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Deconstructing work

It’s important to identify what part of your work requires specialized capabilities
The globalization of work has made it borderless, thereby deconstructing the nature of work and the forms in which talent is presenting itself. Shutterstock

By Suanne Nielsen

Work, as we know it, is in a state of flux. HR is seeing an exponential growth in the demand for agility, flexibility, autonomy and satisfaction within the talent pool.

As this happens, a greater number of people are moving away from traditional career paths toward portfolio careers where projects are short-termed and more challenging than the last one. The globalization of work has made it borderless, thereby deconstructing the nature of work and the forms in which talent is presenting itself.

As managers, it’s important to identify what part of your work requires specialized capabilities. At the moment, this doesn’t exist.

Recently, I used Talmix (formerly known as MBA & Co.), a talent platform that helps corporations find independent business talent from across the globe. I liked my experience with company because they represent senior and seasoned, executive level professionals. The fact that they are based in the United Kingdom wasn’t a factor.

I posted two roles on the platform. One was for someone to work with us on M&A (mergers and acquisitions), while the other one was for a strategy and planning position. For both roles, I refined my search parameters to include only those living in the United States or Canadian east coast, as it was important for the independent consultants to come in to the office for meetings.

Within a week of posting the M&A job advertisement, I had six outstanding candidates to choose from. Of the six, we invited two to come and meet the hiring team and senior management. The difficulty was for us to narrow it down to the one. Similarly, for the strategy role, we ended up with extraordinary talent that we wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise.

Through this experience, I learned that the biggest opportunity for employers in the gig economy is to realize that agility is the way forward to adapt to the evolving workforce, and that freelancers come in many forms.

Traditionally, the assumption was that those who freelance have either lost their jobs or are in transition, taking on temporary employment. But, increasingly, people are choosing to exit their corporate positions in top consulting firms to become freelancers and work on their own terms.

What’s more, freelancers are contracting back with the same firm as independent consultants. According to a 2016 McKinsey report, “Most people do independent work by choice rather than necessity.” “Casual earners” — those who use independent work for supplemental income — and “free agents” — those whose primary income is generated from independent work and actively prefer it — constitute the largest section of the independent workforce in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Sweden and Spain.

Many are choosing to deconstruct work in a way where, from an employer’s stand point, it has changed the way in which we operate. Often, when we need particular expertise for a specific role, instead of hiring someone, accessing a leading talent platform broadens the talent pool. As Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork notes, “There is no need to look only within the 10-mile radius when talent platforms have opened up the world to us.”

Once again, I defer to my colleague David Creelman, co-author of Lead the Work, who says that “Leaders need to confront the fact that they may not be particularly skilled at deconstructing tasks — and that this skill is becoming an important part of many leadership roles.”

Deconstructing work is an efficient alternative to scouring the market and settling to hire someone full-time who is assigned a broad range of tasks, leaving the gap for specialized capabilities unfilled.

The challenge is to be able to recognize and appreciate when deconstructing work, and bringing in a freelancer for some aspect of it, make sense. As the work changes, the regulatory environment has not kept pace with this new deconstructed work environment.

For example, If you have someone in the U.K. who is doing work primarily for a Canadian company, that individual could be deemed to be providing work in Canada and, as such, may be subject to Canadian taxation, based on the pay he receives. Regulations are not in place to address this.

Immigration is another. Lines are blurring between employees, contractors, independent consultants and freelancers in such a way that governments need to rethink labour laws and regulations.

The other challenge is a cultural one. While I’ve tried to introduce deconstructed work to higher executives, there are still those baby boomers with mindsets where they need to see the employee, in the traditional sense of the term. I think the real challenge for employers is to understand that to attract high-calibre talent, we’ve got to modify our biases and focus on customized offerings to independent workers.

Creelman’s co-author, Ravin Jesuthasan, points out that “The successful leaders of tomorrow are the ones who are going to be able to say, ‘Is it best for me to hire someone, should I offshore the work, or should I use a platform?’ Winning organizations are going to be the ones who have a business model that allows seamless travels among those options and continually moves work in a way that best feeds their needs.” 

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Suanne Nielsen

Suanne Nielsen is president of the Strategic Capability Network and global chief administration officer at Foresters Financial in Toronto. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Suanne and do not necessarily reflect the official position(s) or opinion(s) of SCNetwork members or Foresters. For more information about the SCNetwork, visit
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