Report

The four faces of the alternative workforce

Some companies already recognize the challenges of maintaining a consistent culture across locations and extending it to people in alternative workforce arrangements. Consider the challenge that Snap Inc., the parent of Snapchat, acknowledged when it filed its IPO. Snap Inc. broke the Silicon Valley mold by launching its IPO without a designated corporate headquarters. In its IPO filing, the company noted that this strategy was a risk that could potentially be harmful, explaining, “This [diffused] structure may prevent us from fostering positive employee morale and encouraging social interaction among our employees and different business units.”14

Figure 1 shows how the workforce can be segmented along two axes: location—on- vs. off-campus—and contract type—on- vs. off-balance sheet. Considered in this way, the workforce broadly falls into four segments, each presenting distinct challenges with regard to propagating organizational culture. Note that these axes are fluid in nature; in particular, many workers in certain industries, such as professional services, may split their time between off- and on-campus locations (indicated by the gradient area in figure 1). These workers may be considered “hybrid” workers who experience some of the cultural advantages of on-campus work, while also facing some of the challenges experienced by the remote worker.

The traditional worker. Perhaps the most familiar, the traditional employee works on-campus, in a full-time or fixed part-time arrangement. Given a shared location and regular in-person interactions, social norms and behaviors are generally highly observable among traditional workers, making this setting the most efficient at transmitting culture. But these benefits come at a cost: the overhead involved in maintaining a physical location or multiple locations, as well as the risk of cultural stagnation. Also, if norms are well entrenched, an on-campus setting has the potential to create a static or homogeneous culture that can be difficult to change—an ability that may be crucial as companies increasingly demand nimble and dynamic environments to remain competitive. The risk is that groupthink may arise, leading workers to conform to old ways of acting and thinking rather than challenging the status quo. In addition, traditional workers in satellite locations may feel isolated from headquarters, which can foster resentment or a sense of being “second-class citizens.”

The tenured remote worker. Off-campus but on-balance sheet workers are commonly referred to as teleworkers, but they may also include traveling salespeople, remote customer service workers, and those in other jobs that do not require on-campus accommodations. These workers have flexibility of location, but are at a disadvantage when it comes to actually observing social norms as well as experiencing in-person collaboration. Research suggests that remote employees often have less trust in each other’s work and capabilities due to a lack of interpersonal communication. In addition, remote workers may feel isolated and separated from the company’s headquarters. However, companies still have some traditional levers to pull to engage the tenured remote worker, such as benefits and formal career progression opportunities.

The transactional remote worker. This type of worker is not only off-balance-sheet, but also off-campus. Often, they are paid to deliver very specific services. Many of these individuals operate on flexible schedules and in customer-facing roles. Their relationship with the hiring organization can be marked by low-quality touchpoints and facilitated through technology-based platforms or a third-party agency. The transactional remote worker may also experience a strong sense of instability, which may result in added anxiety.

The outside contractor. On-campus but off-balance-sheet, contract or consulting workers often bring an inherent outsider mentality and an array of previous cultural experiences. They are often brought in to help facilitate a shorter-term or finite project and may be viewed—or may view themselves—as not being subject to the organization’s cultural norms and values. These workers usually do not receive the typical onboarding and new hire training opportunities that can help build a sense of culture among on-balance sheet employees. Given that these individuals work on campus and can observe the organization’s norms firsthand, however, there may be more opportunities to make them feel like part of the culture.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at via Workplace culture and the alternative workforce | Deloitte University Press

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