’s the bigger firms with a larger procurement entity [that use them successfully]. They’re very used to managing that kind of thing.”
Parrino notes that when SOW workers are added to the workplace, they should be managed differently than traditional employees.
“You should not manage them on a tactical, day-to-day level,” Parrino says. “They should be working independently to deliver the end outcome. Make sure you are behaviorally interacting with them in that fashion.”
At the same time, it’s important to ensure the SOW employee works well as a member of the staff. Michel Stokvis, director of the Center of Expertise, EMEA for Randstad Sourceright, stresses that companies need to onboard their SOW workers with the right tools to ensure the employee is prepared, and to treat the employee as well as they treat their own permanent workers – avoiding the “temp” mentality.
“The rule of thumb is the less separation between [permanent and temporary workers] the better [the work environment] is,” Stokvis says. “There are natural boundaries, but in principle, the less walls you have between the group of workers the better–because you expect that this individual [will] give his or her best in productivity and quality of work to the company. Companies are wise to embrace the entire ecosystem of talent.”
Another important thing to note, according to Brewer: “When engaging for SOW services, whether it be with a Service Provider vendor or an Independent Contractor, the relationship should always be on a corporation-to-corporation basis, never on an individual worker level. This helps mitigates misclassification and co-employment risk.”
As company needs change, some employers may look to convert permanent workers into SOW workers in order to save money and meet more goals. While this change is happening naturally, Stokvis cautions against forcing it.
“I can see this happening from company’s strategic perspective,” Stovkis says. “They may reshape their focus and prefer to change working relationships. The challenge is that you more or less force people to move into another construct. What I see best working is when people themselves make the choice to move into a freelance position. If company does it, there’s a risk there will be a turnover; the employees may redirect their skills to find permanent positions somewhere else.”
Stokvis advises companies themselves to come up with ways to attract SOW workers.
“The starting point is to look at the company culture, values, norms,” he says. “We see big opportunities with our clients to broaden employee branding. If you want to attract SOWs you have to deal with work that needs to be done, and you need to understand that talent nowadays have to options to choose from, so employee branding becomes vital and critical.”
He says that companies should be looking at ways they can improve their own reputation they are attractive for workers to be associated with. “Try to interest and intrigue [the worker],” he says.
Above all, securing the right resource for the job is most essential when it comes to SOW workers. Always ensure they know what their goal is, how to meet it, and are able achieve it on time. Parrino sums up the entire strategy in four words: “Defined task, deliverable outcome.”