Freelance consulting 2.0

A lot of great things have been written recently highlighting the key trends and challenges impacting the Future of Work (more about it here and here). Today, we would like to focus on how technological innovation is rapidly fuelling and supporting freelance consulting and, more importantly, what’s in it for the independent professionals, also known as iPros.

In our opinion, there has never been a better time to be an independent professional. In early 2002, when we started a-connect, terms such as super temps, iPros and freelance consultants were unknown, or at least far from the mainstream. LinkedIn didn’t yet exist, e-lance (today known as UpWork) was still a software start-up and smartphones were still mostly concept designs. Today’s world is very different.

The Uber of professional services

First of all, on-line market places for consulting services are spreading around the globe, connecting iPros with clients. Former consultants and tech-entrepreneurs have acknowledged that there is an opportunity for the taking, in which industry knowledge, together with Big Data and artificial intelligence, could be the recipe to become the next Uber of professional services.

While this offers new options and avenues to iPros around the globe, it also means that they need to take care of their digital persona and on-line branding. The vast majority of on-line market-places rely on algorithms to assess iPros way beyond the traditional resume. The information provided on social networks, their connections and the recommendations given and received may also be taken into account.

New service platforms emerging

In addition to on-line market places, there are also significant investments into making the life of an iPro easier, more productive and cost effective. iPros now have access to processing firepower, data analytics solutions and even artificial intelligence driven platforms which, 5 years ago, were reserved for a few big firms. In addition, there are plenty of mobile apps available now at low cost, covering everything from project management to time sheet reporting, invoicing to collection and even pinpointing which is the best local coffee shop from which to work remotely.

Technology as the enabler – humans at the center

And while technology creates more opportunities and improves the life of an iPro, which is great news in itself, we believe that the technological innovation centered on freelance consulting has a more profound meaning. It shows that iPros have scaled in such a way that they have now become a very relevant and significant professional group. What motivated the creation of a-connect and what has been our mantra for the last 13 years is becoming mainstream. The belief that being independent means “on your own” no longer holds. Last but not least, it strengthens a-connect’s belief that, despite the many new opportunities technology creates, human resourcefulness is still a major driver of competitive advantage and that iPros are a key asset for organizations to better confront the future. Technology is here to help, but iPros are the future of work.

We hope you have enjoyed the reading and please join the conversation by sharing your ideas, insights or questions you might have about it.

Everything you need to know about the changing world of work, according to The Economist

The world of work is undergoing dramatic changes before our eyes. While geographical and industry-specific particularities might exist, the macro shift in today’s open talent economy is global and applies to almost every industry sector. It requires employers and employees to come to terms with a new environment, in which flexibility and adaptability have priority over job security and long-term (if not lifelong) employment, structured environments, and standardized roles and responsibilities.

The shift is principally driven by a few trends that are fundamentally changing the structure of talent and work: technological innovation, demographic changes and globalization. Read more about seven trends that are driving the open talent economy here.

In June, The Economist invited government officials, C-Suite decision-makers and industry leaders to debate and identify solutions to the changing macroeconomic climate, the automation of jobs, the reinvention of the company and how this will affect the future of work, especially in Europe.

a-connect was part of these discussions – here are our key takeaways.

Technology is (so far) creating more jobs for society than it is taking away

AI, robotics and automation are supposedly threatening the need for human labor. But, according to Tom Standage, deputy editor and digital strategist at The Economist, technology is actually creating jobs for society, rather than taking them away. But in the new world of work, employees need to take more responsibility for keeping their skills relevant and up to date, so that they stay relevant for the employment market. For example, the advent of 3D printing means that we need more designers, and fewer people with building skills.

Wages drive productivity, not the other way round 

We have seen a collapse in productivity in many Western economies, despite technological improvements. Sandra Polaski, former deputy director general for policy at the International Labour Organization, said that this is due to a decrease in technological innovation and personnel training. A key driver of this trend is the decline in worker motivation, sparked by low salaries and a lack of job security, trust and respect. Besides increased private investment (in R&D and technology) and public investment (in infrastructure, health and education), as well as improved organizations (in terms of structure and training), a rise in wages will encourage higher levels of productivity – not the other way round.

Europe needs migrants, but it also needs more training and reskilling

With Europe’s aging population and an increase in skills gaps, the European labor market needs migrants, according to Irene Wennemo, state secretary of the Ministry of Employment in Sweden, and Stefano Scarpetta, director for employment, labor and social affairs at the OECD.  But identifying the skills gaps and reskilling employees is more important than the sheer size of the workforce. The Swedish Government, for example, collaborates with private companies to examine and fill skills gaps. Yet training is still biased against those who need it most, with 70–80 per cent of highly skilled workers receiving training each year, compared to only 20 per cent of low-skilled workers.

Don’t get your great talent stuck in a hierarchical system

Organizational structures and hierarchies do not attract talent. In a panel discussion about how to respond to the changing nature of work, panelists were in agreement that companies need to be purposeful. Creating an environment to which employees can bring their ‘whole self’ to work is essential for producing engaged and motivated employees. Panelists also agreed with recent research from the Google Project Aristotle, which said that psychological safety is key to having the best-performing teams. Diane Gherson, chief human resources officer and senior vice president at IBM, gave the example of how IBM remodeled the most-hated performance management program by involving 18,000 staff in the process.

You can’t digitize a ‘gut feeling’

Technology has had a significant impact on recruiting. Digitizing the sourcing and matchmaking processes has changed the way recruiters work and has opened up new possibilities for jobseekers. But according to Jonas Prising, chairman and chief executive officer of ManpowerGroup, recruiting will never be fully automated. It will never be able to capture the company culture and evaluate how a candidate will fit into it – an employer’s gut feeling about a candidate will always be the differentiator.

From ‘one size fits all’ to ‘one size fits one’ – or, how to break HR

The role of HR is undisputedly changing in this new world of work. Francine Katsoudas, chief people officer at Cisco, had to ‘break HR’ to move from a ‘one size fits all’ to a ‘one size fits one’ approach, through a 25-hour ‘breakathon’. The panel agreed that organizations need to enable decisions on the basis of knowledge rather than hierarchy, and that the role of an organization’s culture is to let talent flow to where it can have the greatest impact. The art is to find a balance between having control, stifling innovation and total chaos.

Top-down change programs fail – the new approach is open-source change

Change is hard, but it is also the ‘new normal’. 78% of organizations have gone through a cultural change program in the past five years, according to Clare Moncrieff, human resources principal executive advisor at CEB. With 50 per cent of change programs failing, and 7 out of 10 companies using a top-down approach to change management, CEB recommends using an open-source change approach, which is more about talking than telling. With implementation time decreasing by one third, employee engagement increasing by 38% and intent to stay by 46%, the open-source approach could help change programs have real impact.

Didn’t you forget something? 

Throughout the event, participants discussed how, in the new world of work, the link between jobs and work is breaking down. It was rightfully stated that the focus should shift from job security to employee security. This is part of a bigger trend: a paradigm shift in the way we define work and the workforce. We are all familiar with the classic employment model – companies hire full-time and long-term employees who work 40-hour weeks in a nine-to-five environment. The past several decades have seen a move away from individuals having lifelong careers at single companies, towards the open talent economy, where individuals and institutions make less of a long-term commitment.

We believe it will be crucial for companies to start thinking about how they access and engage with a talent pool that is no longer reachable through traditional recruitment channels, where employers find employees by using specific job descriptions, executive recruiting, and by spending time and effort weeding through an applicant pool to find the ‘perfect’ employee. This model does not translate easily to the open talent economic model.

Since its inception, a-connect has been helping companies to see and feel the winds of change in the world of work, and enabling leading businesses to discover new ways of connecting with exceptional people, maintaining the core belief that access to talent is more important than its ownership.

If you are interested in discovering how we can help you tackle the challenges in the future of work, get in touch.

Challenges and opportunities of the open talent economy

The open talent economy is altering the look and feel of companies across the globe. As the popularity of the on-demand workforce increases – driven by changing attitudes to work and enabled by technology – we are seeing notable changes to company cultures, office spaces, department structures, managerial styles and established job roles across the market. Whether you view these developments as positives or negatives is largely down to your needs and capabilities as an organization or worker. For companies and individuals that are open to change and innovation, there are many opportunities to embrace within the open talent economy. If you’re tied to the old ways of doing things, you might feel out of your comfort zone. To keep up with the pace of change, you need to be open to talking about the opportunities and challenges you might face. Here are just some of them.

Businesses are becoming increasingly decentralized

One of the most widespread implications of the open talent economy is the decentralization of businesses. With the rise of internet connectivity, smart technology and cloud storage, individuals are able to work remotely. This means that the central office hub is becoming less important to how businesses run. Freelancers can easily work from home, and even access the office system. You might see this as a disadvantage as you’re not able to have direct, face-to-face contact with your employees. Alternatively, the cost savings are high, and freelancers are able to operate as efficiently as if they were in the office. According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 1.3 billion people will work virtually in a few years.

With each generation comes a change in attitudes towards the workplace. The open talent economy has prompted a shift that sees new talent categorized as a valuable investment, rather than merely a number on the payroll. As an organization, you have the opportunity to access an endless pool of highly skilled experts, at the exact time you need them. A more mutual relationship is coming to exist between employers and workers, levelling out the playing field. Management will become focused on coordinating and collaborating with teams of independent professionals. Working in partnership, businesses and independent professionals will be able to work towards achieving business goals more efficiently. If you like the idea of rigid hierarchies, you might see this as a threat.

According to Seth Mattison, an expert on workforce trends and generational dynamics, getting out of this inflexible mindset is the biggest challenge facing employers as the employment market adapts. Many companies are bound by “unwritten rules” from years of doing business in a certain way. There is an expectation, for example, that employees start at the bottom and work their way up. But with the open talent economy, independent professionals are able to enter the workplace based on their skills and expertise, and craft new opportunities for themselves along the way. This enables employers to make use of the talent available at that moment, rather than be bound by protocol. At the same time, a challenge will be learning how to manage this complex network of workers effectively.

Companies can craft an instant workforce

One of the biggest advantages of the open talent economy is that it allows employers to fill skills gaps immediately, from a global pool of first-rate talent. It is arguably better to have access to an endless supply of talent than to have someone tied into a contract who can’t do the exact job you need them to at that precise moment. The nature of freelance work means that the professionals are free to start immediately, unlike full-time employees that often have to work a notice period. Some companies might fear that on-demand workers might not be incentivized to ‘go the extra mile’ or feel the same sense of loyalty for their employer, but by carefully curating your talent pool, you can be sure that the independent professionals you employ are fully motivated.

Independent professionals are in charge of their own careers

Freelancing is an attractive prospect to many professionals, and not just for low-level or alternative ‘gig’ jobs: white-collar workers are increasingly turning to freelance work for the autonomy and flexibility it affords them. Job security and long-term financial opportunities are no longer always guaranteed in full-time positions, so many professionals use freelance work for financial gains, increased flexibility, freedom over the work they do, and to open up opportunities within their areas of expertise. There are different types of freelancer – including independent contractors, moonlighters, diversified workers, temporary workers and freelance business owners – spanning a range of disciplines, from big data and trend analysis to project management and product development.

Among the many benefits that freelancers enjoy (the freedom to work from home, a better work–life balance, and the possibility of fewer travel costs, etc.), they also have an increased amount of responsibility over their own pension and financial security. Companies that employ freelancers do not have to pay any of the worker’s Social Security, meaning the freelancer is responsible for the total amount. Some people argue that employers could use this to exploit freelancers – for example, if a company lays off employees only to rehire them in the same roles on a contractor basis (i.e. without the benefits) – but this is something that needs to be looked at more closely in the context of individual companies. In general, most freelancers are well paid and are attracted to the financial gains possible by working on demand.

Is the open talent economy right for your company?

As with any development or trend in the market, there are pros and cons to the open talent economy. Yes, it will reshape your entire business and the way in which you work, but if implemented with an open mind and a solid strategy, it will also save you time, money, and resources. Just remember, you need to have everyone on board if it’s going to work. Don’t just dive in: get your teams, departments and directors together, and start talking about what an on-demand workforce could mean for your company, and how mindsets will need to change to accommodate it.

Here at a-connect, we can help businesses anticipate change, and ensure they have the right skills on hand to embrace challenges. Contact us today to find out more.

How companies are reshaping recruitment through the open talent economy

Hiring new talent used to be a formulaic routine, and an expensive one at that. You might go directly to a recruitment consultancy with a job specification, or perhaps advertise independently, before your HR department sifts through countless applications and calls in candidates to interview. Your new starter would probably need to work a notice period, and then would likely need training once they started. After a lengthy, costly and inflexible process, you’d have an employee who you’d see every day, from nine until five, for years.

However, technology has now enabled significant developments in the way talent is hired and managed, helping employers keep up with the rapid speed of change and innovation in the employment sector. Employers can now connect with independent professionals instantly, assign them to the job that needs doing, and get them started almost immediately. The open talent economy allows employers and workers to operate on an on-demand basis, whether that’s remotely or in the office. This is a necessity for many companies, as, with the volatility of demand and ever-faster innovation cycles, it’s impossible to predict what skills you might need in the future.

What does the on-demand workplace look like?

Traditionally, there were two main types of employees: full time and part time. Though there is still plenty of room for these two within the on-demand workforce, you’re increasingly likely to now see freelancers, contractors and open-source talent working alongside them. Here are different forms of talent that make up the on-demand workplace:

  • Balance-sheet talent: This relates to full-time and part-time employees for whom you carry all associated costs. Fixed and on-demand workforces can work harmoniously together in modern workplaces, with management focusing on coordination rather than control. Even full-time positions are becoming increasingly destabilized, with flexible working hours, work-from-home days and remote working now widely accepted.
  • Borrowed talent: It might seem counterintuitive, but borrowing and lending talent (contracted through another organization) is becoming increasingly commonplace. This allows you to utilize the experience of a professional within your company’s value chain, without the hassle and expense of hiring from scratch.
  • Freelancers: This relates to self-employed staff with a specific skill who can accept or decline work as they see fit, enabling them to develop their own working hours and rates. Freelancers pay their own taxes and Social Security fees, and typically work on an ad hoc basis.
  • Open-source talent: This refers to online global communities of individuals who provide services for free. They are open to anyone who wants to participate in them.

Companies are using the open talent economy to varying degrees. Some organizations might have a pool of regular freelancers who they go to at the same times each year – the director of a quarterly magazine, for example, might bring in a freelance designer every three months to design the publication. Other companies, including Uber and Airbnb, rely solely on on-demand workforces. And some might simply utilize the open talent economy whenever an issue crops up within the company that requires fast, expert attention. Thanks to the rise of smart technology, the hiring process is quicker and more efficient than ever.

A mutual relationship between employers and independent professionals

The open talent economy redefines established notions of recruitment. Rather than the employer holding all the cards, there is now a mutual need for employers and independent professionals to seek each other out – in short, the on-demand workforce has a degree of autonomy. This is because these professionals are experts in their fields, or consultants, providing the exact skills that employers need at that moment. This ‘gig economy’ is not just for the working classes: according to the Wall Street Journal, the demographic most influenced by freelancing is the professional and highly educated white-collar worker, attracted by the flexibility, opportunity and financial gains of on-demand work.

How can employers navigate the open talent economy?

The root of success for the open talent economy is undoubtedly technology. If it wasn’t for smartphones and other internet-enabled devices, we wouldn’t be able to connect with on-demand talent instantly, personally and accurately. But before you think about investing in technology, you need to work on your company’s collective mindset. The open talent economy will change the way you do business: your workforce will become more collaborative, and your hierarchies destabilized. You might encounter a different team every month, depending on how you work. Just remember: being able to access world-class talent is far more beneficial than owning it. If your company can get past this mental hurdle, and think about how you can integrate independent professionals into your team, you’ll reap the rewards.

Utilising the open talent economy might also require you to reshape traditional ways of managing talent. For a start, your HR and procurement departments will need to converse, if not integrate, over matters involving the workforce. The budget for full-time employees is typically managed by the HR department, with procurement taking charge of the consulting budget, but nowadays the business needs to be considered as a whole. If you’re not convinced about the cost-effectiveness of the on-demand workforce, just think beyond salaries: if you consider all the costs associated with your employees, such as recruitment, training, social security and idle time, the open talent economy can bring you multiple cost savings.

Lastly, you need to understand your candidates and how they promote their services. A PCG report found that recruitment agencies are popular with freelancers and business leaders, with 62% and 58% respectively choosing this path. But just 2% of businesses search for freelancers via LinkedIn, despite the fact that one in five freelancers promotes their services on the platform. This shows that there is a discrepancy in where businesses look for the right skills, and where freelancers showcase themselves. With platforms like a-connect curating your talent pool, you’ll always have access to the professionals you require.

Here at a-connect, our independent professionals are highly experienced and have track records in transforming businesses through their areas of expertise. Contact us today to find out how your company could make the most of the open talent economy.

What’s driving the demand for the open talent economy?

The open talent economy has emerged as a reaction to a variety of shifts and fundamental changes in the professional market. The on-demand workforce is not simply a trend: it represents the demands and mind sets of the changing world of work, and the increasing connectivity of all areas of modern businesses – from recruitment and training to customer service and asset management. The ‘drivers’ of the open talent economy can be categorized into four main groups: supply drivers, demand drivers, demographic trends and structural changes. As these factors continue to evolve, the open talent economy will develop with it, providing new ways to meet the needs of employers and workers.

Supply drivers

In order for the open talent economy to succeed, it relies upon a strong, reliable and infinite supply of independent professionals that are aligned with the values that the new work economy represents. The main supply driver of the on-demand workforce has been the exponential increase in the number of professionals who are choosing to go freelance. According to Upwork (a global freelancing platform) and the non-profit organization Freelancers Union, 54 million working Americans (34 per cent of the US workforce) were freelancing in 2015. That’s an increase of 700,000 from the year before. Why? Because job security and long-term financial gains are no longer guaranteed in the traditional workplace, and freelancing allows workers to fill in financial gaps and create new career opportunities.

This increase has been driven by changing attitudes towards the workplace, and towards careers in general. The inflexible nine-to-five routine, where workers would stay with a company for years and work their way up from the bottom, is no longer the only way of achieving professional success. Workers are looking for flexibility and fluidity, and are likely to work with multiple employers, in many locations and across different sectors throughout their lifetimes. This isn’t just the case for low-level work. According to a study by management professor Peter Cappelli, less than one third of the top executives of the FTSE 100 in 2011 started their careers with their current employers, down from 45 per cent in 2001 and more than 50 per cent in 1980.

We are starting to see the impact of a conceptual shift, driven by a new generation of workers that view the workplace as more of a level playing field than a strict hierarchy – and many companies are responding to this, focusing on developing inclusive and sociable company cultures. With an influx of young talent, for most of whom on-demand and peer-to-peer services are second nature, companies are becoming increasingly open to innovation. As well as accepting the idea of outsourcing services and using offshore resources, many organizations are realizing the benefits of employing external talent with highly relevant skills, cutting-edge experience and exciting new perspectives from a variety of industry backgrounds, rather than just relying on candidates that have experience within a particular industry. This will only proliferate as more and more businesses demonstrate the success of the model.

Demand drivers

Corporate pressure is mounting in many companies to refine the workforce and reduce budgets, while boosting performance. As consulting budgets are scrutinized, the open talent economy allows procurement departments to be more efficient in external spending, achieving business aims. The need for on-demand specialist skills is difficult to satisfy in the traditional job market, but through the open talent economy, an employer can quickly and cost-effectively find an independent professional who is available for the exact amount of time needed for the work, and is open to working in whatever way is most suitable.

The volatility of demand and the rapid rate of innovation mean that it’s almost impossible for businesses to predict what skills they might need to invest in for the future. By developing an on-demand and fluid talent pool that transcends borders, your company will have instant access to the most relevant skills and expertise at all times, which will evolve organically to include skills that you might not even have thought of yet.

Demographic drivers

There are two main demographic drivers of the open talent economy: the influx of millennial and Generation Y workers, and the retirement of ‘baby boomers’. The younger generation of workers brings a new approach to work – which places emphasis on work–life balance, flexibility in the workplace, greater levels of autonomy and a more fluid career path – and, as members of the older generation retire, companies are increasingly influenced by the younger culture. Some companies with aging workforces are noticing a shortage of relevant skills (big data and trend analysis, for example), and on-demand talent can help them fill in these gaps. Many ex-consultants are also taking up in-house positions within companies to help them redefine their operations, which has helped many businesses embrace the opportunities of outsourcing and consulting more comfortably.

Structural changes

There are multiple structural developments enabling the open talent economy, and technology is arguably the most important. The rise in internet and connectivity has enabled workforces to decentralize their operations. Companies now have access to videoconferencing software, telepresence and cloud technology, which means that, for many positions, it’s not necessary to be in the office all the time. With computers able to operate faster and store an infinite amount of information in cloud-based software, it’s now possible to collaborate with employees in real time and share official documents securely and instantly, from anywhere in the world.

Working remotely is not only possible, but also extremely effective, and employers can hire on-demand freelancers without having to worry about having the resources and office space to accommodate them. On top of this, freelancers and independent professionals now have more opportunities to tap into online resources and internet communities that can help them develop their skills and careers further. As technology grows more intelligent and powerful, networking platforms will get smarter and more efficient, enabling employers and independent professionals to be matched accurately, quickly and reliably, and work together seamlessly.

Here at a-connect, we can curate your on-demand talent pool to ensure you always have access to the exact skills and expertise you need. From life sciences and agribusiness to financial services and private equity, we have access to independent professionals from a wide range of industries. Contact us today to find out more.

A brief history of the sharing economy and its future path

The sharing economy in the past: Nomads and the sharing economy 

The sharing economy seems to be a ‘new’ evolvement that has the ability to revolutionize the way we work and interact with each other. The umbrella term is still fresh, but how new is the concept behind it? How did we end up at a stage where peer-to-peer sharing is shaking up existing business models? What is the next big movement that pushes the sharing economy forward?

History teaches us that humans began wandering around as nomads. We moved from one place to another, hunting prey and gathering fruit and nuts. Moving from one place to another meant that we carried as little as we could. This forced us to share whatever we had. Owning too many things was not helpful, and it was disruptive of the nomad lifestyle. There were no intermediaries, no laws and there was no money: everything was peer to peer. The way of living thousands of years ago was a pure form of the sharing economy.

Over 10,000 years ago, we gradually stopped living the nomadic life. We stopped moving with herds of animals and stopped leaving the land when it was infertile. We started to understand how to grow crops and herd animals in one location. This evolvement would gradually launch the agricultural revolution. We became more efficient in everything we did and created a food surplus. This enabled cities and societies to rise. Efficiency and specialization called for more trade with more differentiated goods. In order to govern and drive these efficiency improvements, intermediaries who would enable and simplify trade became stronger. Banks and governance structures emerged as important intermediaries, and money (along with gold) was used more frequently as a means of exchange. Peer-to-peer sharing became less prevalent and markets became the place of trade. Power-driven machines and various new energy sources launched the industrial revolution, which would accelerate what we saw in the agricultural revolution.

The sharing economy today: Using technology to share goods and provide services among peers 

The specialization and efficiency improvements have given us access to countless goods and services. The result of this is that we own too many things that we do not need or do not use frequently. Let’s throw in some figures to contrast what we own vs what the nomads owned. The comparison is obviously not fair, but it still tells a story. Early nomads probably owned fewer than a dozen things (some clothes and a few tools). How many things can you call your own today? How many items are you carrying on yourself right now, and how many items do you have at home?

  • According to the LA Times, the average number of items in American homes is 300,000.
  • British researchers found that an average 10-year-old owns 238 toys and plays with only 12 of them.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans spend over $1.2 trillion annually on non-essential goods (goods that they do not need).
  • While writing this article, I just counted the items that I have brought with me to work – the number is 64, including what I am wearing and the things in my bag, wallet, etc.

Where is the link to the sharing economy? The essential question is: could there be a better resource allocation by sharing all these non-essential goods that we own? The sharing economy as we know it today utilizes unused or underused resources, capacity and time. This is accelerated by technology as the backbone, and provides a different kind of user experience. Some of the most successful and highly valued companies today are part of the sharing economy umbrella. Everybody has heard of Uber and Airbnb, the two leading sharing economy companies, which are valued in the billions. But more and more companies are joining the billionaire list, like Instacart, WeWork and Lending Club. These companies are more efficient than their traditional competitors. However, they merely act as intermediaries, driving costs up. They are valued in the billions just for enabling sharing through technology and creating a different user experience.

The sharing economy in the near future: Blockchain as a game changer 

The blockchain technology has driven companies acting as intermediaries, even governmental organizations, to be on alert mode. What is the blockchain? In short, the blockchain is a decentralized and distributed ledger that is built on a technology that democratizes the authentication of transactions and relies on thousands of computers on a network to figure out a way to maintain that ledger.

While the technology is still in its early stages, an important aspect for our context is that it enables peer-to-peer trading in a very easy and transparent way, creating trust among parties without the need for an intermediary. Traditional industries and intermediaries, such as those in financial services, have formed alliances to respond to this technology – a move that has the ability to utterly transform and, in some cases, destroy their core business.

Even at a business-to-customer level, the transformation that sharing economy companies and new technologies promise could be significant. The core business of banks is to borrow, safely keep and lend money. If we were able to remove banks as an intermediary, we could get rid of the cost associated with them. Sharing economy companies are a first step toward that. Lending Club or Funding Circle – large peer-to-peer lending platforms – offer individuals and businesses the opportunity to bypass banks. They themselves remain intermediaries and offer lower transaction costs. In an ideal case, I would like to borrow/lend money from/to you or a group of people directly without an intermediary.

Blockchains enable us to send each other money directly and safely by bypassing a bank, credit card company, or PayPal. Despite some challenges, many business experts across different industries are certain that it is only a matter of time until the blockchain breaks through. And the possibilities may be limitless. Will currencies as we know them today cease to exist? Can we get every human being a bank account through the blockchain? Can you marry over the blockchain without somebody or an institution confirming your marriage? Can you simplify your supply chain by tracking and recording each step of a product? Can you vote on the blockchain? Can you hold governments better accountable to their promises? Or, further, can you decentralize governments?

The internet transformed the way we use information. The blockchain has the potential to change the way we interact, share and work with each other. It has the power to disrupt the current disrupters flourishing under the sharing economy.

What will your role be in this evolution? How will this shape the future of business and the future of work?

How the on-demand workforce can help companies succeed in a post-Brexit landscape

The UK’s vote to leave the EU on 23 June 2016 cast widespread uncertainty across the country (and, indeed, across the world) about the future of business in Britain. The initial economic impact of Brexit saw the pound drop to its lowest level since 1985 in the days following the Leave vote and, though the market has since levelled out, the pound remains weak. The British Chambers of Commerce does say that Britain will likely avoid a recession, but it has downgraded its forecast of GDP growth over the next three years. The state of the economy, however, is not the only factor causing concern amongst CEOs.

With political negotiations about the exact nature of Brexit still ongoing, businesses cannot be certain what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like – especially with regards to the transference of talent and the physical movement of workforces. Businesses need to be prepared for all potential outcomes, and investing in virtual talent is a fail-safe way to do this. CEOs should think about which skills they might need in the future, and assess any risks that might affect the eligibility of the workforce to remain in the UK.

How Brexit is affecting the UK’s workforces 

According to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, which asked 2,102 UK employers about their hiring plans for the last three months of 2016, employers have become significantly more cautious about hiring staff following the Brexit vote – especially those within the financial services and construction industries, and the public sector. The agency’s UK managing director, Mark Cahill, says that freedom of movement is of particular concern to employers, due to the UK’s reliance on European talent to fill the skills gaps. Foreign workers do not just fill low-paid, unskilled positions in the UK – they are an integral part of many highly skilled professions. Businesses need to be able to access this global talent.

If workers cannot cross borders, then businesses will

It is not yet clear what the status of the UK’s 2.1 million EU migrant workers will be once the UK triggers Article 50. According to, it is plausible that businesses will see an increase in the competition for skilled British workers, and subsequently need to increase wages and salaries in order to secure and retain the best staff. Economists have predicted that, along with a mass exodus of EU workers and the loss of the single market, certain industries may decide to move out of the UK, and take talent pools with them. It is thought that Germany is an attractive hub for financial services jobs and tech talent, for example.

Tapping into a ‘borderless’ pool of global talent

Despite all these concerns and uncertainties, Brexit doesn’t have to impact CEOs’ abilities to access the best global talent. If restrictions on the free movement of workers come into force, and certain industries move talent pools out of the UK, the virtues of the open talent economy will become increasingly evident. By tapping into a curated pool of Independent Professionals from around the world, companies are able to virtually transcend borders and access the exact skills they need on demand. The capabilities of technology have meant that workers are now able to operate completely remotely, which means that companies where feasible can save time, money and resources and, ultimately, overcome the legal boundaries associated with the physical movement of workers.

Embracing the global open talent economy is a truly ‘borderless’ way of working, and allows companies to adapt to the constant shifts in the market. It does, however, require an open-minded culture, and for companies to take a flexible approach to the workplace. As long as your company is open to this new way of working, the open talent economy will enable you to thrive in the challenging and changing environment of post-Brexit Britain.

Of course, for some companies, investing in a remote, virtual workforce simply isn’t feasible. They want to be able to meet Independent Professionals in person, and have them working onsite. In cases such as these, Brexit may seem to present more of a problem. EU workers may need to obtain permits to work in the UK and be subject to restrictions. a-connect has 14 years’ experience in navigating the open talent economy, so you can rest assured that we will continue to provide you with the best talent.

Invest in a future that is more certain

The open talent economy is an ideal option for businesses who need to continue to access global skills and expertise, and a-connect can expertly curate your talent pool so that – whatever the ramifications of Brexit – you can work with global Independent Professionals on demand. To find out how our global pool of experienced professionals can help your company thrive in the post-Brexit landscape, contact us today.

Navigating the ‘border’ challenges of the global on-demand talent economy

Modern businesses are made up of rich, dynamic and diverse workforces that include workers from multiple countries around the world. European companies, in particular, have benefited from the ‘free movement of workers’ within Europe, which has enabled them to access different countries’ skills, resources and talent since the 1950s. It is also not unusual to see professionals from Canada, Australia, America, Africa or Asia within workforces. This diversity has helped businesses to flourish, and to keep up with changing skills and needs.

The on-demand workforce has further opened up the global pool of talent, enabling CEOs and decision-makers to tap into the exact skills they need at specific points in their projects. Advances in technology, connectivity and mobility – for example the rise in cloud-based computing – have meant that companies can manage and collaborate seamlessly with Independent Professionals who are based in other countries. These advances have also enabled changes in the way employers work with their fixed, onsite teams.

This is hugely beneficial to CEOs and decision-makers, as the expertise you need might not necessarily be available in-house. You might require specialist knowledge of the local markets that you are looking to expand into, for example, or best practices from other industries. The on-demand talent economy is a truly ‘borderless’ and collaborative network of senior professionals, that can provide you with the exact skills you need.

Having workers operating remotely is not always feasible, practical or preferable for some companies, though. While the vast majority of tasks can be carried out offsite, and you can rest assured that the work will be completed to the same high standard as if it were done onsite, some companies still prefer ‘physical’ over ‘virtual’ talent.

There are times when it is necessary to speak with a professional in person, especially when it comes to project and change management. You might find that having the professional onsite creates a greater impact. This is where the ‘border’ challenges of the on-demand talent economy become apparent, and where you need professional advice to help you navigate them.

The physical movement of global workforces across borders

There are many boundaries to the physical open talent economy that companies need to be aware of, and that need to be managed professionally. It is arguable that, because of these challenges, virtual work is always going to be the more popular option for professionals and organisations. Saying that, companies that take a truly flexible approach to the way they work are in the best position to yield the extensive benefits of the global on-demand workforce.

One of the biggest challenges of the global open talent economy is being able to navigate the immigration restrictions that apply when physically moving workers across national borders. Different countries have different policies when it comes to letting in workers, and it’s important that these are taken into account when curating your company’s talent pool. If you don’t know the ins and outs of a country’s legal boundaries and immigration system, then you might end up in difficulty, or find that the process takes longer than necessary.

Companies in Australia, for example, face incredibly tight restrictions on incoming workforces – such as having to gain working visas – in line with their strict immigration rules. Work permits are also required for professionals travelling to America, and are granted after an individual submits an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In Canada, workers may need to obtain a Temporary Resident Visa in order to enter the country, depending on the worker’s nationality. Though non-EU workers hoping to work in Europe can travel freely within the continent for up to six months, they are also required to obtain a work permit if they intend to find a job within an EU country. The application processes can be lengthy, but they can be easily managed by professional talent curators with specialist expertise.

Keeping up with changes in immigration policies

Britain’s decision to leave the EU on 23 June has somewhat complicated the notion of free movement of workers for European businesses. As the Leave campaign was focused on controlling and reducing immigration, it is fair to assume that the free movement of workers will also have limitations imposed upon it. Economists are already predicting that many of London’s financial services jobs and tech talent will flow to Frankfurt and Berlin respectively, both of which have vibrant business scenes. As the UK will likely lose its access to the single market, better-connected countries like Germany will probably become attractive.

It’s not yet certain how this will affect the on-demand talent economy, but experts like a-connect are experienced in adapting to changes in governmental and legal policies, so your company will always have access to the best global talent, whether physically or virtually. We have 14 years’ experience in helping companies access the right person, in the right location, at the right time. Contact us today to find out how we could curate your on-demand talent pool.

The sharing economy for management consulting talent

In 2002, when a-connect was founded the term ‘Sharing Economy’ was neither broadly known nor used. Not only the term also business models based on the concept of the sharing economy were rare. Fueled by the possibilities new technologies opened up, the concept of the sharing economy has now prominent representatives like Uber and Airbnb. Back in 2002 there was another analogy though that acted like a role model for the idea of building a sharing economy model for management consulting talent – the Hollywood model!

Listing to a-connect’s co-founder Hanne de Mora on why a-connect’s is a business model for the future.


Create your very own robo-intern battalion

On January 20th 2017, independent consultant Andrea Sutter lost yet another project to a larger consulting firm. She was baffled. Her skills and experience perfectly suited the client’s requirements. Her pitch was flawless. She was sure that her proposal was much more cost-effective than that of her larger competitor. Still, after the effort, all that she got was a polite rejection note and maybe some goodwill for a future attempt. The reason for the loss: a “lack of analytical breadth”.

A lack of confidence in one-person operations

The project was a market entry study focused on China’s FMCG industry – her specialty. However, it required a large-scale analysis of competition, pricing and product offerings in seven Chinese cities. While she had already delivered over a dozen studies on the topic for other corporations, the client’s executives challenged her capacity as a one-woman show to research a landscape of around 3,500 products with enough detail. They were probably right.

Independent consultants often face this challenge when developing business or executing projects. They can have the right practical training, often honed during years at top-tier management consulting firms. They can present an outstanding value-for-money proposition. However, when they are independent, they are also alone. They miss the wealth of information available to peers at bigger firms and the access to junior analysts to support research and content development work.

Enhancing the independent consultant’s capabilities

That is precisely where artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies can help. Independent consultants can benefit from them to gain productivity and analytical muscle, compensating the small scale of their operations. What is important is for them to correctly frame AI use cases within their business. For example, after the setback outlined above, Andrea recognized three ways in which she could leverage these emerging technologies in similar projects.

First, she realized that she could have applied an AI-based data mining system to automate the collection and classification of online information on FMCG products. Prices, user reviews, product characteristics, technical specifications and images of thousands of products can be automatically saved to an Excel spreadsheet for further analysis. This saves the independent consultant from having to pay for access to specialized databases or hire additional team members to support data collection. Andrea calculated that, for a portfolio of close to 3,500 products, the total time required to integrate the information would be reduced by at least a factor of 10. Furthermore, once the system was set up, human intervention in the data collection process would be minimal.

Second, beyond standard spreadsheet analysis, Andrea understood she could have used machine learning to analyze pricing ranges, consumer behavior and competitor clusters in the dataset. For example, classification and sentiment analysis algorithms could have been used to link product characteristics to positive customer sentiment, spot unmet needs and sources of negative sentiment, and establish sensitivity to pricing based on consumer experience. All variables in the product portfolio could have been classified according to their influence on each other, allowing Andrea to deliver hard evidence on key purchase factors and propose new product profiles with high market potential.

Third, Andrea could have deployed an automated PPT slide design system to generate both detailed profiles for each of the products reviewed and overview analyses for each of the clusters recognized. The system would have allowed fast development of customized reports for different product management and marketing teams within the client organization. With minimal manual work, she would have been able to facilitate market entry planning at both the strategic and the tactical level.

Building your robo-intern battalion

Given Andrea’s example, how can independent consultants brainstorm AI use cases to increase their productivity? A good starting point is to identify what data collection, data analysis and data reporting tasks might normally be assigned to an intern. That is, what work requires human level cognitive skills but might be lengthy or repetitive? Then consider AI as a way to build a battalion of robo-interns to tackle the challenge. Thinking this way is the first step for independent consultants to greatly expand their project delivery capacities and gain new business. Hopefully it will also make the tasks assigned to talented interns more interesting.