The message from workers is clear: the pre-pandemic workplace is dead. The rise of hybrid work is here and applies to more than just where a company’s employees sit. It also applies to how workers engage with enterprises. To operate in this new hybrid environment, organizations must learn how best to maximize their most valuable asset: their people.
Many still see the workplace solely as where someone is standing—an office, usually—and consider employees to be just one kind of worker—a full-time, traditional employee. But that way of working has become a thing of the past. It’s imperative that business leaders understand the forces driving today’s modern business model and rebuild their understanding of work—where it happens, how it gets done, and who best performs it and drives value for their organization.
WORK ISN’T STATIC. NEITHER ARE PEOPLE.
The pandemic ushered in a new “work from anywhere” approach, and work is no longer an on/off binary. Previously, someone might have taken a week of vacation and gone on a five-day trip. Today, that same person might take no time off yet embark on a month of travel, pursuing a digital nomad lifestyle while still serving company or client needs. Still, others may work for two or three or six months on a project, only to take a month or two off.
Just as the definition of “workplace” has evolved, so too has the definition of “employment”—an idea that is less discussed but perhaps much more important.
Ten years ago, “I’m consulting” often meant “I’m between jobs.” For years, a stable job, income, and employer have been the cornerstone of a professional career. Even as an employee’s average time with one employer dropped from an entire career to 4.1 years or less (the lowest since 1980), the full-time job remained the baseline.
Today, the number of people calling themselves independent contractors continues to snowball, topping 51 million in 2021, a 38% year-over-year jump. Being an independent consultant has evolved from an unfortunate situation thrust upon someone by a layoff to an intentional career decision. These workers are happier and healthier than their traditionally employed counterparts, and 2 out of 3 even feel more financially secure.
But many organizations and business leaders have yet to catch on. They narrowly view their workforce as only full-time employees.
Much like a full-time employee can be working in Boston, Budapest, or Bali and be just as checked in to their job as if they were sitting at a desk in an office, an independent professional working five hours a week for a client can be just as vital of a contributor as a full-time resource. “Work” and one’s ability to contribute to an organization’s success is as unrelated to the tax form someone files as it is to where they’re physically sitting.
CULTURE IS A PRODUCT OF PEOPLE, NOT A PLACE
Culture is a manifestation of behaviors, and behaviors are a manifestation of your belief system. One’s belief system doesn’t change because of the contractual arrangement they have as a worker, because of where they’re physically sitting, or because of their tax status. Beliefs will manifest themselves into behaviors, and a population’s culture will grow from the collective behaviors of its constituents.
A business that consists of individuals—be they full-time, independent, co-located, or scattered—who share the same beliefs or values develops a shared culture based on those shared beliefs, and not as a result of working arrangements.
In nearly all cases, a diverse workforce is considered a benefit. In the case of a mix of contract and FTE workers, a workforce can also improve culture through the diversity of knowledge, background, and skill sets. While institutional knowledge from longtime employees is not to be underrated, today’s most in-demand skill sets are leveraged by those with current experience, not those who have only ever solved the problems of a single organization. Blended teams of contract, FTE, and even offshore labor are not just the new norm, they’re the new desired state.
EMBRACE THE DYNAMIC WORKPLACE
The modern workplace is no longer a story of binaries. As the concept of “work” versus “out of office” rapidly fades into obsolescence, so too are many of the other frameworks upon which “work” has so long been built.
Those organizations that embrace the future and that see beyond binaries toward a new and dynamic way of working will emerge as prominent leaders and play a role in shaping this evolving landscape. Those who hold on to the past? I think we all know how that ends.
CEO at MBO Partners, building the future of work via a deep job platform connecting top independent professionals and enterprises worldwide