The advent of technology-empowered global workforces fundamentally changed the way employees and employers engaged. Technology connected workers around the globe, dissolving geographical boundaries. Today, fast-moving markets and customers’ ever-changing needs are creating an almost relentless pressure for companies to reinvent themselves and their employee models ─ again and again.
How Offshoring Lost its Luster
Digital adaptation arose from two significant workforce changes: (1) technology-enabled global labor; and (2) a geographically distributed workforce. These two fundamental shifts created a category of worker known as the “offshored.” As the Internet-connected workers around the globe, companies gained access to an international workforce that performed like local employees. Often, “follow the sun” development teams fast-tracked projects at near warp speed as compared to domestic-only, traditional workforces.
At first, offshoring saved a lot of money for US-based companies that were able to move work overseas, take advantage of labor arbitrage, end benefits programs and layoff layers of middle management. For many companies, offshoring was a beautiful thing until one day it wasn’t. What began as a move to more cost-effective, less management-intensive workforces quickly exposed unintended, negative consequences of offshoring on two highly desirable outputs of work: innovation and collaboration.
Lack of business context, ineffective communications, and virtually non-existent creativity constrained offshoring. The desired collaboration, communication, and innovation US companies sought from their offshored workforces did not materialize from a raft of geographically separated, workforces. For some, offshoring has become categorized by an untenable disconnect with customer demands.
While the sheer economics of maintaining urban offices doesn’t support bringing everyone back in-house, a compromise must be found that balances budgetary constraints against digital adaptation’s need for collaboration. In many cases, employees’ preference for working from their home offices using online collaboration tools is helping companies move closer to this balance. However, a lack of specialized talent continues to plague companies’ looking for experienced assistance. In these instances, the availability of niche talent prompts companies to accept assistance from specialists who are dispersed geographically. While companies pioneering digital adaptation may have to use some distributed workforces, partnership models need to promote vitally important communication, collaboration, and innovative thinking.
Digital Adaptation Matches Teams to Projects
In the digital age, scalability, the massive availability of skilled workers, gives way to teams comprised of workers with diverse skills and mindsets. These teams will be created to meet the specific requirements of the project at hand, and they will be disbanded at the project’s completion. The constant change characteristic of digital adaptation demands a flexible approach to skills acquisition. The ability to quickly construct, manage and get the team to full productivity will become a key requirement for corporations. Acquiring new skills and a dedication to lifelong learning will become table stakes for employees in every workforce, whether traditional, distributed, outsourced, or contingent.
At its heart, digital adaptation requires more management, more communication, and more collaboration –not less. As Daniel Newman pointed out, traditional leaders quickly became stumped as to how to manage these diverse and divergent groups of individuals. That’s why new workforce models, while a good place to start, require new management models as well.
Digital Success Depends on Effective Recombining of the Workforce
Workforce models and effective management approaches for fluid teaming present two of the most perplexing challenges in digital adaptation. Simply put, the traditional workforce models and proven management approaches don’t work. How effectively you combine and recombine people will determine your success or failure in the digital world.
Companies knee-deep in digital adaptation need to get comfortable with constant change and reinvention on the fly. To learn more about how to navigate this complex landscape, download our white paper on digital adaptation or read the blog series on this fundamental sea of change.
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