Businesses are optimised for efficiency; it is how they meet customer demand without unnecessary waste.
This efficiency, though, is only possible in a predictable world.
As 2020 unfolds, the world that we all inhabit is proving to be highly volatile and anything but predictable.
As we saw with the surge in toilet paper sales at the beginning of the pandemic, along with other supermarket staples, even the most efficient supply chains and processes can be undone by unpredictable market forces.
The same market forces affect workforce design. And what is clear from the COVID-19 pandemic is that businesses will need more nimble, adaptive workforces to ride the ups and downs of uncertainty.
There will always be the need to retain a core workforce in customer-facing and business-critical roles.
These team members are the lifeblood of the brand. It is they who primarily create memorable customer experiences that strengthen reputation and trust.
They oversee core business processes, lead the strategic decision-making, and deliver on customer expectations.
However, the market volatility of recent months has shown that businesses also need to be prepared for unexpected increases or decreases in workforce requirements.
Indeed, many businesses are already reviewing their workforce mix, and are considering what to do with the role types that do not directly impact customer experience or revenue generation.
These roles often add indirect value through insight generation, experience design, strategy formation, or management practices that drive performance and culture.
Businesses are questioning the extent to which these roles, so important to long-term growth but less impactful on short-term customer demands, are required year-round in a fixed capacity.
In a recent report, Gartner found 44% of business leaders globally were already drawing on the professional gig economy for ad hoc and on-demand talent instead of, or in addition to, permanent employees.
Looking forward, it is likely that businesses will maintain smaller, skeleton crews of knowledge workers who contribute to the core customer and employee experience — and scale up with on-demand talent in peak times where more effort, or specialist capability, is required.
We can all think of examples of peak cyclical activities: strategy planning, annual reporting, seasonal marketing campaigns, performance and development cycles, workforce and community engagement programs, just to name a few.
There are also times in which businesses need to proactively invest in strategic activities, including brand strategy development, customer experience design, strategic culture design, and long term strategy planning.
At these times, on-demand talent can add immediate, high-impact value, without becoming a long-term cost burden. Their specialised capability, external perspective and breadth of industry experience, can be drawn on as needed.
In the post-pandemic new world order, both businesses and individuals can benefit from an increased appetite and capability for flexibility.
As more businesses recognise the need to scale workforces up and down, they’ll save money over time by drawing on talent on-demand, driving outcome-based performance, rather than having the overheads of a traditional, fixed workforce.
Businesses will also start to attract the high-quality talent who have chosen not to work in the traditional employment model; those people who already live and breathe agility and impact and who are adept at jumping in and adding value quickly.
For individuals, we’ll start to see an increasing shift towards talent choosing to work flexibly and building their professional gig careers.
This talent supply is already there and, helped by remote work becoming the accepted norm, is rapidly growing, allowing leaders to tap into geographically dispersed on-demand talent markets.
Our world will be volatile and unpredictable for a long time to come.
After the pandemic, we still have climate change, economic recovery and geopolitical pressures to address.
Businesses that survive this moment in time will be more wary and careful with expenditure and overheads than ever before.
Remote working has been adopted more broadly, and past assumptions about flexibility have been directly challenged.
This mindset shift, combined with economic pressure and a need for greater agility, will see that for many capabilities, leaders will increasingly draw on talent on-demand rather than making a long-term, fixed commitment.
On-demand talent will reshape the role of the knowledge worker, redefining workforce value for a long time to come.