The Future of Work: Solving Problems Through a Flexible Workforce

The media devotes a lot of time to covering early adoption. Media outlets profile emerging technology trends, digital marketing best practices, and health and fitness movements. But what about human capital innovation in business?

Enterprise business leaders have always needed to predict what the market will demand in terms of products, processes, and advertising. However, in today’s evolving business landscape, it’s equally vital for company leaders to identify processes and systems that find the right talent and expertise to execute business-critical solutions.

Smart companies are building teams and task forces around the future of work, with the goal of assembling flexible work programs that integrate agility, speed, and specialized talent within their organizations. In my experience, there are three subsets of companies that tend to drive innovation in employment:

1. Businesses based in underpopulated areas or in competitive hiring markets.

Regardless of the reason — geographic location, current industry standing or employer brand — these companies are taking a close look at alternative approaches to sourcing talent, recognizing that this is almost exclusively their option for attracting the talent they need. This is a broad pool that includes everything from boutique PR agencies based in North Dakota to app development brands in Silicon Valley.

2. Companies forced to address problems they’ve never encountered.

A very large beer company that spent generations excelling at manufacturing, marketing and distributing its beer could run up against millennial consumers with drinking tastes different than their predecessors’. While the company may have been good at improving its work incrementally, getting 2 to 4 percent better at its methods annually, shifting its product to cater to craft beer lovers may require a new cohort of employees with skills that previously seemed irrelevant. These types of companies need new talent to solve new problems.

3. Organizations spending too much money on traditional consulting firms without receiving equivalent ROI.

This subset can include members of the previous groups, but it can also include budget-minded corporations that lack niche specialists in new verticals they’re exploring or firms needing short-term employees for projects.

The reason for adoption within these three types of companies isn’t all that surprising: They do it out of necessity. Their necessity today is likely to be their competitors’ necessity tomorrow, so their early adoption gives them a competitive advantage.

The Viability of Innovation

While these businesses are fueled by necessity, they also have to be innovative with respect to how they operate and adjust to the marketplace.

A great example is General Electric. GE is well-known for manufacturing jet engines and power plants; it hasn’t historically focused on software development or machine learning. A company like GE is adopting a flexible approach to its workforce by backfilling areas where it doesn’t have as much knowledge about whom to hire.

Other household names like Samsung have addressed “capability gaps”  through the utilization of freelance platforms. Cathleen Nilson, who leads on-demand talent at Samsung, has said she really believes this is the future.

I’ve found that in many companies, a senior executive on the business side is convinced that his or her brand doesn’t have the talent it needs to execute a specific strategy. With today’s on-demand marketplace, the future of work is helping to solve this problem. Early adoption is driven by companies carrying strong internal knowledge of exactly what they want to get done and why.

The Solution to Every Problem

Innovative companies ask themselves two key questions: What products or processes do we think the marketplace will want next? What talent do we need to deliver that?

Once the skill sets for those roles are identified, forward-thinking companies can utilize on-demand platforms to locate the talent they need without delaying their timelines or breaking the bank. They can add members to their team for a specific project or to meet cyclical needs, and they can scale up or down, depending on the impact of the task.

The key, of course, is for business leaders to understand their skill gaps — and be willing to address them differently than they have in the past. Those are the companies that will reap the benefits of a flexible workforce and ultimately thrive in the future of work.

Rob Biederman


Co-founder and CEO of Catalant