There is a trend nowadays, which spreads like a virus among industries. It allows companies to be flexible in hiring and firing, to adjust their workforce base according to the needs in a specific period of time, and increase their performance significantly. Yet, most of us don’t see it coming. The reason for that might be connected to the fact that the trend is growing exponentially: we can’t see it until it’s too late.
You might have heard of liquid workforce. Lately, it was heavily promoted by Accenture as one of top 5 tech trends for 2016. A liquid workforce is one that is able to rapidly adapt and change based on the environment that they are in. The workplace is changing. More and more tasks are becoming automated, performed by computers or machines, and this means humans need to adapt.
The term liquid workforce is related to outsourcing and freelance. Yet, it encompasses more: the way businesses could use modern phenomena of ever-changing environment and flexibility and what could be the outcomes of that. Liquid workforce doesn’t only change the world of Human Resources, it also changes the world of training, consulting and coaching.
One of the most obvious benefits of the liquid workforce is its flexibility. We don’t have to worry about letting go of people who don’t fit in the organization after working in it for 30 years. The new organizational structure will enable them to adapt, learn and evolve. Another quick example of liquid flexibility is timing. Having 10 times bigger workforce during peaks when you need it? Easy. Most of the corporate education is time-bound. It requires a great deal of flexibility and planning.
Freedom to choose
Have you heard of the Long Tail? The theory of the Long Tail describes the change in our economy due to i.e. Internet. What it says is that previously retailers had to sell only the most popular goods because being constrained by the location of the physical stores they couldn’t sell enough of the non-popular items in order for them to be profitable. What it meant also is that consumers didn’t have the access to the non-mainstream or niche things. With the Internet, everything changed. Selling not anymore constrained with geographical boundaries and what that means is that training industry, also, slowly becomes more and more exposed to the global market. It allows us to have a better chance at finding exactly that perfect match for ourselves. Possibility to hire experts and acquire their knowledge across boundaries contributes a lot to the liquidity of the workforce. As I already described in the article “Why do we need a Corporate Training Marketplace?”, the possibility to choose, the scope both increases quality and decreases costs.
Engagement of employees
What I see when I go to meet HR directors of huge corporations is that they buy training in bulk. It is understandable. How else can one person oversee training for 50 000 employees? Except that perhaps this person doesn’t have to. Making workforce liquid means making it adaptable. Who knows best what employees need? The crazy idea is that perhaps employees know it best. What if we could give more power to middle managers over choosing the training for their own team? The idea of liquid workforce is the one we have been exploring in Panda since the product we are building can easily be forwarded to every last employee in the company. Would it increase the efficiency of training, would it only enable training where there is a need in one? We believe so and we aim to test our assumptions in the very near future.
When the companies are using the same trainers they have worked with for the past 50 years usually, it’s an evidence of the solid workforce. Are these people still credible? How efficient is this training? Could the company benefit from hiring someone with an external and fresh look? These are the questions that should be explored empirically and studied in detail in order to understand the benefits of liquid workforce better.
Some of you might rightly notice that despite everything described above and the increase in freelance workforce, many companies still struggle to shift. Why? My best guess is that they lack tools, which could be credible and could lower the switching cost to liquid workforce. And Panda is one of the many companies working on developing such tools.
Will this wave reinforce itself and turn into tsunami or will it collapse under its own weight, what’s your bet?
Dima Syrotkin, CEO at Panda Training Oy