Exciting as it is, the world of work can be a complicated, unnerving, daunting place. New trends, inventions and innovative ways of working are born in the morning and die by teatime – swept aside by an even newer, even better tech, app, software or idea.
Blink and you’ll find yourself behind the times, and made to feel old – the dinosaur in the room on the verge of extinction. The pace of change is relentless, and a job in itself to keep up with it all.
But fortunately, that’s where Leslie Willcocks comes in. As the Professor of Technology, Work and Globalisation at London School of Economics, and a recipient of The PWC World Outsourcing Achievement Award, he’s made it his life’s work to explore the rapidly changing world of business and work. And today, he shed some light on a slice of it.
To kick off, one of – if not – the biggest shifts in business, perhaps even in modern society – is the sheer number of people now working for themselves. Trading in permanent employment for more freedom, risk and reward, millions of people around the world work flexibly, on short-term projects, as and when they’re needed for companies of all sizes.
For the 4.5million freelancers, contractors and self-employed people in the UK, life isn’t bad. But looking at it from another perspective, how has this tectonic-like shift in the way people affected the companies who engage with them – more specifically, how are they coping, culturally?
“Businesses are employing people in the traditional sense, less and less – which makes it tricky to develop a strong, positive culture quickly. We now move around a lot, so in many cases, there’s a lack of loyalty and trust. Increasingly, companies rely on regulation, measurement, explicit rules and other control mechanisms, which breeds bureaucracy.“
“Organisations – especially large ones – suffer from the massive weight of bureaucracy – a lot of which stems from corporate culture. It’s easy tosee why leaving to do your own thing has become the new way of working.”
And there’s no denying that this is the new way of working. In just a couple of years self-employment in the UK is expected to topple the number of people working in the public sector. No mean feat when you think about it.
The conversation moves on swiftly. It’s time to discuss something that in the past has been a big sticking point when it comes to hiring freelancers and contractors. The cost.
“The whole agenda, or very reason companies outsource is to ‘allow us to focus on core, mission critical activities’. So financially speaking, outsourcing plays a big part in efficiency.“
“But the problem companies often overlook is the management of the outsourced work. For outsourcing to make sense financially, you need to have a really strong understanding of your market, your contractors, and how to drive the best results and leverage innovation from the people you outsource to. In large companies, you need an in-house team whose very job it is to make sure you get the most from it.“
“If you don’t get that right outsourcing can become quite an inflexible tool, which we’ve seen time and again. Many companies have – in the past – only outsourced to get stable state, routine and run of the mill jobs done quickly and done well.”
Sure, outsourcing, or more accurately automating – the more menial labour intensive tasks makes perfect sense. After all, why pay an employee to do a job when an app or a bit of software can do it in half the time, at half the cost, and without error? But what about outsourcing the game-changing, mission critical stuff? Are companies now brave and trusting enough to allow freelancers, contractors and consultants to produce when the stakes are high?
“For many companies, the better they become at outsourcing, the braver they are when it comes to letting go of things central to their plans. They start to let others do it. And in come the freelancers, contractors and consultants.“
“It’s also worth bearing in mind that the ability of the freelance market has matured greatly. Very talented, competent people put themselves on the market, and they can be relied upon to do a very good job, often right where it matters inside a company.”
Speaking of things that matter to companies, or perhaps more accurately, everyone – the digital revolution crops up. Has anything ever had more of an impact on the world of work? Probably not. Along with countless other things, new technologies have paved the way for better connectivity, collaboration and ways of working. And all of these innovative technologies, as Leslie explains, sit in The Cloud.
“In the early days, I think people mistook what The Cloud actually was. To a certain degree it was seen as just another fad. Here today, gone tomorrow. But it’s much bigger than that. The Cloud is the platform for many things – the fads, the innovations, it’s the thing that allows communication, innovation and fast-agile thinking on a global basis.“
“It’s critical. The Cloud is where all businesses will be moving to, if they haven’t already that is. In a recent study, I predicted that by 2025, all businesses will be digital. They’ll have to be. Some of them are crawling there, some are already there, and some have a very long journey ahead of them.”
By the sounds of it, some journey it’ll be too. The digital era – although already revolutionary in business and life-changing in so many ways – looks like it’s yet to hit top gear. Terrifying really isn’t it? No wonder so many of us have trouble keeping up with it all. At this rate, it won’t be too long before another chat with Leslie is needed…