Agile Talent in the Digital Age

The concept of a Division of Labor – ensuring the right people are doing the most appropriate tasks as a means to completing a large, complex project – first gained widespread popularity during the Industrial Revolution.

Scottish economist Adam Smith officially introduced the concept of Division of Labor in 1776. Smith explained how the manufacturing industry could benefit from this strategy through the use of workers with specialized skills to tackle individual tasks to complete a large project. Efficiency would increase by leveraging a worker’s top skills and reducing the transition period between tasks in a project. Overall improved quality in the final product would be the end result.

Nearly 250 years later and embroiled in The Digital Age, the global business landscape is seeing this division of labor rear its head once again in a movement toward an agile workforce.

Indeed, in today’s modern, on-demand economy, organizations of all sizes and in countless verticals today are looking to create greater efficiencies, become more lean, and increasingly, seek to be more agile.

The Digital Age has changed the face of today’s flexible workforce, providing a division of labor that ensures highly specialized tasks are accomplished efficiently and more effectively than ever before. Thus, leading-edge organizations like Facebook, eBay, Purina, Overstock.com and others have embraced a collection of internal teams and external specialists in order to optimize expertise, scale and enhance productivity.

This has been driven, of course, by sophisticated digital collaboration tools and shifts in workforce demographics creating opportunities for organizations of all shapes and sizes to re-evaluate their operating procedures and discover new ways to achieve unparalleled productivity. It’s brought about a virtual workplace metamorphosis that reframes labor distribution opportunities never have been imagined before. There are three key forces behind the agile talent resurgence:

  • Talent shortage and skills gaps: As the necessity of building and maintaining an online business presence has grown, the number of candidates possessing the skills most likely to result in digital-marketplace success, such as graphic design, web development, copywriting and editing, and data processing – or the desired combination of those skills – has not kept up with demand.
  • Connectivity and technological enablement: A virtual workspace via high-speed Internet and a wealth of online collaboration tools has made it much easier for employers to utilize outside talent on a contract basis, eliminating the limitations imposed by geography and creating a new, virtual workplace that spans the globe.
  • Workforce demographics: Seeking qualified candidates solely within a single geographic area significantly limits finding top tier talent, as a 2015 Price Waterhouse Coopers study found 81 percent of CEOs have expanded the range of skills they look for in new hires, but 73 percent of those CEOs are seriously concerned about actually being able to find candidates with the needed skills.

Another lynchpin in the agile talent model has been the talent itself, or at least the largest segment of that talent: millennials. More than any other generation, millennials value flexibility and passion for the work they do over traditional factors, such as salary and benefits. Freelancing particularly appeals to the independent spirit of today’s millennial workforce, thus driving a broader movement within the U.S. workforce. Rather than seeking full-time jobs, many skilled individuals prefer to maintain power over their day-to-day schedules and workloads by working as independent contractors.

Ultimately, technology is the key toward a successful agile workforce. Searching for the right talent across multiple freelance platforms can be time consuming, and juggling various online collaboration tools can quickly become unwieldy. In addition, many employers are unaware of, or unprepared to comply with, the complex labor regulations related to using independent contractors. Additionally, freelancers committed to establishing careers outside of the traditional full-time work model often find it equally difficult to find a reliable source of freelance opportunities.

Coordinating assignments and deliverables between internal and external project contributors can exhaust a manager’s time and resources. Even with a project management platform, managers often find the process of integrating teams, tracking progress and managing payments to external contributors challenging. As more companies adapt their talent models to take advantage of this game-changing approach, expect to see them embrace a new breed of talent management platform in their quest to realize their full potential.

Without question, the tools matter. Agile talent management platforms must offer a large network of pre-qualified talent, built-in virtual workspaces, robust project management and communication tools.

As the on-demand economy becomes more ubiquitous, the agile talent model is becoming a broader reality as professionals throughout the world are discovering new means to solve problems and increase productivity. Those organizations that are developing agile talent strategies may be ahead of the curve today, but the economic landscape is evolving rapidly. Opportunities to allocate work more effectively and simplify operations with the use of agile talent are essentially limitless.



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