Professional Services Key Trends: Flexibility

People today want greater choice than ever before, being able to make the most of their talents and their earning potential, while also having greater control over their work-life balance. Traditional employment models are increasingly seen as outdated and irrelevant. More and more people are turning away from fixed employment to work for themselves. They see themselves as products, uniquely positioned and hyper-specialized, branding their experience against specific corporate issues.

Cultural shift
It’s become so commonplace that some commentators have suggested a near future where payrolls consisting of 50% fully-contracted employees, and half freelancers. Despite the challenges of managing a workforce with such a large external component, this flexible set up is widely considered to offer benefits for companies of all sizes.

Cost effective
Despite the relatively higher fees demanded by freelance consultants, using contractors allows companies to easily adjust the payroll in line with workload, without compromising the ability to take on and deliver complex assignments. And with their enthusiasm to make their skills count and expand their personal portfolio, the contractor will often work wherever they are required, and with the determination and commitment expected of someone whose personal reputation is on the line. Having local skills is no longer essential, it now a realistic option to bring in a genuine specialist from almost anywhere. In line with the benefits of internationalization, a new office in Asia could still benefit from lower local salaries for the majority of employees, with specific expertise shipped in whenever it’s necessary to ensure promises to customers are kept.

Underpinned by technology
In terms of supporting this change toward greater self-employment, connectivity and mobile technology is playing a major role. As the ease with which telecommunications become available further increases, it’s likely that more than 5 billion people will have access to mobile technology and internet within the next ten years. And not just within the growing collection of mega cities – broadband is coming to the rural communities of the world at pace. A global consciousness, the likes of which has never been seen before, will become a distinct reality. Insight into what the rest of the world is doing, in real time, will become practically taken for granted. And companies will be able to look for both customers, and expertise, almost anywhere.

Corporate evolution
How this will affect the development of companies has been much discussed. Many have suggested the emergence of mega-companies, conglomerates that extend their reach on a genuinely global scale. They will likely expand their portfolios to include presence in wide, diverse ranges of products and services, using their financial might and brand power to reach out to and then attract new customers.

At the same time, a further explosion of micro-entrepreneurs will likely be a key component in these gigantic corporate engines. They will target niche skills, using powerful interconnectivity and global communications to allow them to service practically any client anywhere. In ‘Age of hyper specialization’ MIT’s Tom Malone suggests something similar – super specialized freelancers doing fractions of existing jobs on a global scale. Given how many work floors now have freelancers in the mix, it seems we’re already well on the way to realizing this scenario. Indeed, flexible workforces are already a significant aspect of many smaller services firms experiencing insecurity in the current financial climate. In harder times, working with outsourcers, subcontractors and freelancers equals ‘no projects, no costs’. Significant flexible layers in companies will become more and more common, making it easier to run a ‘skeleton crew’ when business is slow.

Personal marketing easier with ‘The human cloud’
MIT have referred to use of the ‘human cloud’ by all kinds of services businesses, platforms built by intermediaries connecting freelance professionals with corporate jobs. In addition to simplifying job-hunting for self-employed specialists, the facilitate human resources and recruitment activities for companies, often providing additional services for tracking and then managing performance and financial transactions. If this trend continues, it could soon be that company HQs regularly consist merely of management and some specialized professionals – the rest of the company’s activities taken care of by people who are brought in as and when it’s necessary.

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