The Rise Of The On-Demand Workforce
The on-demand workforce
The last few years have seen a growing number of things be offered on an on-demand basis. Cloud computing provides organizations with computing resources on that basis, for instance, while we increasingly watch television shows that we specifically choose rather than have broadcasters choose on our behalf.
The notion of the on-demand workforce was first brought to popular attention by Dan Pink in 2001 when he published Free Agent Nation, in which he predicted a future dominated by independent workers.
It was a few years from the publication of that until sharing economy behemoths such as Uber and Lyft emerged alongside gig economy platforms such as UpWork and Etsy, but they have grown at a tremendous pace, with their ascendency causing ripples throughout the world.
Whilst the notion of contingent labor has been around since Manpower was created in 1948, it's probably fair to say that the Internet has changed the game considerably. When Pink first highlighted the "free agent" concept back in 1997, he suggested there were around 25 million Americans working in such a way.
It should be said that this figure covers all forms of independent worker, and the varied nature of such workers makes measurement notoriously difficult. For instance, official government data puts the figure at around 15.5 million, which is some way below the 57 million proposed by a recent UpWork survey.
The on-demand workforce
UpWork went on to predict that freelancers would form the majority of the workforce in the United States within a decade, but a recent analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Economic Policy Institute pours scorn on such suggestions. Indeed, they argue that little has really changed since Pink made his prediction all those years ago.
The authors suggest that there has been little real change in work trends in the last 12 years, with those working in the gig economy representing just 1% of the overall workforce.
Despite this apparent lack of movement in the contingent portion of the workforce, companies have persistently complained about a lack of skilled workers in key areas. This has been especially so in digital domains, where the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation efforts across the economy.
New research from Harvard Business School suggests that as well as helping rethink business models, digital technologies can also help organizations rethink their models for sourcing talent.
The authors highlight that whereas during the 70 years or so that Manpower have been pioneering the contingent workforce, most of that work has remained on-site in physical premises. The pandemic has opened the door, and perhaps the minds of managers, to the benefits of remote work, and therefore untethered work from a physical location in a way that promises to result in a truly global marketplace for talent as never before.
"The right talent, in the right place, at the right time, is the equation for success in today's world," the authors say. "In an era of technological change, demographic shifts, and economic uncertainty, companies can enhance their ability to compete by building a flexible work model."
The authors highlight that some pioneering firms are already relying increasingly on online talent platforms to augment their full-time staff, but surprisingly, this mindset was pretty pervasive, with 90% of survey respondents saying they were familiar with such platforms and that they would be an important part of their talent strategy in the years ahead. Indeed, 52% of executives said that their usage of these talent platforms would significantly increase.
"Organizations are crying out for access to the latest skills to complete the digital transformations that are so important at the moment," Hiruy Amanuel, co-founder of software education and talent placement firm Gebeya says. "There's a real need for organizations to be flexible and agile with regards to accessing talent as and when they need it, and the new wave of online platforms are giving them the means to do that."
Just as studies have highlighted the value on-demand cloud computing has provided in terms of affording organizations greater agility and resilience during the pandemic, so too are executives citing agility as a key factor in the shift to on-demand talent sourcing.
The paper highlights how executives are looking to improve the quality of innovation, speed-to-market, and general productivity by being able to tap into leading-edge talent as and when it's required. Indeed, 60% said it was highly likely that they will have a smaller core workforce in the future, with on-demand talent augmenting this core according to specific needs.
The authors argue that in order to build such an on-demand workforce a number of steps need to be taken, including rethinking the employee value proposition and the redefinition of work into discrete components that can be tackled by people both inside and outside the organization.
"As leaders prepare for a new normal and adapt their business models, they know they have an opportunity to think and act boldly," the authors say. "By embracing flexibility in whom they hire, internally or externally, they can finally speed up operations and deliver faster on strategy."
Just as the pandemic has prompted a rethink of many aspects of organizational life, it's quite possible that it will do likewise to how talent is sourced, used, and retained. Whether it proves the trigger that finally creates the "free agent nation", only time will tell.
Originally published here