By Holger Reisinger
Your future employees are most likely to be freelancers with specialist skills traveling from project to project. They will challenge your organization and traditional thinking. But they will also make you more productive and competitive.
Frequent readers of this blog may have noticed my keen interest in how new technology, changes in demography, and the mindset of future generations will change the way we work and how our companies must adapt to these changes.
Since the employees are the core of most companies, they are always at the center of my rants. However, there is one important trend which seriously messes with that point of view. According to several surveys, most of the people working for us in the future will not be our employees at all. They will be self-employed or work for someone else and will only temporarily happen to be working for us.
The HR prophets call them “the extended workforce,” and they are part of an ever-expanding network of freelancers, consultants, outsourcing partners, vendors, and other types of nontraditional workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of temporary employees in the U.S. rose by 29 percent between 2009 and 2012. A survey of the 200 largest companies found that temporary workers represented, on average, 22 percent of their workforce, and that percentage is growing. A recent study conducted by the software company, Intuit, shows that more than 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelancers by 2020. That’s more than 60 million people.
Technology leads the wayWe’ve always had freelancers and some level of outsourcing. But there are several reasons why there will be an explosion in the numbers of this type of worker in the coming years.
First of all, new technology makes it possible for people to work from anywhere. And a significant number of people are determined to utilize this facility to live exactly the lives they choose to live. Working from home or where their favorite surf, vista, climate, or whatever they crave is, counts for much more than the security of a steady job.
The super workers of the future are looking for the toughest challenges, not a steady job. They want to be free to switch from project to project and to solve their work tasks with whomever they prefer in the gigantic, worldwide web of freelance specialists, which is held together by social media.
Companies are also pushing talent into the extended workforce. Most companies are actually not very good at keeping employees happy with new, challenging projects or work. In a recent Accenture survey of 1,088 U.S. workers, only 34 percent of respondents reported feeling that they could easily move to other roles or jobs in their organization where their skills would best be utilized.
Good news for youThe extended workforce is very good news to companies all over the world. As freelancers are free to choose whom they want to work for and which projects they want to take on, they are quite likely to be happier and therefore, also more productive than your average employees.
At the same time, the flexibility for you is tremendous. Without much ado, you can assemble world-class top specialists for any job you need done. They will be masters at collaboration and will bring in additional skills when needed. And when your problem is solved, you no longer need to pay them for their services, nor will you have the burden of finding new projects challenging enough to keep them happy until the next time you need their special skills.
Top people and high flexibility is the recipe for success, so unsurprisingly there are numerous studies verifying that using an extended workforce is making companies more competitive. In one study, the majority of executives surveyed (55 percent) described the contingent workforce as highly valuable for their business. When Manpower surveyed 41,000 employers in 35 countries, 34 percent of the respondents said that non-permanent members of an organization’s workforce (including outsourced workers and consultants) were an important element of their organization’s workforce strategy.
At the same time, access to these new super employees is becoming radically easier. New online platforms are popping up where you can find exactly the skills you need. Online independent contractor talent platforms such as Elance, oDesk and TopCoder—is a rapidly growing market, with more than one million workers having earned one to two billion dollars over the past ten years in this industry.
So, where’s the catch? Well, with the extended workforce and the contact points in place, thousands of experts are just waiting for you to call. But it will require something from your own organization. First of all, your organization probably needs to introduce a completely new, and more open, collaborative work style to embrace specialists who are not part of your own organization. You must start partnering up with networks of specialists with skills you may need some time later. And you must ensure that your own organization has the software and collaboration tools needed to stay in touch with the knowledge nomads of the new economy.
You must get your own house in order
If you get that right, you are good to go. Have fun with your 60 million new (almost) employees. I’m sure you are going to accomplish great things together.