On-demand talent at your fingertips. Fast innovation. Integrated AI. Technology is rapidly shifting the landscape of work and there is a world of tremendous opportunity opening up. But what does that mean for HR?
To better understand how emerging work models will affect human resources, Open Assembly recently spoke with a trio of HR experts: Jon Younger, PhD, author and investor in HR tech startups; Neil Jensen, vice president of HMC product strategy at Workday, a provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance, HR and planning; and Mike Morris, CEO of Topcoder, a leading on-demand digital talent platform.
“Early on, we went to great lengths to avoid HR,” says Morris. Morris says HR didn’t understand the on-demand talent model, but attitudes are changing, and fast. “We’re seeing so much experimentation these days, along with a good deal of churn around how to incorporate freelancers into what some of us describe as the ‘flexible, blended workforce,’” says Younger.
How can HR approach the future of work, new models and emerging worker-company relationships to gain from these trends? What are the keys to a successful transition to a more “flexible” or “blended” workforce? Here are seven strategies that work.
- Be proactive, not reactive. “I’m starting to see more HR people involved, going to the trade shows and talking about the on-demand digital talent economy,” says Morris. Now is the time to learn as much as you can to chart a course that puts the company in the best position for future success. “Ultimately the on-demand digital talent economy model for accessing talent should sit within the HR purview,” says Morris. “There are some HR people embracing this and running interesting models. A talented HR person could drive a gig-economy model for the company and have a big impact on how the company performs.”
- Reassure employees that freelancers aren’t their enemies. Employees may think that freelancers are secretly competing for their full-time job unless you openly address the big concerns, mainly job risk and trust. “The best way to incent and reinforce the commitment of internal employees is to do what we know we should do,” says Younger. “Pay people fairly, provide them with opportunity for growth and development, manage them respectfully and inclusively, communicate honestly, and direct the organization to contribute positively and ethically. These fundamentals haven’t changed.”
- Stay focused on humans. Although AI, machine learning, algorithms and other emerging technologies are already the way work happens, don’t lose sight of the human element. Technology and humans will come into balance to enhance business functioning. AI may extend capabilities, but people will remain central in the new world of work, says Jensen. “We see it today with an intense focus on worker experiences and I don’t believe this will go away,” says Jensen.
- Be clear about roles. Company executives need to think through, clarify and communicate the role of freelancers, and what that means for the broad direction of their workforce architecture. “HR is both the master of ceremonies and ringmaster, converting executive intent into a meaningful and executable plan. They must play a key role in organizing people to work through the likely and less likely changes required.” says Younger.
- Don’t lose sight of relationships. Freelancers want to feel part of the team as long as they are on the project, even if they work remotely. “Organizations that treat freelancers in a more transactional manner rather than as a relationship will miss out because freelancers are unlikely to give their best work when treated in a nonpersonal manner, and they’re likely to tell other top freelancers to work elsewhere,” Younger warns.
- Design good performance management systems. Performance management systems must be well designed: determining the work; building the SOW; identifying interdependencies, milestones and deadlines; clarifying the nature and frequency of review and the schedule for feedback; and defining the critical behavioral as well as technical competencies expected. HR needs to be clear: “This is how often we’re going to get together; these are the work goals; these are the relationship roles. it’s a living system when successful—much more than a contract,” says Younger.
- Recognize the value freelancers bring to the company. Companies that plan to depend heavily on freelancers or a more flexible, blended workforce need to create policies that reflect their intent, says Younger. Treat them as valued stakeholders, considering these areas: Is the pay policy (30, 60, 90 days) reasonable or punitive? Are you engaging freelancers or keeping them at a distance? Are you expecting unreasonable contract provisions, e.g., IP? “HR must work with procurement to look at the larger body of freelance policy and ask whether the company is set up to attract and retain the desired freelancers.”
“Some companies are really embedding freelancers into the fabric of their organizations and treating them well,” says Younger. “Other organizations are still hesitant to engage with freelancers for fear of liability. I look forward to more companies truly welcoming freelancers. After all, they are performing important work.”