The digital revolution has produced a completely new workforce to match the new business models it has enabled and the new companies it has created.
Young, dynamic, highly skilled and motivated workers have different expectations of work and very different requirements from potential employers than their older brothers and sisters, let alone that of the current generation of corporate managers.
For the digital workforce, the ‘Gig economy’ is not a euphemism for precarious, low status work. Quite the opposite. It is the key to well-paid, cutting-edge, highly skilled and intellectually challenging and rewarding work, with an ever-expanding range of innovative and exciting organisations.
This new reality has left many business executives and recruitment and HR specialists floundering as they try to force-fit today’s top young talent into recruitment, retention and business organisation models from the last millennium.
Companies that don’t quickly move away from these old strategies and adapt to the new realities will rapidly fade and fail, warns global professional services company Accenture in its Technology Vision 2017 report, Technology for People: The Era of the Intelligent Enterprise.
The study, which combines insights into the near future with ‘state of the nation’ survey findings and concrete advice on the way forward, states bluntly: “The future of work has already arrived, and digital leaders are fundamentally reinventing their workforces.”
They can do so, in part, because digital technology has created a wave of on-demand labour platforms and online work management solutions that allow legacy employment models and hierarchies to be replaced with open talent marketplaces.
This is enabling, according to the report, “the rapid innovation and organisational changes that companies need to transform themselves into truly digital businesses.” The key is to turn workforce structures that tie people to a specific job within an organisation into labour platforms that allow more on-demand models.
This approach gives individuals the chance to work on different things and in different ways. At the same time, it gives business leaders the opportunity to rapidly construct new teams with the right combination of skills and experience, and dismantle them when the work is done.
This model of a workforce marketplace “allows organisations to make the most of their internal, often untapped talent, and to take full advantage of the growing contingent and freelance labour market,” explains Zahra Bahrololoumi, Managing Director, Accenture Technology UK and Ireland.
Technology Vision 2017 cites several striking examples of companies that have adopted a workforce platform strategy. Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, for example, has a staff of 550 across 53 countries and runs the business through project teams ranging from two to 12 workers. “Teams are encouraged to experiment with new ways of collaborating to complete jobs, and so far, the experiment has been a great success,” notes the report.
Procter & Gamble, the 180-year-old consumer goods giant, is proving that it isn’t just tech companies that can embrace talent marketplaces. It recently completed a pilot using Upwork’s freelance management system Upwork Enterprise, with products from the pilot programme delivered faster and at a lower cost than with conventional methods 60 percent of the time.
Other global giants, including GE Digital and Pfizer, have developed projects using Catalant, which offers a pool of more than 30,000 MBA-type consultant freelancers, and the trend is only going to continue.
The need for this kind of change is understood by the business leaders Accenture surveyed. It found that 76 percent of executives agreed their organisations are under extreme competitive pressure to extend innovation into their workforce and corporate structure. Some 73 percent said that corporate bureaucracies are stifling productivity and innovation, and 85 percent plan to increase their firm’s use of independent freelance workers over the next year.
Accenture’s report offers 100- and 365-day plans to help business leaders to adopt a workforce marketplace strategy.
The 100-day plan is very much boardroom driven. It calls for a senior executive to define a top-down, company-wide talent marketplace strategy, and to establish clear, measurable goals for improving agility and workforce opportunities.
The executive sponsor should assemble a cross-functional team to define governance and HR policy, identify appropriate technology tools and manage corporate legal issues for your corporate blended workforce strategy.
In parallel, internal opportunities for pilot projects should be identified and potential freelance labour platform providers engaged. According to the report, KPIs should look beyond immediate cost “to track how the talent marketplace transformation is advancing broader business priorities”.
The 365-day plan focuses on turning this vision into successful pilot projects: one tapping external freelance labour markets and platforms, the other creating a team entirely from an internal labour market.
“With lessons learned from both pilots, define a formal governance structure to manage freelance worker policies and best practices. This governance structure should move your organisation toward a marketplace management model and blended workforce,” Accenture notes.
With the best and the brightest digital talent slipping rapidly and seamlessly from freelance to contract, to permanent employee status and back again, businesses have little option but to adapt. To survive and thrive, they must dismantle the boundaries between the internal organisation and the external ecosystem of labour platforms.