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The Future of Work is Based on Projects, Not Roles

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The successful companies of tomorrow will be those that can adapt to the shifting work environment paradigm. Today’s workers increasingly are rejecting the notion that the American Dream includes moving up the company ranks throughout a 35-year career. Instead, more and more workers have decided that their most rewarding career is more about flexibility, new challenges, and contributing to tangible work outcomes, and less about job titles and full-time status. As a result, workers are becoming more specialized, independent, mobile, collaborative, and digitally connected.

The Workforce of Tomorrow

Workers’ changing priorities coincide with enterprises’ increasing need to cut wasteful spending and become more productive, nimble, and responsive to the dynamic marketplace. Companies already are taking notice and realizing the advantage of engaging this agile, contingent workforce. Strategic use of consultants, freelancers, and other non-traditional workers can save companies money and make them more productive by giving them access to rare skillsets their full-time employees may not possess.

Tapping these hard-to-find skills allows firms to build specialized project teams as needed to address specific challenges and opportunities in marketing, finance, IT, product and service delivery, and other areas that directly contribute to their profitability. Nearly 80 percent of executives surveyed by Accenture agree that the future of work will be project-based rather than role-based. Because all projects are different – requiring varying measures of a range of abilities – organizations’ labor demands will also shift from project to project, making it economical and strategically expedient to bring in outside talent to deliver projects. In reality, a project team is likely to include freelancers, vendors, management consultants, and other contingent workers in addition to traditional, in-house employees.

Blending the competencies each brings to the table and encouraging them to “play nice” and flourish through cross-functional collaboration is the key to success. Almost by definition, the project-based workforce will be engaged in the most important work the firm undertakes. Moving forward, most routine tasks will be automated. Non-value-adding “back office” tasks will be outsourced. Only projects that demand expertise, creativity, advanced knowledge, and commitment to the company’s mission will be completed by these teams.

Managing the Workforce

The next logical step will see organizations transforming their ad hoc or tactical procurement and use of project-based workers into a codified, meticulously managed and measured, strategic process. To fully capitalize on the benefits the contingent workforce promises requires company-wide decisions regarding not only supervision of workers brought on for each project but also for efficiently specifying the company’s goals in bringing in external workers. The firm will need to decide which types of contingent workers work best in which departments and assignments; identify sources of project-based workers; establish training, classification, compensation, and offboarding procedures; manage risk; and ensure compliance with labor regulations and company policies.

For most companies, this will require additional human resources infrastructure to ensure the process does not get bogged down in administration, therefore forfeiting the nimbleness and market responsiveness project-based hiring can deliver. Only with an overarching strategy for managing the project-based workforce can companies be confident they can find and incorporate the outside talent they need when they need it. Firms can position themselves to win the project-based talent game by implementing a comprehensive management policy:

  • Centralize the Process with Input from All Stakeholders – Though each department will face different challenges and hiring needs, the Human Resources department should take control of the entire workforce management program. HR can establish policies and safeguards that apply across the board, along with specific guidelines for hiring specific skills, individuals, and tasks. HR also should contract with talent providers and forbid divisions from off-contract hiring undocumented activities.
  • Leverage Technology – First- and third-party data can identify the gaps in a company’s in-house skills and the best way to fill them. Collecting performance scores, worker abilities and qualifications, project requirements, and other data points, will ensure continuous performance through better hiring decisions. Data also can point out skills the company needs regularly, allowing it to make informed decisions on whether hiring a full-time employee for the positions makes financial sense.
  • Make Support Structures Available – Companies strive to help traditional employees fit in with coworkers. They rigorously train new traditional hires. They look for ways to reward performance and promote internally. By providing similar support, companies can demonstrate their appreciation and value of project-based workers. Building a database of company policies, institutional knowledge, best practices, etc. will help outside talent establish a foundation so they don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” in order to grasp the project before them. Engaging workers on projects slightly outside their areas of expertise is a great way to expand their knowledge, build their confidence, and increase their value to the firm.
  • Reengage the Best – Project-based workers are always looking for the next assignment, and they are grateful for repeat gigs. Rehiring the best outside talent for additional projects makes sense for a variety of reasons. First, they are familiar with your company and what it is trying to accomplish. The knowledge they retain from an earlier gig shortens the learning curve on the next. Second, when they know an organization values their services, they begin to view it as a preferred client. Given the choice between the familiar company and an unknown one, they will go where they feel comfortable. Finally, keeping a strong performer working on your projects deprives competitors of a valuable asset.

Implementing these guidelines will place a company’s project-based workforce management program on solid ground. Future posts will discuss how firms can manage and monitor individual projects for the best chance for success. Metasys assists clients in formulating and managing holistic workforce policy and talent procurement for businesses of any size and projects of any complexity, budget, and duration. Contact our experts for analysis of your current procurement process and advice for making your process more strategic and integrated.


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