The Rule of the New Decade: Workforce Flexibility

The digital revolution and digital natives are transforming the workplace. We have witnessed seismic changes in the way business is conducted. And yet, consider the people side of business and how organizations can maximize today’s workforce. Several themes from the past few years are still relevant, and HR leaders continue to work with their employees – both W-2 and 1099 – to deliver a competitive edge that generates results.

Two Ends of a Spectrum

For digital natives early in their careers, technology is simply a fact of life. They are accustomed to constant “updates” and “upgrades,” always eager to embrace the next hot program or app that will expedite their workday. Technology that enables workplace efficiency – such as communications tools like Slack, project management software like Monday, applicant tracking systems (ATS), and even custom HR chatbots as developed by LogMeIn and Mercury Systems – is one end of the spectrum.

At the other end of the tech spectrum are the specific skills that drive business – coding and software development, chemical and mechanical engineers, big data analysis. Skills with relentless demand and competition for talent is fierce. And hiring and on-boarding such talent is expensive.

With employees looking to work longer, organizations have a large experienced talent pool to draw from for retraining. Individuals who have technical minds but are experts in dated technology can provide many more years of service to the organization with upskilling. Investing in technical training programs like UX design, data analytics, coding, and product management both retains valued tenured employees and may also reduce the costs associated with new hires.

Tech Skills Are Only the Beginning

Soft skills, including written and public speaking communications, flexibility, strategic thinking, leadership, and management, truly differentiate employees in this ongoing digital revolution. Organizations that provide coaching or training to develop technical and functional experts into future leaders will benefit from a critical competitive advantage.

Increasingly, organizations see the benefit of Investing in coaching for high-potential technical experts. For example, there might be a great IT strategist who can’t lead or manage the team or a terrific leader who struggles with communication. Developing employees increases employee engagement and reduces costly churn.

Flexible and Fluid Rule the Day

As we enter 2020, flexibility is increasingly valued. Not only in skills development and retraining but also in workstyle, for both the employee and employer. As organizations rapidly reform based on marketplace changes, they require fluidity in the workforce. While AI and robots replace repetitive task jobs, the relentless need for new skills makes it difficult for organizations to anticipate hiring needs.

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Enter the gig economy. With so much at stake in terms of hiring the right talent for optimal organizational fit, companies will hire new employees on a temp-to-perm or contract basis to minimize the risk. Workers can benefit from gig roles as they offer a chance to sample different organizations, demonstrate their skills, and ensure that the work and culture are a good fit.

Portfolio Careers Leverage Job Skills

Many assume older workers or “Boomers” are looking at portfolio careers to ease into retirement. The reality is that younger workers actively embrace a lifestyle where they are doing a variety of projects for a range of employers at the same time. With every assignment, skills are acquired and added to the “toolbox.” Once again, flexibility is important for the worker to take advantage of opportunities and develop new skills.

Varied Expectations

What do workers want? Clearly, job training and upskilling. To work longer with a wide range of opportunities – to grow, develop, and contribute. They also want to flex in and out of the full-time workforce based on personal desire and familial demands. Healthcare remains in the spotlight, especially for those gig and portfolio career workers. Other traditional benefits like paid vacation and sick time are now more familiar as paid time off that expands to encompass parental leave. Millennial working parents desire childcare in close proximity to the workplace and the opportunity to work remotely, at least some of the time. Gen X and Boomers caring for elderly parents’ desire flexibility to accompany them to medical appointments. Flexibility on the part of the employer is deeply valued by employees, and if it’s not there, they’ll seek it out elsewhere.

Yes, the workplace is increasingly automated. Yes, employers and employees alike must adapt for success. And, as always, employers who invest in their employees will see increased engagement and productivity. Additionally, those employers who provide flexibility will attract and retain top talent.

Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, has over 20 years of experience in career consulting and coaching development and has worked with numerous executive management teams to improve organizational effectiveness.  She has expertise in successfully resolving complex career management issues, including workforce planning, redeployment, and multisite restructurings.

Varelas’ experience spans a broad range of industries and businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, start-up ventures, and not-for-profit organizations.  She serves as treasurer of Career Partners International, LLC, a network of independently owned career management firms, which Keystone cofounded in 1987. She is also a certified executive coach by the Center for Executive Coaching and MBTI certified.

A graduate of the management development program at Boston University, Varelas holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Vermont and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.  She is an active member of many professional associations, including The Boston Club.

@ElaineVarelas

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