by Ray Grainger

Digital transformation and harnessing the power of the modern distributed workforce

Dec 06, 2018
Digital TransformationIT LeadershipStaff Management

The importance of recognizing the dramatic workforce evolution and how embracing new workforce models and technology can help modernize operations.

Over the past decade, the global workforce has evolved substantially, and it is accelerating. The drivers of this evolution are many fold. The global competitive landscape is relentless; there are generational shifts giving rise to different work modes and behavior; the pace of technology acceleration seems unstoppable; and business has gone through a dramatic digital transformation requiring companies to have a more fluid, agile workforce model.

These drivers affect the workforce in a number of significant ways. For businesses, the shift has impacted flexibility, cost management, speed and agility. For workers it has affected flexibility, the diversity of work, skills development and mobility.

When explaining the shift, it’s important to look at what is being digitized. It started with digitizing the customer experience, then trickled to suppliers and partners. And now digitization is having a profound effect on the modern workforce.

This evolution affects all workers. Now, work is commonly distributed across geographic boundaries as well as business boundaries. Geographically, companies need to assemble the most capable teams with the right talent at the right time regardless of location. Often a company may not have the skills they need within their workforce.  In fact, today a full 36 percent of the workforce, or 57.3 million Americans, are freelancing and contributing roughly $1.4 trillion annually to the economy, according to research from Upwork and the Freelancers Union.  Among executive-level workers, 56 percent say they have done contract work in the past, according to a Mavenlink report, and 63 percent say they would leave their full-time job if a contract opportunity arose.

Data reveals differences between workforce generations

On the more experienced end of the workforce, skilled professionals are looking to leverage their expertise in a more flexible way. Meanwhile, on the less experienced end of the workforce, professionals are looking to accelerate their skills development and do so by working on a more diverse body of work.

Millennials, or workers on the younger end of the spectrum, are typically less tied down — many haven’t built families in the way that their older counterparts have. This makes it more likely for them to be mobile and in search of a flexible working situation. If they were able to make their current job more flexible, 64 percent of Millennials would like to occasionally work from home, and 66 percent would like to shift their work hours, according to a report from PwC.

Conversely, experienced workers generally have deep roots with family and community and look for work more regionally when applying their skills. Overall, more than a quarter of workers, 28.5 percent, are looking for jobs outside of their current metro, according to data from However, the report says that adding about 10 years to an applicant’s age made them 7 percent less likely to move to a different market.

Tech enables the effectiveness of a high-performance distributed workforce

Modern technology has the potential to enable all generations to apply their skills from anywhere in the world, creating new opportunities for both workers and employers. Workers in this scenario can find opportunities that may not be as readily available in their own geographic location. Likewise, employers can leverage the diverse skills of this distributed workforce to assemble teams that are the right fit for their needs, regardless of where those team members are located.

The key challenge, of course, is in the process of actually getting the work done. Businesses need the right technology and processes in place to make collaborating with work teams in the digital environment mimic what happens when people are in the same physical location.

It is essential that businesses are able to effectively match the talent needs of their business with the right skills available in the marketplace — supply and demand — on a global basis. This is becoming harder than ever. Companies that fail to meet the talent needs of the business will underperform against the competition.

Technology can play a necessary role in bridging the substantial gap that exists between the desires of the modern workforce and the needs of businesses, transforming the way work gets done.

The challenge: staffing the modern workforce

Collaborative work platforms are now being adopted to address the digitization, organization and coordination of work. New talent networks have emerged in an effort to mobilize talent more flexibly. Meanwhile, staffing firms — caught up in the way they have traditionally filled their clients’ talent needs — struggle to perform even during what is now one of the biggest economic booms in recent history.

Why is this the case? Talent and employers alike are looking to other places to find work. Investors may be starting to take notice. The world’s three largest staffing firms have seen their stock prices slide by 20-36 percent so far in 2018.

The current mechanisms for filling the demand for work with a supply of talent are no longer adequate given the fast-paced, agile and highly digital world we live in today.

For businesses, the imperative is to recognize the dramatic workforce evolution that has occurred, embrace new workforce models and the role technology will play in modernizing their operations, enabling them to compete in this highly competitive global economy.  Digitize. Mobilize. Globalize.