The Way We Work
April 15, 2013 by Amy Sept

“In the future, organizations’ competitive success will hinge on a highly unlikely suspect: workers who aren’t employees at all.”

A recent report from the Accenture Institute for High Performance takes a critical look at human resources (HR) and its pivotal role as the way we work evolves.

Trends Reshaping the Future of HR: The Rise of the Extended Workforce examines trends that are making organizations more adaptive and nimble — the increasingly strategic use of highly skilled and highly educated contract workers, and the shift toward project-based work.

The authors then summarize best practices they feel HR professionals should put in place to take advantage of this shift.

A “just in time” workforce fosters success

The report finds that external specialists are increasingly used for critical roles — less the reactive solution they once were, and more of a strategic, proactive asset that gives organizations a competitive edge.

Trends Reshaping the Future of HR says this dynamic workforce enables companies to be agile in a “highly turbulent business environment” and have access to “high-performing, highly skilled talent.”

However, the report describes changes in the way we work, too, predicting that ongoing work will increasingly be replaced by projects. “This could give rise to a highly mobile workforce whose members rapidly assemble and reassemble around projects,” it says.

“We believe that enterprises could radically boost their performance by sourcing talent for each task from anywhere inside or outside the organization on one criterion: who is the best person to perform the task?”

Such an open approach, the report’s authors note, allows core employees to focus on what they’re best at, enables new ways of thinking, and potentially sparks innovation as new people and fresh ideas come and go.

Fluidly matching tasks to talent

Trends Reshaping the Future of HR recommends eight approaches for human resources that reflect the new nature of work.

  • Redefine HR’s customers. The report suggests that everything from recruiting to performance management to learning should shift beyond full-time employees to include those working on a freelance or contract basis. “The goal is to balance the needs and expectations of each type of talent with the strategic goals of the business.”

  • Integrate processes and systems. An “integrated talent management system” is needed to capture data on everyone connected to the organization — to help track skills, training and certifications, and to facilitate decision-making and manage security.

  • Create new organizational structures or roles that cross boundaries and disciplines. Managing an extended workforce may require new or different skills; existing corporate hierarchies may not fit the new model.

  • Use analytics to become an expert advisor on the talent landscape. Data can indicate where to source talent from and help anticipate what skills need to be sourced.

  • Become a talent broker. The role of the HR professional, the report explains, is to find the right fit for the right position, and understand what data and key performance indicators (KPIs) can be used to track results.

  • Forge new relationships with partner organizations. Work is increasingly being done in cooperation with complementary organizations, and those relationships may need to be created or readjusted.

  • Apply talent management practices to the extended workforce. Retention matters within a workforce, whether that workforce is permanent or structured according to need. From onboarding to incentives and career development, HR professionals will need to look for ways to push talent management beyond core employees.

  • Segment the extended workforce. A more distributed workforce means more segmentation: by culture, geography, and even the strength of the connection to the organization (i.e. professional consultant vs crowdsourcing participant). Each group will have different needs and requirements that will need to be addressed.

“Quickly bringing together globally dispersed, blended workforces to achieve an organization’s goals will require no less than a management revolution,” the report’s authors note in their closing. Is your organization ready?

Click here to read the full report.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the managing editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. A writer and social media pro, she owns Nimbyist Communications and often works remotely with non-profits, tech companies, and small business owners.