Future Work

Never again just one job. The rise of fractional work, gig economy jobs, and talent marketplaces.

In the personalized future of work, having one job no longer makes sense. Access the talent marketplace as a job buffet.

Welcome to
Future Work

Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.

Not a member yet? Join over 10,000 people-centric managers and subscribe here.

Rather listen? The spoken version will be available tomorrow on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

In Future Work, I read the entire internet so that you don't have to. Kind of like ChatGPT but focused on the future of work. I report back weekly and what's most relevant for you to know. Here's today's edition.

I've been writing about personalization at work, how we will take more control over how we work, and the incredible benefits this has for people, teams, and companies.

One way to personalize work is hybrid remote work, choosing when and where to work. Another way people find ways to make work their own is through fractional work and (internal) talent marketplaces.

In other words: having just one job is so 2022.

Who doesn't want to be the CEO of their own work?

I still remember scrolling Facebook years ago and stumbling upon a post from one of my team members. "I can't wait to be my own boss," they had written, surely after a challenging moment at work.

My first instinct was to be angry. Do you know how hard it is to run a company? Do you actually want to be an entrepreneur?

Upon reflecting, I understood the sentiment better. Throughout my career, I had many moments where I wished for nothing more than for my manager to leave me alone, to say it mildly.

Not having someone telling you what to do is a profoundly cherished desire for many, stemming from our deep-rooted need for autonomy and agency, having more control over our work and how we do it.

And while not everyone may be able to start their own company and be the boss, people can extend much more influence over their work than they think.

Just like a CEO chooses what the company focuses on, which projects to take on, and what your workday looks like, so can people now tailor their workload toward their interests and be meaningfully productive.

Enter the trend toward fractional work, gig work, and talent marketplaces, which herald a shift from the traditional full-time job to a more flexible work life.

What are fractional work, gig work, and talent marketplaces?

Before getting into the meat, let me define the terms used in this newsletter.

Fractional work is any work where you don't only work full-time for one company, offering individuals flexibility and the ability to work on a project-by-project basis.

In other words, you’re puzzling together a full-time role by combining multiple smaller roles, like loading up your plate at a buffer. Yum! And as eMarketer reports, companies can facilitate this by letting two or more people share one position.

Gig work, freelance work, and side gigs, on the other hand, encompass short-term or on-demand tasks, providing workers autonomy and control over their working hours.

This can be an Uber driver being free to work when they want, simply by logging on to the platform. Or a freelancer who uses a platform like Fiverr and Upwork to provide project-based marketing or engineering work to companies worldwide.

This creates a gig economy, which refers to the larger trend of flexible work arrangements facilitated by digital platforms, where individuals engage in gig work.

Some people make hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on these platforms that neatly match supply and demand.

The New York Times reported that the gig economy has boomed over the past year, with more and more people, especially entrepreneurial Gen Zers, taking on a side hustle.

A survey by Deloitte reveals that half of all Gen Zs and just over one-third of millennials work a second part- or even full-time job.

And ADP data shows that in 40% of companies, one in four workers is a gig worker. Already, 16% of Americans earn money through gig platforms.

Talent marketplaces are online platforms connecting businesses with skilled professionals, offering a convenient way to find and hire talent for project-based opportunities.

Companies increasingly apply these talent marketplaces internally as work moves from “rigidly defined jobs” to “roles” focused on work. Josh Bersin calls this the dawn of the “post-industrial model” of business.

Unilever, for example, works with Gloat, an AI platform for skills matching. Together, they launched an internal talent marketplace that "aligns every employee with growth opportunities that fulfill their vision of purposeful work."

Why do we need the shift?

Teams tap into fractional and gig work for a range of reasons, and they all have to do with how what teams and companies try to achieve has increased in difficulty:

  1. Specialized Expertise: Access to niche skills and specialized knowledge from gig workers for short-term projects or specific challenges. For example, new needs in prompt engineers and AI experts are perfectly solved through fractional and gig workers.
  2. Scalability: Flexible workforce models that can quickly adapt to changing business needs and fluctuations in demand.
  3. Innovation and Fresh Perspectives: Fresh ideas and diverse experiences are brought by people from different industries and projects.
  4. Speed and Time-to-Market: Quick assembly of project teams and faster initiation of work through talent marketplaces.
  5. Cost Optimization: Cost-effective utilization of gig workers, reducing expenses associated with hiring full-time employees.
  6. Global Talent Access: Access to top talent worldwide, breaking geographical barriers.

These reasons drive the adoption of gig work and talent marketplaces, enabling teams to leverage specialized expertise, scale efficiently, foster innovation, accelerate project timelines, optimize costs, and access global talent while retaining more flexibility.

This makes sense, as Dror Poleg stated in our recent podcast because a linear “factory mentality” makes sense when you're deploying people to make one product with a repeatable and predictable process linearly.

That's far from how we compete nowadays.

We want breakthrough solutions, which means we want to tap into the brainpower of the best people on the topic. Regardless of where they live, which is why distributed and remote work are such a big part of this shift.

Industry research body AIHR | Academy to Innovate HR has called integrating this type of talent one of the 11 trends for the future of work in 2023.

A first step: Gig Marketplaces.

As mentioned, platforms like Fiverr and Upwork have enabled anyone to make money anywhere by matching supply and demand. In other words, I have something I like doing and am good at, and you're looking for this skill set.

The platform brings us together like Uber would a driver and rider, or Airbnb matching the host and the traveler.

Upwork, a gig and freelance work platform
Upwork, a gig and freelance work platform

This means that teams needing short-term or specialized work can tap into the brains of hundreds of thousands of skilled people worldwide. A marvel if you think about it.

Giving people the work they want while bringing a wider range of talent to teams and companies sounds like a dream for people, team leaders, and companies.

So why isn't everyone on the gig marketplace train yet?

I asked Kelly Monahan, who helps leaders redesign how people work as Managing Director of Upwork's Research Institute.

Kelly shared that common barriers include believing that the "old way of working" is the path of least resistance. Leaders may also need more trust in work coming from fractional work.

In short, we're operating in the old world while the world has moved on.

We can see this in how 'younger' companies treat the issue. According to Upwork research, Gen Zers are more likely to work for companies that engage knowledge freelancers.

They are also more likely to “employ” freelancers themselves: 65% of Gen Zers and 78% of Millennials say they plan to use more freelancers over the next five years than they do today.

Gen Z's attitudes to fractional and freelance work
Gen Z's attitudes to fractional and freelance work

Their perspective is that combining full-time team members and gig workers is the best way to futureproof organizations.

Upwork states, “61% of Gen Zers believe that using freelancers is a very effective lever for building talent pipelines, which compares to 47% of millennials, 35% of Gen Xers, and 37% of baby boomers.”

Gen Z's view on freelancers versus other generations
Gen Z's view on freelancers versus other generations

The next step: An "inside gig."

In an upcoming interview with talent management expert Edie Goldberg, we discussed how teams and companies can apply fractional or gig work internally.

Edie wrote the famed book "Inside Gig," which focused on how companies can tap into employees' skills and create more fulfilling jobs.

Edie shared what's already common in the external gig economy, where people look for projects that match their skills and interests, and they can opt into those projects and get paid to get that work done.

But inside our companies, we only know or leverage a few of our employees' skills, experiences, passions, and interests. We hire people into a job and put them in a box: this is your job, the things you do, and the people you work with.

Edie points out that this limits people from leveraging all their skills and experiences to contribute to the company's success.

It also inhibits them from demonstrating interest in another business area to learn something new, which could be something of growing importance to the company.

Introducing talent marketplaces

The idea is simple: take the approach that Fiverr and Upwork do for freelancers and gig workers, and apply it internally in a company.

Focus on projects that require specific skills and matching this with what your employees already have will create a win-win for companies and people.

Edie shared that this applies to new moms, retirees, and others who may want to work but can't or won't commit to a full-time job. They can be in your extended workforce and tapped into when opportunities arise.

This all helps boost employee satisfaction. One of the specific reasons why Unilever went on the skills-matching journey is to upskill and future-proof its employees. Unilever also sees benefits in the marketplace as a way to align opportunities to an employee's sense of purpose, which is essential for engagement and retention.

In an interview with People Analytics guru David Green, Unilever's former CHRO Jeroen Wels shared why the talent marketplace has become so successful for them: "in less than a year we've unlocked half a million hours of people that raised their hands to get on projects, offer their skills, or learn a new skill. We managed to offer those hours to people that needed them, on projects that were of high strategic value for us, or really urgent."

We are now at a stage where the technology is working. People love the technology and give us positive feedback constantly. But more importantly, we are shifting the culture to be focused on what type of people do you need on a project and where you can get them, creating that transparency. – Jeroen Wels, former CHRO, Unilever.

The difficulties of being a skills-based team

Typically, managers assess people's skills by looking at their current roles and job titles. But the additional skills and passions people have and want to use are a huge opportunity for managers and companies.

But this doesn't come without its challenges.

First of all, the skills need to be mapped out. Just like Uber and Airbnb wouldn't work with accurate host and driver listings, we can only start a talent marketplace if we have a clear view of our people's skills and passions.

A recent Deloitte study found that nearly half (49%) of traditional workers — full-time employees — updated their skills more than a year ago or have never engaged in skills development.

In contrast, 60% of the alternative workforce — gig workers, freelancers, independent workers, and crowd workers — updated their skills within six months.

Deloitte research on how often people update their skills
Deloitte research on how often people update their skills

In "Building A Skills-Based Organization," Josh Bersin explains that software "vendors promise that we'll have a global skills database and through the marvels of Talent Intelligence we'll be able to see trending skills, gaps in skills, and become more scientific about hiring, promotion, pay, and leadership."

AI tools can evaluate job skills based on experience and outcomes. Platforms like Kahuna can authenticate skills, while soft-skill models assess leadership and management.

But that's all at least a big digital transformation project away from reality.

Another difficulty, Josh explains, is that a top performer within a specific role can be highly successful in one company while they perform average in another. So building a skills taxonomy can be complex.

Josh's research found that "Business skills fall into many categories, each valued in different ways by different companies. And while generic skills certainly matter, it's the way you use them in your company that drives value."

A final challenge is that companies value different skills, even in the same industry. One company may value innovation and product design skills, while their competitor may focus on manufacturing and distribution.

To solve the challenges, Josh recommends focusing on a specific problem, like high turnover and low morale in customer service. From that problem, you build a part of the taxonomy, create a process for design and governance, and learn what tools work best.

He shares the example of American Express, which "realized that the "skills" needed in the Amex sales and service teams were not customer service skills at all, but hospitality skills. Amex treats clients like guests, so they started recruiting from Ritz-Carlton and other hospitality companies. It took a skills-based analysis to figure this out."

Starting with a particular problem in mind and then using skills-matching and fractional work makes a lot of sense.

Become part of the “Scalable Class.”

Per Paul Graham’s famous essay that I shared in my piece “Employee Engagement is a Shared Mission,” it is essential to do what you love so that you can do it well.

External gig and freelance, and internal talent marketplaces are a great way to build your job around what you want to do and are passionate about.

As Dror predicted in our terrific interview, we will see a rise of a new "scalable class." Dror: "Unlike any time in history, a single human being today has more power to achieve whatever they want than ever before, which means whatever idea you have, you can now become as big as the corporations of 100 years ago, just on your own, with the help of AI and the internet in any field."

Competition is tough in today's scalable world – especially when thinking about what jobs AI will replace.

Being average is no longer enough.

fractional work talent marketplaces

We must stand out by focusing on our unique experiences, interests, and relationships to succeed. We must create something authentic and individual, even if it doesn't reach millions.

It's the opportunity to be your own unique self and the challenge of knowing how to stand out – for example, marketing yourself on marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr.

It, however, also means you need to know better what you are good at and how to communicate this best. Personal branding and marketing skills will be paramount to compete in the fragmented world of work.

As Personal Branding expert Sam Neo says, we must understand the “Why Me?” To him, this is done by answering “What value can I bring” and “What problems can I solve?”

Answering these questions may be tough, but the payoff in diverse, fulfilling, personalized work will be worth it.

Be the captain of your ship and steer your own course

Diversifying your work also means that you protect yourself from layoffs. Being dependent on a single source of income, like investing all your money into some crazy cryptocurrency, could pay off, but it is risky – maybe now more than ever.

Colin Newlyn reminded us about this in light of BT laying off 40% of their workforce, an incredible 55,000 employees.

"Companies don't deserve your loyalty, extra effort, or trust because it's no longer a reciprocal arrangement. They welched on their half of the deal years ago.

Today, you need to make sure you've always got options and are always choosing your own path through the corporate minefield because, at any stage, they might decide to blow you up," Colin writes before he concludes with: "Be the captain of your ship and steer your own course."

Let's personalize work beyond the where and when!

In our quest for future-proof teams and companies, few things will be as impactful as embracing fractional work, unlocking the talents of our teams, and providing people with more autonomy and agency.

Think about the work that needs to get done and the required skills, and tap into a workforce beyond full-time employees: ex-employees and alums, gig workers, freelancers, collaborators, and even retirees.

Let’s personalize work and create a fulfilling future of work.

Have a great rest of your week,

Daan

Welcome to
Future Work

Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.

Not a member yet? Join over 10,000 people-centric managers and subscribe here.

Rather listen? The spoken version will be available tomorrow on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

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