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How is the way we look at our workforce changing?

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” — Alan Watts

The way we work has changed beyond recognition.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, every workplace practice we once took for granted has been uprooted and transformed. Business owners, employers and HR managers have jumped through hoops to manage the move to remote working, minimise losses and protect staff wellbeing. Across a wide range of industries, these efforts have paid off.

While the initial growing pains of adjusting to a remote-first workforce are far behind us, we now face a new challenge in making these changes sustainable in the long run.

In conversations with clients, colleagues and business owners, we are now seeing a clear shift from reactive to proactive workforce planning. The general consensus is that there is no going back to the way we used to work — at least, not anytime soon.

The pandemic opened an unprecedented window into the future of work. Now that we stand in it, we are more prepared to veer away from the beaten path and explore new terrain.

One such opportunity lies in exploring alternative workforce models.

Evolution of talent sourcing

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, remote working was a what-if scenario for many businesses. For the most part, hiring and contracting was restricted to local talent pools.

In contrast, in 2020 we saw 60% of the UK workforce move their work online. This necessary shift has offered businesses a unique chance to test the waters and explore the benefits and challenges of operating remotely. Many employees have reacted positively to the changes, embracing greater time flexibility, enjoying savings on their daily commute and reporting higher productivity levels.

With that initial hurdle out of the way, and further restrictions and economic turbulence potentially still ahead, employers are now searching for flexible talent sourcing options that align with their big-picture goals, yet offer a buffer in case of setbacks.

Instead of sticking to the tried-and-tested model of sourcing talent close to home, many are now focusing on filling skill gaps outside of their existing structures on a remote basis — either through individuals <link to associates>, managed delivery services or freelancing platforms.

This skills-led approach opens opportunities to a national or even global talent pool.

The liquid workforce model

It is worth noting that adapting a skills-led talent sourcing model is hardly a dive into uncharted waters.

Global giants such as Accenture have touted this model for years. Thanks to offshore development centres and flexible working practices, Accenture has made their name as a microcosm of the gig economy. When a new project comes along, they are able to assemble a team from a global network of highly-skilled professionals at a moment’s notice.

Accenture has also coined the ‘liquid workforce’ concept. This is a new way of maximising technology not just to “keep pace with constant change in the digital era” but to use it as “an enabler to transform their people, projects, and entire organisations into a highly adaptable and change-ready enterprise.” (Accenture Liquid Workforce Report)

Adapting a liquid workforce model offers forward-thinking businesses a competitive advantage in today’s uncertain economy. Since these changes are already in the works, early adopters are likely to see the most impressive results.

Seeking skillsets nearshore

Over the last year, many of our clients have seized growth opportunities through nearshore outsourcing, either through augmentation of their own teams, or passing a complete packaged outcome to a nearshore project team.

Historically, these organisations may not have considered outsourcing work to remote teams. However, in the advent of the pandemic, the combination of nearshore quality, cost considerations and culture fit has proved a popular alternative to the traditional workforce model.

Nearshore outsourcing offers businesses of all shapes and sizes the chance to work with top-tier talent on mutually convenient terms, and often on a tighter budget.

Apart from their attractive price point, nearshore teams offer solid long-term partnerships and high staff retention rates. Since nearshore teams work in similar time zones and speak English as a second language, communication is not an obstacle.

In terms of workplace culture, we are at a unique historical crossroads. Thanks to modern technologies, we can get a taste of cultural diversity not only in a social setting but also within the workplace. This creates a rich working environment that has never been as easily accessible as it is today. As travel restrictions begin to lift, partnerships with nearshore teams across Europe will also open opportunities for business travel and face-to-face cultural exchanges.

On the whole, nearshore teams slot into organisations’ current remote models, filling essential skill gaps and extending in-house capabilities.

While there is some concern about the implications of outsourcing on the local economy, it is also worth noting that remote work has opened opportunities to UK associates wishing to export their own skillsets overseas.

Nearshore outsourcing is just one emerging workforce model, but it is a significant option for businesses to keep in mind when planning for a post-pandemic future.

At BrightBox, our job is to provide an assurance layer between clients and teams to minimise risk, maximise outputs and ensure high-quality service. If you are considering a blended workforce model, we ensure a seamless transition.

Considerations for a blended workplace approach

Within the span of a few short months, the majority of UK businesses have shifted gears from a mainly office-based workplace model to remote work.

In terms of budgeting for the future, this shift has opened conversations about the necessity of fixed office spaces. For many businesses, forgoing the headache of long-term leases and reducing overhead spend is an attractive choice. That said, the office still plays a vital role in building company culture and fostering a richer sense of community among co-workers — as attested by anybody who misses open-plan camaraderie.

Besides, remote working is not suited to every type of individual. While many employees report higher productivity and fewer distractions while working from home, others rely on peer support and real-time interaction as a source of job satisfaction and emotional wellbeing.

Given that 26% of Brits plan to continue to work remotely in some capacity after lockdown restrictions are lifted, organisations need to plan in advance to work out a hybrid model that satisfies both types of individual.

It is clear that we cannot completely do away with the office, but we may be able to explore alternative options to reduce costs while still having a creative and collaborative space on hand.

With the increase of remote workers, we are likely to see a rise in hotdesking and the use of co-working spaces in the near future. This shift to a more dynamic office space will have to go hand-in-hand with digital transformation projects to support on-site and remote workers to the same extent.

Recreating the office environment in a digital setting

While technology does bridge communication gaps, it also opens new challenges around workplace inclusion and effective collaboration between teams. It is difficult enough to mimic the office feel when the entire organisation is working remotely, but even more challenging when teams are split between boardroom and home office.

Going forward, leadership figures need to be aware of the limitations faced by remote workers when it comes to meetings and team projects. Coming up with ways to bring remote workers closer to the action, such as through video calls, dialling into meetings or hosting collaborative project brainstorming sessions, goes a long way when building an inclusive workplace culture.

Here at BrightBox, we have spent this year experimenting with different ways to leverage technology to foster a sense of community. From Zoom check-in calls to coffee drop-ins, we have been learning a lot about recreating an organic workplace culture in a remote setting. We may not be able to replicate water cooler chats and evenings at the pub, but these efforts are still immensely valuable to our team.

Embracing the workforce of the future

Just as the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic was impossible to predict a year ago, it is difficult to anticipate what the future holds in store for the modern workplace.

Will the office become obsolete? Will we all join the liquid workforce model? Will we revisit this topic in a few months and find the working world unrecognisable yet again?

Only time will tell. But one thing is certain: change is inevitable, and it is already happening.

Having learned valuable lessons about risk assessment and remote work over the last year, it is unlikely that we will go back to pre-pandemic levels of permanent in-house staffing. Instead, organisations will search for flexible solutions that fit their unique needs and can be scaled back and ramped up as priorities shift.

The next twenty-four months will define the evolution of the modern workplace. Now is not the time to look back. Instead, it is time to rethink your existing structure, optimise opportunities and pave the way forward.

As always, we at BrightBox welcome conversations with business owners and hiring professionals looking to embrace change and face new ways of working. You can find out more about our popular Managed Delivery Services by clicking here.

Stuart Houghton

CEO - BrightBox Group

Stuart Houghton

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