Everything You Need to Know About Workforce 2.0

Nick Santaniello ·

Sep 21, 2017

“Work” has a very different meaning today than it did just 10 years ago. A confluence of new technologies, cultural transformation and changing economic realities have made traditional approaches to recruiting, developing and retaining talent obsolete. Workforce 2.0, the next generation of professionals, is taking hold.


In the new labor paradigm, the workplace is distributed, and the pace of change is faster today than it was yesterday. Your talent resources are more individualized in terms of location, background and the nature of their employment. Meanwhile, employees ask more of their employers, and employers ask more of their employees.


Adapting to Workforce 2.0 won’t be easy. You need to realign training, operations and leadership around new understandings of work itself. Great as the challenges may be, however, the rewards are even greater. This is a chance to revolutionize the way you do business.

What is Workforce 2.0?


The term Workforce 2.0 refers to how the organization of work and the relationship between employers and workers has changed from traditional understandings. As work becomes more distributed and project-based, requiring ever more constant upskilling, employers and the workers they need can meet each other on different terms, typically with more flexibility.


Lifetime employment or long tenures in one role are much more likely, for example. Meanwhile, variations on contract, freelance and temporary work are more likely. This means changes in many operational areas such as human resources and training. Other factors upending traditional workforce arrangements include accelerating technology cycles and comfort with on-demand purchasing and supply chains.


Workforce 2.0 is the disaggregated labor force emerging in this environment and has four key characteristics:


  • More millennials
  • Increased use of just-in-time (JIT) staffing
  • The growing “gig economy”
  • A higher proportion of remote workers


Let’s examine how each of these essential components shapes Workforce 2.0.

The emerging millennial majority


In 2015, according to Pew Research Center, millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generational demographic in the U.S labor market. Over 53 million of this cohort (also known as Generation Y) are either employed or in search of employment. As baby boomers enter retirement over the next five years, the millennial proportion of the labor force will only grow.Understanding the wants, needs and attitudes of millennials is essential to understanding Workforce 2.0.


It can be difficult to separate generalizations from reality, but Gallup’s 2016 report How Millennials Want to Work and Live makes clear that they want meaning in their professional lives. When asked what they look for in a job, millennials responded with “opportunity to learn and grow,” “opportunity for advancement” and “interest in the type of work” at higher rates than both Gen Xers and baby boomers.However,some of Gallup’s other data suggests that millennials are having trouble finding jobs that provide those qualities. Only 29 percent of the study’s respondents said they are engaged in their work, and half said they didn’t expect to be with their company the next year.


That presents a terrific opportunity for companies ready to compete for talent by providing opportunities to learn and grow. The millennial generation wants more than a big paycheck. They want their work to be consequential in their own lives and in the lives of others. Providing this type of work is one of the top challenges in the Workforce 2.0 era.

Tapping into the gig economy


Full-time jobs don’t meet the economy’s needs the way they once did. Workers are increasingly mobile, independent and entrepreneurial, while employers need more flexible staffing options to meet their project needs. Under these conditions, the “gig economy” has flourished, and employers can tap into independent contractors with a variety of platforms and marketplaces.


The best known may be smartphone apps that match service-level workers like drivers and cleaners with individuals who need their labor. But a big share of the gig economy is actually professional class knowledge workers who see work options for themselves beyond traditional salaried positions — what Harvard Business Review calls The Rise of the Supertemp. There are even a number of marketplace websites for buying and selling consulting services.The gig economy encompasses freelancers and independent contractors who earn their living by completing tasks (or gigs) rather than holding down a single, steady job. The McKinsey Global Institute pegs the size of the gig economy at 20-30 percent of the workforce in the U.S. and Europe, or up to 162 million people.


While up to 70 percent of that group freelance by choice — upending the traditional “between jobs” stereotype of freelancers — many still are pushed into the gig economy by reluctantly or by necessity. As automation takes over more low-wage or low-skill jobs, we may see more of this group in the gig economy.


While it’s unclear exactly how large the gig economy is, the tools that have facilitated its growth are obvious. A proliferation of app and on-demand platforms — combined with the ease of communication and networking in today’s connected world — have made it easier than ever for freelancers to market their services and work independently.


With the gig economy on the rise, businesses can meet far more of their staffing needs with freelancers than ever before, meaning they don’t have to add as many FTEs to the payroll. On the other hand, businesses have to find a way to integrate the gig workers with the rest of the team, and because many contract with several clients at once, their attention and time is usually split.

Filling roles “just in time”


Another way companies are meeting their operational needs without adding FTEs is with just-in-time staffing. Offered by resourceful, highly agile temp agencies across the country, just-in-time staffing provides businesses with workers for short, fixed-term work arrangements — and fast.


Asstaffing, recruiting and talent development expert Glen Cathey explains, just-in-time staffing is a “pull-based” model, which mean it allows companies to hire based on their actual demand as opposed to estimated demand that may or may not materialize. This gives clients “candidates that exactly match their needs, when they want them, in the amount they want.”


Just-in-time staffing saves companies money and helps eliminate excess in their staffing models, and as with the gig economy, it gives professionals the freedom to work on their own terms rather than be tied down to a single job.


Still, there are downsides to using short-term freelance hires and just-in-time contingent workers. You have to go through a training and onboarding process every time a new contractor starts. After a just-in-time worker finishes your assignment, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get them back the next time you need them, because they may be working somewhere else, and you’ll have to start the onboarding process over with a new temp.


Additionally, the parallel growth of the gig economy and just-in-time staffing means employers must navigate a new staffing framework where team members have different work arrangements. This blended team structure requires more focus on collaboration and performance management.


But, again, the companies that master the operational changes needed for this new reality have an opportunity to put themselves at a competitive advantage. A Workforce 2.0 talent strategy that thinks less about filling positions and more about completing projects and tasks will identify opportunities to leverage just-in-time staffing resources.

The distributed workplace


In the Workforce 2.0 era, an increasing number of people telecommute. For many of these professionals, getting to the office is a walk from their bedroom to their computer, and the dress code is their pajamas.

Cloud-based professional software enables anyone to work on projects from a laptop. Skype makes it easy to set up conference calls with parties across the country, and businesses can meet most of their communication needs through email.


The Bureau of Labor Statisticsestimates that 24 percent of U.S. employees work from home, the largest share of which comes from professionals in management, business and financial operations. Global Workplace Analytics, meanwhile,reports that 50 percent of the workforce has a job that potentially allows them to work remotely at least part of the time.


Remote work presents a fair share of advantages such as reduced facility costs, a more casual work environment for employees and fewer absences. But it also presents logistical challenges.


How do you keep someone engaged in their work when they’re not physically present? How do you unify a geographically scattered staff? How do you develop talent when they’re on the other side of the country?

The companies that best answer these questions are the ones that will thrive in a Workforce 2.0 environment.

Why you should care about Workforce 2.0


As the elements of the changing workforce spread into various roles, regions and industries, pressure will mount for businesses to meet the unique requirements of this new staffing model. To remain relevant and preserve a competitive edge, you’ll have to adapt.


But you shouldn’t let fear of falling behind be your main motivator for evolving with the times. Instead, focus on the many benefits to your business by embracing Workforce 2.0. It can make your company leaner and more agile, able to respond to change quickly and allocate more resources toward impactful investments with strategic value. The sooner you get in sync with the changing work landscape, the sooner you can become the kind of streamlined business that captures growth opportunities before anyone else on the market.


Furthermore, you’ll also get an edge on the competition for promising young talent. Millennials with bright ideas and sharp skills are pouring into the labor market by the day, and employers who address their professional needs by adapting to how the the nature of work is changing are best positioned to bring them into the fold.


And while many managers view remote work and contract hires as a supervisory headache, workers increasingly expect this flexibility. That all-star freelance graphic designer you work with on a project-by-project basis? She may never have reached out to you if you posted a full-time offer, but the gig economy makes it possible to connect with a larger pool of professionals.


Some aspects of this new workforce also carry unexpected benefits. For example, while it’s true that a remote, nationwide team can be harder to coordinate and integrate, it can also open fresh possibilities of collaboration and creativity. When your team spans the globe, you get a richer, deeper mixture of perspectives and worldviews that can produce more innovative solutions and better results.

Common critiques of Workforce 2.0


This emerging talent paradigm represents such a dramatic change in the way we work, so it may cause friction with existing management practices. Here are some of the common fears many talent development professionals may express:


  • Millennials are lazy, entitled and unmotivated.” Actually, according to Project Time Off, millennials are on balance less inclined to use their vacation days than members of Generation X or baby boomers. Furthermore, more than a quarter of millennials said they actually feel guilty about taking time off.
  • Telecommuters are more distracted and less productive than employees who come to our office.” Not necessarily. It’s true that remote work is not for everyone, especially if you don’t have a home office or dedicated work space. But for some professionals, it can be highly beneficial; in their analysis of over 4,000 reports and studies, Global Workplace Analytics found that more than two-thirds of businesses observe an increase in productivity among telecommuters.
  • It’s impossible to find gig workers who are reliable.” Only if you don’t know where to look or how to vet a freelancer. When you put out a vague Craigslist ad without having a clear sense of your objectives and how you’ll work together, you can get disappointing results. But giving serious operational attention to how you engage and onboard contingent professionals helps you get the flexibility they offer, with less exposure to the potential downside. Additionally, dedicated freelance platforms like Upwork and Guru have client review features that let you see feedback from past customers, giving you assurance that a prospective freelancer is a safe bet.
  • Just-in-time staffing doesn’t give workers enough time to assimilate into our company culture.” A just-in-time staffing agency shouldn’t assign jobs randomly. A quality agency will vet and interview to ensure you get candidates right for you. If you choose to contract with one of these agencies, they should spend time getting to know your organizational culture so they can judiciously select workers from their talent pool who are already suited to thrive in it.


Leave preconceived notions at the door, and you’ll find ways for your company to thrive in the age of Workforce 2.0 — though not without careful consideration of the strategic and operational challenges ahead.

Succeeding with Workforce 2.0


Unsurprisingly, the transition to Workforce 2.0 hasn’t been easy for some companies. This is a

radically new employment environment that creates pain points for trainers, managers and executives alike. Among them:


  • Bringing models up to date: Past approaches to training and management weren’t designed with Workforce 2.0 in mind; they were built for the workplace as we’ve known it for decades. You can’t use the training program you’ve used for 20 years for your gig workers or to communicate with telecommuters the same way you do with long-time employees who work 9 to 5 in your headquarters. New problems call for agile new solutions custom-built for this environment.
  • Oversight: With a staff made up of so many different work arrangements, it is easy for organizations to lose control of things. Particularly with remote work, strong supervisory and project management processes are necessary to ensure everyone is engaged and invested in their work.
  • Making development matter: Learning for the sake of learning isn’t valuable for most professionals. If you want growth-hungry millennial employees to be satisfied with their development, you have to offer training that expands their horizons in meaningful ways and gives them skills they can actually use to advance their careers and help meet your strategic objectives.
  • Squeezing training into new places: Blocking out an afternoon when your staff can get together for an in-person training session is much harder when your team isn’t solely comprised of full-time employees who work at your office. The new reality is finding ways to offer high-quality education in shorter timeframes and unconventional work scenarios.
  • Communication: Yet another consequence of having a staff so scattered in terms of location and employment status is that it’s hard to keep everyone on the same page. Without a strong communication system through which staff discuss problems and touch base with each other, teamwork is practically impossible.
  • Creating meaning: Not every task can be glamorous. Organizations need to make sure their staff members feel their daily individual contributions are appreciated and their voices are heard.

First key to transitioning to Workforce 2.0: Agile approach to management


Every staff situation is different. As you transition to Workforce 2.0, you’ll want to research other organizations’ best practices and consult with stakeholders to create a custom strategy for modernizing your operations. But no matter your circumstances, that strategy will have to include two key components if you want to overcome the challenges listed above.


First, you need a contemporary, high-engagement project management approach. Success with Workforce 2.0 will require a project management overhaul. To build unity among an eclectic staff, you need a methodology that helps commuters, telecommuters, full-timers and gig workers to work together. With its focus on collaboration and communication, agile management is the perfect model for Workforce 2.0.


Agile is a unique approach to process completion. Whereas the traditional “waterfall” management model follows a rigid flow from conception to delivery, Agile uses a cyclical, iterative flow where deliverables are created, evaluated and discussed in shorter timeframes. By constantly reassessing the project, Agile lets you identify problems and troubleshoot early so you can improve your strategy and the scope of your project.


Agile places a heavy emphasis on evaluation and feedback and requires every person on your team to contribute suggestions and critiques to the conversation. Team members aren’t just executing the strategy; they’re shaping it by providing their input. This gives workers agency and gets them engaged in their work. Crucially, it gets people talking with one another, ensuring that everyone on your staff is in the loop. For example, instead of manually training your sales team - automate the process with online training


Feedback shouldn’t just be coming from your workers, however. As the manager, you should also build substantial performance review sessions into the Agile process so your millennial staff, who crave attention and guidance from management, can improve their own processes as well as the project’s.

An added benefit: Agile’s iterative approach cuts the excess in your operations, helping you remove extraneous busy work from projects to let your staff focus on work that really matters.

Second key to transitioning to Workforce 2.0: Training for impact


You will also want to reconsider your training models. This starts with investing in flexible course authoring. Stock online courses are not sufficiently versatile for the enormous range of learning needs of Workforce 2.0. Current authoring tools are extremely easy to use with features that make it simple to build content for any purpose you can imagine.


Once you have those tools, the next step is to develop robust needs analysis processes to figure out what kind of training to create. Routine research of skill gaps, career goals (both short- and long-term) and areas for potential improvement should be conducted by your training team, and your findings should serve as the basis for creating training plans for your employees.


The combination of insights from your needs analysis and your course authoring technology will help you create optimal learning experiences for each subgroup within your team. You can create a compact mini-orientation for gig workers, just-in-time training sessions that provide efficient learning for specific situations or a fully-fledged learning path for your full-time staff.


One way to make training more engaging? Mix it up. Beyond traditional sit-down sessions that provide a broad overview of a topic, you can offer contextual learning by creating courses that give employees frame of reference on a topic as it pertains to their specific role. Or you could embed training into your workflows to break up the learning for trainees and let them apply what they learn far faster.


Finally, make the most of the new technology that millennials know inside and out by creating mobile- and tablet-accessible courses so they can take their learning on the go. For Workforce 2.0, mobile isn’t just a convenience. It’s an expectation.

An unprecedented opportunity

The emerging Workforce 2.0 environment results from several new and continually evolving factors:


  • There are more millennials, who may relate to work in different ways.
  • Customers expect on-demand services, and your labor supply needs to accommodate that.
  • More people are choosing freelance work.
  • Technology is making more gig economy work possible.
  • Operations experts are figuring out how to incorporate just-in-time staffing.
  • More people want to work remotely and to have other flexible work arrangements, regardless of whether they are salaried, hourly or an independent contractor.


That is a lot of change for talent managers to adjust to, but there’s no need to treat the transition to the Workforce 2.0 labor paradigm as a dreaded necessity. Instead, see it as a chance to take your company in an exciting new direction and inspire yourself to grow as a leader. If you rise to the challenge of this energetic, demanding and sophisticated new labor force, you’ll develop invaluable new capacities, build a more reliable and more diverse talent pipeline and modernize your operations.

Get Started With Northpass

Northpass’ cloud-based LMS enables you to deliver engaging online employee training resources and scale training as your company grows.


From building integrated training workflows to analyzing success metrics, Northpass provides an intuitive, all-in-one solution that helps businesses attract great talent, efficiently deliver new hire training, and increase long-term productivity.


Book a demo today to learn how Northpass can take your online employee training to the next level


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About the Author

Nick Santaniello

Nick Santaniello heads up content at Northpass. He would like you to know that he feels most at home while reading or wandering through the woods. He's passionate about learning and Villanova Basketball, and thinks you should be, too.

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