From Workplace to Workspace: Managing the Extended Workforce

Extended workforce

“It’s the end of work as we know it. In the future, organizations’ competitive success will hinge on a highly unlikely suspect: workers who aren’t employees at all.”

This is quite the provocative lede, taken from Accenture’s report, The Rise of the Extended Workforce, which they define as follows: To compete in the future, organizations will need to push talent management beyond the confines of the enterprise wall to include the new extended workforce: a global network of outside contractors, outsourcing partners, vendors, strategic partners and other nontraditional workers. By maximizing the potential of both an extended workforce and permanent employees, companies can gain critical advantages—including agility and access to valuable talent.

I recently moderated/lead a panel discussion on the challenges of managing an extended workforce (it was part of the HRTA’s Collaboration Zone event). The discussion followed several presentations which addressed the mechanics of the extended workforce, and an assortment of “enabling” technologies that allow workers and organizations to match talent to task, without geographical encumbrances. But the session I was enlisted to lead raised a number of questions on the “collateral” issues, including:

  • Temporary or contingent work has obvious appeal to people doing the work, giving them more flexibility and options, etc., and to employers who can find talent when they need it from anywhere…but what do you say to the counterargument: an extended workforce implies that you’re on a perpetual hiring footing…which can be expensive, resource-intensive, time-consuming in that you’re continually needing to onboard and train, and it doesn’t always produce reliable results?
  • HR tracks metrics like engagement and retention and Procurement KPIs focus on cost and risk/ How do see organizations reconciling this in working toward their their common goal: filling skill gaps with high-quality workers in the most cost-effective manner.
  • Will an increasingly extended workforce, where work is mostly transactional, make company culture less important?
  • As the extended workforce moves upstream, where even C-level people may be “provisional,” how will this affect leadership and other things that flow from leadership, such as motivation, recognition, etc.?

A flexible employment model is, by nature, highly complex and will cause management challenges across the organization as employment models shift and evolve. The vendors, analysts and influencers who participated in the HRTA event, offered a variety of solutions and perspectives, but it’s still early to know the answers to the questions I’ve posted, as the very notion of the workplace — or workspace — changes before our very eyes.

 

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