Insight article

If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck… it may well be outsourced

A recent US court ruling in favour of FedEx drivers in California has highlighted a trend in modern business that has been growing for a long time, but now seems to manifest itself in more and more surprising ways: outsourcing.

Not so long ago, the word conjured images of factories in the far East churning out fast-moving consumer products. But more and more core aspects of business, particularly in customer-facing roles, are handled by other companies on contract, either in the same city or on the other side of the world.

In the FedEx case, the drivers in question had been considered independent contractors by FedEx, even as they wore FedEx uniforms, drove FedEx trucks, and delivered FedEx packages all day long. A judge found that under California law, due to the extent to which the drivers’ actions were directed by FedEx, they were effectively FedEx employees, and were therefore entitled to wages and benefit claims going back several years.

This kind of issue has cropped up with some of our clients, because occasionally the employees in closest contact with customers are actually employees of another company altogether. The person checking you into your flight at the Virgin or BA or United counter, for example, may actually draw a paycheque from Swissport. The person writing this blog might work for one of many marketing agencies peddling content generation and SEO. (Happily, I do in fact work for The Storytellers)

Most of the time, these practices probably make business sense, but can pose a challenge when it comes to cultivating a sense of brand identity for those people who perform core services for the company but are kept, in some sense, at an arm’s length from the business. It’s one thing to get customer service agents to wear the company uniform and use all the right taglines, but it’s quite another thing for them to feel a genuine connection to the culture and fortunes of the business.

The first thing businesses who use outsourced services should do is simply to remember the importance of those roles, and therefore of those people, to the product or service on offer. Make sure corporate communications and events aren’t limited just to those with a company badge or email address. And make sure to approach provider relationships as genuine partnerships, not just service delivery contracts. We’re all scattered enough as it is; maintaining as much organisational cohesiveness as possible will pay dividends for everyone – no matter who they’re working for.

Nailia Tasseel