Kjetil J. Olsen: Does HR have the tools to manage skills across today’s hybrid workforces?

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The world of work is changing at breakneck speed. Due to ever-increasing globalisation, an accelerating technological revolution and changing lifestyle demands, we’re entering a new era where the traditional work arrangement of hiring full time employees to work from 9 to 5 is facing competition from an on-demand work model.

Increasingly, top talent is choosing to ‘gig’ from employer to employer as independent professionals. Companies can now access talent regardless of location. It is no longer about where you are or who you know. With only a computer and internet connection any company has a world of talent at its fingertips.

The next generation of workers has already accepted this. Recent data we gathered at Elance shows that 85% of Gen Y graduates seeing freelancing as ‘becoming the norm’ in the next five years. In fact, for Gen Y, work is no longer a place. The office is becoming obsolete and the concept of a traditional “job” feels increasingly anachronistic.

So, what does this mean for HR managers: how can they successfully complement their full time staff with online independent workers to take advantage of the changing world of work?

With an increasing awareness that this is a reality, there’s a number of practical steps HR teams can take.

HR managers already know their businesses better than anyone else, so only they can know when it’s the right time to hire online workers. But to make this decision they will need to take a more analytical approach, tapping into data both from within their organisation and from the wider world.

Whilst ‘people’ skills will always be fundamental to HR excellence, I predict HR professionals will increasingly require strong analytical capabilities – understanding how to access and make sense of data. We’ve already seen this happen across other disciplines that have been transformed by the digital age, such as Marketing.

Detecting skill gaps across their entire organisations will be crucial and HR professionals will benefit from measuring skills and capabilities internally in a consistent and structured way.

Once HR has a handle on where the skills gaps are in an organisation, filling those gaps becomes a global not just a local job.

This requires a greater awareness of global skills trends. HR managers are already experts on the local labour market, understanding everything from average salary rates to the location and availability of specific workers. However, in the future it will become far more beneficial to take a global outlook.

No one can be expected to hold all of this global information in their head. It would be unrealistic to think any one HR manager can run off a web programmer’s going rate from India to Istanbul. This is why accurate data and an understanding of how to analyse it quickly will become more important. Companies like Elance regularly provide global talent trend data for free to help them do this.

Once collected, this global data can have additional benefits. By tracking what’s going on globally, HR teams can begin predicting where skills shortages might occur within their own organisations in the future. Some of today’s most in-demand digital skills for employers didn’t even exist a few years ago! Knowledge of the global labour market will then make it possible to indicate in which markets these skills can be sourced.

As well as becoming more adept at handling data, HR teams will inevitably have to integrate different types of workers into their business in the upcoming years. We are already seeing very successful businesses adopting a ‘hybrid’ staffing model, whereby a pool of skilled online workers work side-by-side with full time staff, albeit in a virtual sense.

There are bound to be growing pains, but by putting the same amount of effort into finding the right online workers as would be used for an in-house team, HR managers can expect to  develop strong relationships and create a successful hybrid work force model.

Having introduced online workers to the company, HR managers should keep the company culture alive and allow communication and relationship building between the online and in-house teams. A workforce that is passionate, engaged and talking to each other will always achieve better results.

By supplementing core staff with online talents who provide skills and knowledge just-in-time, HR professionals can gain access to more workers and get work done with increased agility.

Rather than seeing this global shift in the workforce as a potential problem, it should be viewed as an amazing opportunity. With the right data and understanding, HR teams can be a step ahead in securing top talent.

Already, startups and SMEs in all industries are tapping into this global talent pool to run and grow their businesses. And many larger enterprises are also now starting to understand the need to hire talent based on their skills, not on their location. HR’s acceptance of the on-demand work model will radically shift the way they source, manage and hire both permanent and freelance staff to meet their organisations’ current and future talent and skills need.

The big question is if HR will – and is ready – take a proactive role in leading their company into the new work reality.

Kjetil J. Olsen is a Vice President of online work platform, Elance

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