Largely missed in discussions about the future of work is the rise of the multi-channel workforce. Today, it spans beyond an organisation’s permanent staff to include freelancers, contingent workers, independent contractors and other service providers. The transformation has taken place across industries and business functions at rates that vary by location and sector. It is literally the reinvention of the workforce model that large businesses which deploy talent all over the world have applied since the industrial revolution.
Strangely, this big story has been missed. We read about individual aspects of the workforce transformation one piece at a time. Just months ago, the big news was that outsourcers had knocked traditional employers off the top of the list of the world’s largest employers. Last year, there was story after story about freelancers. A couple of years ago, everyone was agog about gig workers.
Meanwhile, we take the existence of drone pilots, mobile app developers, cyber security specialists and online store managers for granted. But just a decade or so ago, these jobs did not exist, and the external workforce was largely labelled contingent even as the breadth and depth of this labour force changed.
Fuelled by digital technology, the flexible workforce, now estimated to be 30 to 50 per cent of today’s workforce, has grown and evolved to enable a much more strategic approach to workforce design. As such, it is a differentiator for successful companies that rely on the multi-channel workforce to help with everything from designing vehicles and crushing grapes, to analysing risk claims or working on oil rigs.
The breadth, depth and variety of skills resident within this evolving workforce is important to understand, given that it will soon be as large or larger in some industries and geographies as permanent workforces. In fact, for some employers, that is nearly the case today.
Skills demands and technological changes drive rise of multi-channel workforce
As technologies change how individuals work as well as the skills professionals need, people increasingly want to chart their own career. They do not want to be on anyone’s permanent payroll.
What’s more: Those with skills that are in great demand can virtually write their own check, particularly when their expertise is in areas such as cloud and distributed computing, statistical analysis, data mining, user interface design or even network security. Such highly skilled people oftentimes do not feel the need nor the desire to be tethered to specific employers.
In fact, it’s a win-win for talent and businesses alike. This multi-channel workforce paves a path to new organisational design possibilities. Imagine a business that taps a centralised data function to meet needs across an enterprise as opposed to sourcing data skills specifically for marketing, finance and so forth.
Certainly, as organisations innovate new ways of working, they strive to save time even as they put a more efficient means of achieving productivity in place across their operations. But the days of businesses looking to external talent solely as a matter of labour arbitrage are gone in organisations that appreciate the strategy that can be applied as they architect the future of work. In certain instances, external talent may be among those receiving the highest salaries as businesses leverage their unique, high demand skill sets for discrete projects or for a specified duration of time.
Managers who outsource functions without visibility into who is doing the work in their organisation need and can gain transparency via cloud solutions into who is doing the work for their operation to ensure they have the right certifications and credentials. A manufacturer that engages an engineer to work on the next generation of its product design, or a retailer that augments its cybersecurity team by engaging individuals who bring a much-needed, advanced set of skills to their in-house department also needs this visibility.
Whether the business is in Huddersfield or Hong Kong, with today’s cloud solutions businesses are finding and engaging the talent they need where and when it is needed at competitive price points. That is the nature of how work gets done in today’s connected world. Businesses leverage global resources that may literally be on the other side of the world.
With that comes the need to ensure compliance with local labour regulations wherever resources are deployed or engaged. The good news as the world’s leading companies realise is that there are cloud solutions that help them streamline and automate critical compliance processes in the localities where they operate.
New opportunities for management
Today’s more agile workforce desires and enables flexibility. Managers no longer need to rely on a static bench of employees. They can think strategically about the skills they need, and how to access those that can bring the desired level of experience to enhance their teams.
For example: As new projects arise, people may be needed to develop a new program or provide analysis for sales over a period. With the diverse and flexible talent pool now available to businesses, the right person for the job also can be contracted on a project by project basis to meet a need.
In addition to ensuring the right specialised expertise is brought onto a project, managers can avoid overloading their existing workforce with extra responsibilities outside of their primary expertise by tapping into the multi-channel workforce. Accessing additional resources and augmenting skills can contribute to increased efficiency, greater employee focus and quality improvements.
The multi-channel workforce makes it possible for enterprises to think about very different ways of working as they tap skills across the IT talent supply chain for discrete projects and close skills gaps, even as they dispense with outmoded industrial workforce models. Additionally, with the help of today’s solutions in the cloud, businesses are finding it quicker and simpler to identify the right talent to help them achieve the business outcomes they seek.
Mikael Lindmark is a senior vice president at SAP Fieldglass
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