What does the future of work look like? At GE, it’s not the traditional, hierarchical model where workers clock in each day performing set tasks. Instead, GE is exchanging this outdated model for one based on flexible, project-based teams.

Fortune 500s like GE adopt this team-based approach because it provides an efficient way to increase productivity, innovation, and speed. The model also helps overcome business growth obstacles such as the worsening talent shortage.

Assemble skills, not titles

Rapidly evolving technological advancements and global markets are increasing demand for more specialized skills. But demand for many of these skills continues to outpace supply. This makes it increasingly difficult to secure skilled talent.

Companies were three times more likely to say hiring was harder in 2016. This can impact a business in many ways as 76% of hiring managers say their success depends on getting access to top talent.

GE sought to resolve this issue for their teams and clients by creating GE GENIUSLINK™. The program partnered with Upwork to create a network of millions of independent professionals with in-demand skills.

“Markets today demand a level of speed and sophistication that are increasingly difficult to achieve using traditional approaches,” says Dyan Finkhousen, president and CEO of GENIUSLINK and director of innovation and advanced manufacturing for GE.

GE’s program is an example of 21st century collaboration. With nimble and vast connectivity, they assembled PhDs and statisticians who helped a company uncover $800 million in opportunities. Then the specialists used predictive modeling to increase the sales department’s conversion rate by 17%.

The future of work requires companies to find the right talent at the right time to create amazing results.

Rely on freelancers

No matter how talented your employees, it’s impossible for a single company to have every skill it requires in-house. Partly because changing technology creates new skills faster than schools can churn out graduates.

Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel predicts that in just a few years, a third of the skills needed in our workforce will be brand new.

If you can find the skilled worker you need, you may not be able to wait for them to start. It takes 31 days to fill an open position in the U.S. Add more than 10 additional days for technical positions.

What’s more, hiring may be cost-prohibitive. The average cost per hire soared to $4,129, which may force some companies to remain short-staffed.

Companies that utilize contingent workers aren’t hamstrung by such limitations. One GE client engaged aviation specialists to uncover potential fuel savings. The specialists accomplished this by reducing the weight of one part by up to 84%. Then the company engaged other experts to create the new part in just three months. That’s the future of how work gets done.

Organize for speed and velocity

In a webinar with Spend Matters, Kevin Dawson, executive director of software innovation at GE Digital, says the future of work “operates in smaller, self-forming teams centered around problems we know we have to solve, aligned around customers.” GE uses two-week sprints, share backlogs and delivery. They automate whenever possible so that technical people can spend less time on admin and focus more on delivering products.

“When you give a group of tech people a goal, the worst thing you can do is put layers of management in their way. I don’t believe speed and velocity come from tools. They come from trust. Give them a structure to work within, then get out of their way,” says Dawson.

There’s no future without technology

As important as freelancers are to the future of work, so is technology. Andrew Karpie, research director of Spend Matters, says the only way to manage changing roles and skills is across a platform. “Technology allows for different forms of work and engagement. It drives velocity via information and connectivity,” explains Karpie.

A recent Oxford study supports Karpie’s statement. In the study, Fortune 500s report three key reasons for adopting freelancer platforms.

1. They provide easy access to a scalable source of talent, skills, and expertise.
2. Online platforms lower the cost to hire. One company reported a 60-70% aggregate savings over their traditional hiring channels.
3. They shorten the time to hire. Study participants averaged a two to four-day time to hire versus the six to eight week average through traditional agencies.

“Online platforms enable managers to extend project teams with freelancers. This creates speed and flexibility for companies aiming to stay innovative and competitive in today’s global business environment,” says Greetje Corporaal, a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII).

The future of work doesn’t acquire talent

Dawson believes the future of work requires assembling agile, flexible teams on demand. To begin, stop thinking about what roles you need filled.

Instead ask, what skills do I need to get the work done? What skills exist inside my company already? How do I best leverage those skills or find the external talent I need? Then you’ll see how the future of work is less about talent acquisition, and more about talent access.

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