In my keynote talks at SIA’s 2019 Contingent Workforce Strategies Summits in both London and San Diego, I talked about how it would take an economic downturn to drive the uptake of new technologies that would transform our industry, and how I foresaw a new working arrangement happening in 2030 to 2040. Then Covid-19 happened. Its impact on the world will, I believe, drive us to arrive at my forecasted destinations far sooner than I ever imagined.
The Premise. During my talks, I noted that impact of technological advancements in the staffing industry was happening at a faster rate than ever before, but I also cautioned that they would never advance so slowly again. I also warned that when it comes to advances in technology and its impact on the workforce solutions ecosystem, intellectual complacency is simply not an option at this time. Organizations and workforce program professionals who ignore these advances, or simply remain unaware of them, do so at their own peril.
I also discussed the typical technology adoption curve, in which we see the “innovators” — those who are the first to try new technologies — with “early adopters” hot on their heels. Typically, those are followed by three other groups — the “early majority,” the “late majority” and the “laggards.” I argued that within the workforce solutions ecosystem, however, we were stuck in the middle of an adoption gap, a period of stagnation before the other three phases of the adoption cycle can occur. I, for one, have eagerly awaited the “early majority” phase, which will drive a radical shift in how programs are managed and delivered.
Bridged gap. I had expected it would take an economic downturn to drive the early majority into action, as organizations sought to drive costs down and improve efficiencies. I could hardly have foreseen the dramatic events of the last three months that have catapulted the world into a completely new way of remote working. Organizations and individuals around the world have been forced to experiment with new technologies and ways of working that could only have happened as a result of this catastrophic pandemic and government mandates. We are currently seeing a five to 10-year experiment and transition to new ways of remote working condensed into a matter of months.
As a result of Covid-19, the world will experience much more than the economic downturn I predicted would be necessary to drive the online talent economy into the early majority phase. I see Covid-19 having three major impacts that will springboard the industry to a place where otherwise, it would not have arrived for years:
- Remote Working. While not for everyone, a significant proportion of the population and organizations will realize an increase in productivity through remote/homeworking. And it will be fast. I had predicted work-life balance would take shape over the next 10 years, but the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread stay-at-home orders have accelerated that dramatically. The world is essentially being forced to learn and adapt to working from home. Fewer people will want to return to the office to work unless it is for human interaction and face-to-face project collaboration — in other words, experiences that they cannot replicate from home. Organizations around the world have embarked on a mandated experiment of suddenly having their entire workforce working remotely and for some, this is tens of thousands of people.
- Technology awareness. Organizations and individuals, once again, have been forced to learn and adopt new technology solutions to get work done in a collaborative way. As a result, there will be a renewed understanding and appetite to amplify these (and new), technologies to drive both organizational efficiency and deliver an enhanced work-life balance for the workforce
- The economic reality. There will be a heavy price to pay as a result of the global economy being in virtual shutdown for such a sustained period, forcing organizations to look for ways to bring additional efficiencies into every aspect of their business, including talent acquisition management and services procurement. Organizations will likely start to evaluate their buildings portfolios and IT infrastructures and start to break down barriers that have previously prevented them from engaging with remote workers. This need to return to organizational profitability and provide shareholder value will further accelerate the first two points because even leaders themselves, who may be once have believed in a traditional way of doing business within company offices spaces, will have experienced and seen the benefits of remote working.
These three forces will drive our entire industry over the next 12 months to places that otherwise would have taken years to arrive. In other words, we are currently going through a “step change” to arrive, very soon, in a new tomorrow that will rapidly become our new normal — in fact it is already is becoming our new normal.
Gone are the days when we could use the past 10 years to predict what will likely happen in the next 10. And while I like to credit Bill Gates for saying that we tend to overestimate what will happen in in the next two years from a technology perspective but that we underestimate what will likely happen in the next 10, I think in this case, that statement doesn’t hold true. Very few people could possibly have overestimated the extensive technological change that is about to take place in our industry. The learnings and changes in organizational workforce structures that will result from this mandated, global experiment involving some billions of people in such a short timeframe can surely never be overestimated.
SIA’s Certified Contingent Workforce Professional (CCWP) virtual training explores the types of applications that impact our programs, how to control and govern those applications and how to leverage advanced technology concepts.