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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

THREE BENEFITS OF A FLEXIBLE WORKFORCE IN THE FUTURE OF WORK

2020-03-04 14:16

Cathryn Barnard

Blog, RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION, FUTURE OF WORK CONSULTING, RECRUITMENT, AGILE WORKING, AGILE WORKFORCE,

THREE BENEFITS OF A FLEXIBLE WORKFORCE IN THE FUTURE OF WORK

Coronavirus is a perfect example of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) event – something unforeseen, that has significant, yet-to-be-...

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These are strange times indeed.

 

Over the last week, my family has unwittingly been caught up in the unfolding coronavirus emergency. Having spent half-term skiing in the Italian Alps, we were alerted last Tuesday morning to Italy’s emergence as a hotspot area of virus transmission. Public Health England’s advice for recent travellers has changed daily, in line with real-time developments in the spread of the illness.

 

While we’re all fine, we’re also self-isolating, in line with official guidance.

 

As I was shuffling my diary, it occurred that coronavirus is a perfect example of a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) event – something unforeseen, that has significant, yet-to-be-determined consequences, for both society and industry.

 

Having spent the past few years discussing VUCA’s potential, as a construct, to entirely reshape work as we know it, it now feels surreal to face a global event that is likely to have profound economic consequences.

 

Against this backdrop, it feels more urgent than ever to have an open dialogue about more fluid work futures. Unanticipated events, like coronavirus, render strategic planning somewhat redundant.

 

Instead, as business leaders, we’d be better off accepting that organisational flexibility is now a prerequisite for withstanding market ambiguity. Like those houses designed to survive earthquakes, 21st Century organisations must be crafted with flexibility in mind.

 

Until now, the convergent trends we’d analysed to make future work predictions, were largely technological and socio-cultural in nature. We’d factored in the impact of climate change on future organisational structures, but, honestly, the impact of a possible pandemic on work hadn’t featured in any of our research.

 

It’s rapidly becoming clear, however, that even the threat of a pandemic is destabilising the stock markets. This will inevitably go on to reshape entire industry segments.

 

As humans, we face two choices – resist or adapt.

 

As we’re seeing, it’s increasingly challenging to predict the twists and turns of modern markets, and even more so the trigger events. Consequently, it’s time to start thinking about alternative organisational structures, for improved futureproofing.

 

A progressive talent ecosystem is designed with organisational agility in mind. There are three primary reasons why workforce flexibility is essential in unpredictable 21st Century markets...

 

1) Workforce flexibility supports lean and agile business

The pace of technology evolution today is dynamic. New digital tools come to market every day, with the potential to revolutionise the pace and quality of customer service. As these tools go mainstream, businesses must consistently identify new ways to add value, and build loyalty. Continuous innovation is the new normal.

 

Innovation, however, requires a ‘lean’ approach to business. Pioneered by Toyota, lean methodology means using fewer resources to create greater customer value.

 

Continuous ‘test and measure’ in business also requires the ability to ‘pivot’, switching tack where necessary, to meet market need. This inevitably has consequences for organisational skillsets – there’s no longer any guarantee that an organisation will need the same skillsets over long periods of time.

 

This weakens the business case for a long-term permanent workforce.

 

Several business professors have predicted this for a while. In 2011, in her book, The End of Competitive Advantage, Colombia Business School professor, Rita Gunther-McGrath wrote:

 

“In a world of transient advantage, the only employees a company will keep are those its leaders believe to be indispensable to its future.”

 

Even without the shifts towards ‘all-digital’ at work, shock events like coronavirus, require infinite organisational agility to withstand the unforeseen.

 

2) Workforce flexibility allows access to a wider talent pool

Within certain skillsets, workers are increasingly choosing a freelance lifestyle. Self-employment is seen to provide greater control over one’s career, alongside greater freedom, variety and flexibility. The World Economic Forum has already suggested that by 2030, more than half the global workforce could be self-employed.

 

Deloitte’s 2019 Alternative Workforce report suggested that to gain access to the full range of talent available within the labour market, employers must be open to the utilisation of impermanent talent. If key skills for organisational growth simply aren’t available on the permanent labour market, alternative solutions must be found.

 

During my technology staffing career, employers would regularly hold out for permanent resources to be found, even when it was apparent that the niche skills sought were largely only available on the freelance market. Whereas once this might have been workable, the increasingly fast-paced nature of commercial markets today renders this an increasingly risky approach.

 

3) Lean business supports carbon reduction efforts

As the climate emergency continues to wreak havoc, the evidence for a robust, multi-lateral commitment towards carbon reduction, escalates.

 

Climate change will drive the case for leaner business. This extends to the workforce, where, more than ever before, organisational planning will need to be predicated upon ‘just-in-time, ‘on-demand’ supply of skills. It simply won’t make sense to support spare (human) resource capacity within an organisational eco-system, in the way that we’ve seen previously.

 

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If coronavirus teaches us anything, it’s that our hyperconnected world is presenting events that have a seismic impact, and that organisational preparedness is increasingly critical.

 

Possessing the strategic foresight to be able to anticipate what ‘might be’ is fast becoming a pre-requisite in business.

 

Possessing the mental agility to play with substantially different operating models is what will inevitably separate the winners from losers in the future of work.

 

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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Recruitment and Retention and Foresight Focus reports and products.

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