In a new report by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), the business executives interviewed—many of them heads of human resources in their organizations—agreed that a radical shift in the employer/worker relationship is underway. The concept of employment is changing, too, a trend being driven in part by a growing contingent of skilled workers who expect more control and flexibility in their work—including when, where and for whom they work.

But how do these overall trends fit into the manufacturing workplace, where things are made on site all over the world, knowledge is becoming more specialized, and overtime can be essential to meeting a deadline?

Marlene McGrath, senior vice president of human resources at manufacturer 3M, talks about ways her company is adapting to the changing trends in work.

Contract workers fit into some roles better than others.

3M’s sales and technical services positions require expertise and specialization to serve customers, including OEMs, so in those areas, “we continue to rely heavily on employees,” says McGrath.

 Keeping the shelves stocked with 3M products at small stores in countries like Brazil, however, is more task work and can be done with contracted sales agents.

Some safety and health care areas, on the other hand, require so much education and expertise that rather than hire full-time employees, 3M will contract with doctors or nurses to work as technical specialists.

Aim for a healthy mix of contract and non-contract workers

Full-time employees “communicate our culture, ethics, branding and values to the contract workers with whom they interact,” says McGrath. “Employees provide that strong core that perpetuates culture and brand. For that reason, the non-3M employee would never be the dominant workforce within any of our business groups or division.”

Use contract workers as a talent-screening mechanism

While this isn’t the primary goal of using contract workers, a contract work arrangement can be an opportunity to assess workers and “see whether they fit in culturally as well,” says McGrath. “It’s important that the culture fit is there.”

Make sure diversity and inclusion efforts extend beyond full-time employees.

“If I view the contingent workforce as a feeder pool or a potential pool for employees, I want the group to be diverse,” says McGrath. “Why? Because if I am demanding a diverse employee base, why woul d I not want it in a potential feeder pool.”

Administer performance reviews through a third party.

3M established a Contingent Workforce Solutions Center of Excellence (COE) to manage 3M’s contingent labor and suppliers. Managers assess a contract worker’s performance, but instead of communicating with the employee directly, they provide it to the worker’s third-party employer. The third-party employer then delivers the feedback to the worker.

McGrath says the process “empowers 3M supervisors to offer feedback safely and legally while also providing non-traditional workers with valuable input on performance that aids in their on-the-job development.”

Have the HR team collaborate across geographic borders

“If a specific expertise is not available in proximity to our headquarters … we have learned to reach out globally to locate the talent we need,” says McGrath. For instance, talent specialists in different countries need to talk to each other to fill scientist jobs. And the job location itself needs to be flexible, too. Whether the most qualified scientist is in St. Paul, Minnesota or Chennai, India, “we want that flexibility to allow the work to move more seamlessly across borders without being tied to location,” McGrath says.

Global reach also means 3M’s HR professionals need extensive knowledge of the countries in which they operate: the talent available there, applicable laws and regulations and clear command of business goals. Country-by-country workforce and talent planning provide organization-wide global views into worker demand, supply and locations.

Cross-pollinate future HR leaders

McGrath has populated HR with key specialists from other areas of the corporation. For instance, the company’s vice president and chief talent officer was formerly the chief marketing officer. “She’s brought a different perspective on how we approach things, and really changed our branding of HR programs,” she says.

3M also brings in business leaders in other countries and trains them to head HR in their area. “These are people who have had sales forces, run technical groups, who understand manufacturing processes.”