4 Ways to Achieve Workforce Agility

By MBO Partners | September 28, 2021

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Companies have realized that workforce agility is key to surviving economic ups and downs, especially in light of the impact of Covid-19.

The past 18 months have seemed a lifetime in the world of work. America’s vast and dynamic workforce has seen huge changes in terms of cycles and structures of work, and the acceleration of many forces of change long in the making, among them, the adoption of remote work and the need to consider a different, more agile talent model that involves a blend of FTE and independent labor sources.

What is Workforce Agility?

Per a recent AON pulse survey of HR professionals, 84% of HR leaders view workforce agility as either “very or extremely important in organizations.” The problem is, only 39% of these professionals view their current workforces as “very or extremely agile.”

If we define “workforce agility” as the ability to move quickly and effectively to adapt to changing business needs and disruptions, its relevance today and in the future should not be underestimated.

It’s no secret that enterprise demands and expectations have accelerated through digital transformation. Further, there has been a preconceived notion that businesses need to be more agile to react to unpredictability, a business case that saw prime use as companies were forced to pivot and will continue to need to be responsive to change as a result of the ongoing pandemic. This may explain why more and more enterprises are adopting new mindsets, tools, and solutions to help them become more agile and proactive.

Professionals, leaders, firms, and organizations believe now is the time to design a more resilient solution for the future in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Here are 4 ways business leaders can achieve workforce agility in the post-COVID world in order to succeed in the future of work.

1. Internal Mobility

Internal mobility is a crucial component of an organization’s talent strategy. This provides HR teams with the tools they need to identify their employees’ skill sets and aspirations, as well as deploy or redeploy talents to where they are needed the most.

Developing a culture of internal mobility in a workplace or organization not only focuses on employees so that they are on top of mind once a role or job position becomes vacant or available. It also helps staff grow in their career and develop the right skills sets.

To further agility, savvy corporations are considering helping not just FTEs, but also a blended workforce including independent talent, discover new roles and positions within the organization. Recent research from MBO finds that 39% of enterprises are leveraging contingent labor to increase productivity, while 36% are using workers to meet workload peaks and get tasks done more quickly. Further, 81% of those with a branded talent marketplace (a proprietary job board for independent talent) are highly satisfied with their programs.

2. Increase Comfort with Flexible Work Arrangements

Today, data shows that top enterprises leverage a workforce that is about 28% of their overall total, with expected growth to 58% in the next 18 months. What’s most interesting: a greater share of contingent work now begets the likelihood to use more contingent labor in the future. For example, firms where 25% or more of their workforce is currently contingent expect their use of contingent labor to increase by 49% over the next five years. Those reporting workforces where contingents are less than 25% expect their use of contingent labor to increase just 19% over the next 5 years.

As more firms shift their talent strategy to focus on independent contractors, there is a growing infrastructure of products, tools, services, and programs to support these moves. In fact, the growing infrastructure for independents themselves is a key reason for the exponential year-over-year growth of the independent workforce, a trend explored in depth in our 2021 State of Independence preview.

As corporate comfort with remote work and online collaboration grows, it is likely that even more organizations will consider favorable work status to be another differentiator to help source the best and most qualified talent for projects and for teams. Those who do so sooner than later will continue to stay ahead of the curve.

3. Tap into a Fluid Workforce to Balance Supply and Demand

Independent workers are a growing economic workforce, providing enterprises with staffing flexibility, in-demand skills, and cost savings. Moreover, independent professionals are experts in their respective industries.

Rather than retaining a traditional workforce model where work is matched with a full-time role, businesses should now consider dividing work into a series of project-based efforts.

For instance, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) encourages P&L owners to leverage an extended workforce (both onshore and offshore) for a portion of client projects or deliverables. This enables the company to be flexible in its work arrangements and assure clients of project movement from start to end, as well as to maximize utilization and cost flow.

4. Leverage Independent Labor to Combat Skill Gaps

Some businesses talk about retaining talent to minimize skill gaps while others discuss the opposite―not retaining but outsourcing or filling in the gaps with skilled external talent. Savvy hiring managers are already saying that the use of flexible work arrangements helps them access specialized skills (29%) and hard-to-hire skills (29%) as well as to get tasks done more quickly (30%).

As reliance on independent professional talent becomes more common across different industries, organizations are putting in strategies to retain, attract, and engage top talent. While these strategies and technologies vary per organization, they range from the establishment of a branded talent marketplace to complex and detailed nurturing programs for independent labor.

Next steps

Independent professionals give businesses a competitive advantage as they allow companies to be more agile, increase their supply chain control, and boost their overall efficiency. To engage the best external talent, enterprises must put in place procedures to engage, scale and optimize their work with these professionals. With a concrete and polished program for independent contractors, forward-thinking companies can remain competitive and accelerate their business success.

Leaders need to open doors for a new way of thinking from the top to bottom aspects of their enterprises, encourage trust and collaboration among talents, and look forward and plan on how to optimize their workforces and adopt a resource management-led program. While this strategy can begin bottom-up – from line managers looking to strategically access the best talent and to do so in a compliant, yet cost-efficient way, we have strong evidence to suggest that the most impactful programs also involve executive sponsorship, wherein core C-suite leadership articulates the value of an optimized and agile workforce as a critical business priority

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