Let’s start with the obvious: the digital disruption that is upon us is having a dramatic impact on professional services and creative marketing firms. Because so much of the project deliverable can be digitized, it means that the information that’s being created and distributed can be moved quickly and easily from anywhere, anytime. Therefore, it stands to reason that the people who are moving this information can be anywhere as well. A strong signal and a laptop is all that’s needed to keep the business moving.
In an article entitled "Designing a Future for the Untethered Workforce" which was recently published in the PwC network, author Suvarchala Narayanan explains that “the gig economy — and the growing group of digital nomads within it — requires a wider variety of new products and services than businesses and governments are currently prepared to deliver.” What she is referring to are “gig-work sites” such as Upwork and Toptal. Serious and success driven professional services firms, however, are already employing the latest in PSA (professional services automation) tools and business management software. New cloud-based platforms are more sophisticated and can handle the preciseness of collaboration and financial management while tracking resources and utilization. The point is that the untethered workforce is only as advanced as their clients require them to be.
Digital Freedom - Changing Values
In today’s networked economy, services firms have reported that the nature of the workforce is changing. “In its 2017 CEO Survey (pdf), PwC found that 77 percent of CEOs surveyed, from 79 different countries, believed a lack of access to talent with the right skills was the biggest threat to their business.” With such a large percentage of people working while on the move and even more seeking this lifestyle, companies of all sizes will have to develop better processes and appreciation for talent that is sometimes hard to find and maybe harder to keep track of. Narayanan comments: “It raises the issue of how more advanced, free and untethered a ‘digital’ worker can be in today’s networked economy.” She adds: “And changing values are emphasizing autonomy and quality of life over security and job loyalty.”
Another recent study “predicts that 42 percent of all self-employed individuals in the United States are likely to be millennials by 2020.” As such they will fall into the category of the “Alternative Worker” which is someone that received a portion of their income reported on form 1099.
The study prepared by Deloitte Insights - "Decoding millennials in the gig economy" – written by Kelly Monahan, Jeff Schwartz, and Tiffany Schleeter, reviews a decade of research on the GIG economy and its largest cohort of workers, the Millennials. They have identified 6 trends to watch:
- “The proportion of women in the millennial alternative workforce is shrinking, possibly because more millennial women than men are going back to school.”
- “The proportion of household income millennials receive from alternative work is increasing.”
- “Most alternative millennial workers make less than their traditional full-time employed counterparts.”
- “Millennial alternative workers are often supported by someone else in their household.”
- “Alternative millennial workers are more likely to find jobs in the arts, maintenance, and administrative professions.”
- “Alternative millennial workers appear to be more likely to break the rules, have emotional agility, and work hard.”
Millennials have taken the lead in the digital nomad movement, but new research is suggesting that this trend may soon be over. Generation Z represents a digital native cohort where transacting in the cloud and on the move is commonplace. There’s even more change evolving at the older end too. “In a 2018 report (pdf) by accounting firm Freshbooks on self-employment in the United States, 49 percent of freelancers surveyed were over age 50, and 61 percent of them expected to freelance after traditional retirement age.”
Couple that with the facts from the PwC study and the talent picture changes dramatically. The report noted that: “52 percent of U.S. hiring managers surveyed said talent shortage was the top driver leading them to adopt flexible work models, and 90 percent of companies in the survey said they were open to hiring freelancers.”
Narayanan summarizes this way: “Making location-independent work available widens the talent pool for hiring managers, but it also means it’s no longer realistic to assume the best people will stay in a single company or country.” The author’s considered comment is the most telling: “The biggest competitor for a company’s talent may be Thailand, not Apple.”