Why is the Future of Work Flexible?

What does the workplace of the future look like? According to a recent report, it is very likely to look like your home office, or the coffee shop around the corner, or that new shared working space downtown. An increasing demand for specialized skills, changing workforce demographics, and the talent gap are pushing organizations to embrace remote and flexible work options to retain their competitive advantage. Instead of approaching flexible working options in an ad hoc manner, organizations need to rethink their workforce strategies and explore new hiring models to stay ahead of the curve.

However, remote work doesn’t come without its unique challenges – engaging remote workers, and ensuring technology helps rather than hinders collaboration and innovation. So, how can organizations overcome these challenges to build winning remote teams? Zoe Harte, SVP of HR and Talent Innovation at Upwork, believes that effective communication and setting clear expectations are crucial to managing flexible talent. She says, “Determining the best strategy for engaging flexible talent depends on a variety of factors: companies’ business model, culture, values and the workers’ needs/attributes. As with any working relationship, the most effective strategy is to ensure you are maintaining clear lines of communication and setting specific goals and expectations.”

“Clear communication can be achieved in a number of different ways from providing the appropriate technology to being available when there are questions surrounding a deliverable. It is important that freelancers have resources and support at their disposal to better understand the company mission, goals and how they fit into the bigger picture. Similarly, being clear about expectations and what success will look like is critical. This is true regardless of the composition of your team. Ensuring there’s sufficient context and clarity for the project’s outcomes helps everyone align around the same goal. This also confirms that each contributor knows the work they are doing will have a meaningful impact,” Zoe adds.

A major reason for the shift from on-site working to remote working is an increasing demand for skill specialization. Technological disruptions like AI and machine learning have dramatically shortened the shelf life of skills. Zoe opines, “The impact of skill specialization cannot be underestimated. As technology quickly changes and the knowledge economy advances, specialized skills will become the jewels in the crown for all of us. Being exceptional at a few skills will be of greater advantage than being a generalist. And because freelancers are nearly twice as likely to proactively reskill than traditional employees, freelancers will become an even more valuable asset for organizations.”

In the future of work, remote, flexible and alternate workforce structures are inevitable. Organizations and HR leaders must decide if they want to prioritize the physical presence of employees over business performance. These considerations give rise to questions of control, structure, technology and supporting policies, including sensitizing the entire workforce to work smoothly with offsite, freelance and flexi-work team members.

Finally, the onus of investing in the right technologies to enable workplace and workforce 2.0 falls on HR. HR teams need to aggressively build the internal skills necessary to understand, evaluate and recommend the right technologies to drive improved employee performance – irrespective of where they live or what hours they work.

Surajit Nath Director

Research Services, HR Technologist

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