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#8: The future of work is already here! What is an agile workforce?

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You are here: Home / Podcasts / #8: The future of work is already here! What is an agile workforce?

Victoria Stuart and Stephanie Reuss discuss how successful business leaders are embracing the new paradigm of work and leveraging their competitive advantage.

Looking at what fractional work means:
Old Work Paradigm – Organisational structures with clearly defined roles / traditional roles and the traditional working week vs. The New Work Paradigm – Highly skilled people working for fractions of a week or fractions of a traditional role.


Stephanie: So, today my guests are Stephanie Reuss and Victoria Stuart from Beam. They’re experts in fractional and flexible work. So it’s a social enterprise that actually does two things, Beam is a talent marketplace for high calibre people who aren’t available full time, and it’s also a team of organisational design experts who help organisations prepare for the future of work. Great to have you both here.

Steph Reuss: I have known for seven years when we worked together, on either sides of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was always a question about which one was the other Steph, but you know there was Steph and Steph. And Vic, I’ve only known you now for a couple of years.

Probably since Beam really first started yet. But I do know that a couple of bottles of rosé down, you’re happy to sing a bit of Bon Jovi. So, this could well form part of our conversation today.

Victoria: I hope so.

Stephanie: Yeah. So welcome to both of you.  I’m going to start with you Steph, what’s fractional work mean?

Steph Reuss: It’s so nice to be here doing this podcast together. So fractional work is, when we think about traditional jobs and traditional work weeks. We’re looking at what is a different way of working that people might be more engaged and productive and so on, but it’s fractions of a traditional week, or fractions of a traditional job. So looking at, yeah, just a different way of thinking about workforces.

Stephanie: Does that line up with the whole Christensen model of Jobs to Be Done rather than someone having a role? Your head of marketing, your head of customer experience?

Steph Reuss: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. And there’s a whole lot of things within it and for different companies it will mean different things, and for each individual it’ll mean something different as well. But you’re spot on. I think in the past, in more of the industrial revolution model it worked really well for us to have organisational structures with clearly defined roles and things to be done, start on Monday, finish on a Friday.

Well, now it’s really different because we’ve seen parts of those jobs be automated, so all the repeatable tasks have or are going to be automated, leaving the creative thinking, the really interesting thought-provoking work to be done, but not necessarily in the same way of coming and sitting at a desk from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

We’ve got technology, there’s people on from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to bed. So just thinking about a smarter way of doing business.

Stephanie: Yeah, it’s really interesting. So Vic, how does fractional work differ from flexible work?

Victoria: Yeah. And I think it’s more about looking at the work week a little bit differently. So, in terms of Beam, we represent people who aren’t available in the 40 hour work week, right? They’re in reduced hours within that week, so it might be one or two days, or it might be more like 30 hours a week.

So, we look at it in the availability of people. But even in the jobs, as well, projects might mean that there’s fractional work within…. So, a project might be delivered within four weeks and that’s essentially fractional work as well.

Stephanie: Right, okay. It’s not a contract that I’m employed and I’ll stay there forever till I get a gold watch.

Victoria: That’s right. You could term flexible work about being someone that’s able to leave their desk job to go and do something, like go to the gym, leave early two or three days a week, that’s flexible work. So being a bit more, or having technology enable someone to work from home, that’s a bit of flexible work. But we’re talking about reducing hours within a week specifically to allow for whatever it is, whatever work needs to be done, but also for talent preferences as well.

Stephanie: So a couple of thoughts about this. I read an interesting article in Boss magazine and there was a comment saying that employees are only going to be interested in part-time work if they think that there’s a career path. That’s when the real swell of this will happen. If people think, ‘Well, I’ll be part-time, they’re probably not even thinking fractional, but I’ll be part-time, but is this going to hurt my career? So Steph, how would you respond to that?’

Steph Reuss: Oh, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? A couple of things, I think. First of all, there are definitely people who want to maximise their earnings, right?

And work full-time, as much time as they can. They want to get ahead and they want to really progress their career. Absolutely. For them, part-time might just making they’re earning less, which might be absolutely a second preference.

There are a whole lot of people though who want to work part-time as a first preference. And the people who we see coming to Beam are naturally parents, which is the category that Vic and I both fall into, and that includes dads as well as mums, obviously.

But you have professional athletes who can’t work full-time, you have people who are increasingly wanting to work in a portfolio career. So, they might be a board member in one, part of their month they might be an executive, in another they might be a mentor and a coach, things like that. Or they might have their own business, so they might be a consultant who is working three days a week permanently with one organisation, and then consulting.

They might be millennials. So, that little group of millennials who are going to be most of our workforce within a few years, 30% of them have a side hustle, meaning their own start-up, or a passion project, or something they’re just really into that means actually they prefer to work four days a week. Right? So, I think what is really important, and to actually answer your question…

Stephanie: That’s important too actually Steph.

Steph Reuss: Yeah. It is critical that organisations figure out how do we help people progress their careers, and develop, and not be held back because they’re in this ‘part-time’, in inverted commas, job. It doesn’t mean that they’re less committed, that they’re contributing less to the organisation either. It’s actually an opportunity for businesses to bring in incredible capability. So, how do they help that person thrive? And that’s where I think there’s this rub between the traditional learning and development, structures and processes in an organisation, and the way that people work. And I think they need to all be figured out so people can progress their careers.

Stephanie: So this is really, Vic, a big change culturally for organisations, isn’t it?

For both sides. So, it’s people to embrace opportunity that is beyond, ‘I’m going to look for a job with this organisation and its full-time and I’ll be there forever.’ There could be a range of things you could do.

Victoria: There’s one major thing to think about is, in terms of talent shortages.

So that, I think there’s a prediction that by next year there’ll be a shortage of 739,000 skilled workers across Australia. So that begs the question, where are we going to find all this talent? Right?

As Steph mentioned earlier, there’s huge talent pools that are excluded from the workforce. So, businesses are going to have to think differently around how they attract talent into their workforce and how they change the way work is done, as well.

So, in thinking that through, there are ideas around how do you bring in someone, or that capability, into your business in a different way, so that you’re attracting the right talent into your business that’s going to power it forward?

Stephanie: So where’s the hidden workforce?

Victoria: So they are the people that Steph mentioned. So, they’re currently either trapped in a full-time role, they are excluded from the workforce, so they’re not working. And you mentioned athletes, there’s a huge issue at the end of an athlete’s career as to what they do next. Facing them then is a huge barrier as to their career paths. Transitioning from an athletic career to a different type of career, whatever that might be, does pose big challenges in terms of mental health, and things like that, that we see frequently as people transition out of those careers.

Stephanie: So it’s the obvious things, as you say, of people who have had children, men or women.

Or people maybe with a need for flexibility. I can imagine other things that you’re talking about. Someone who’s caring for an aged parent, or something like that.

But when I met you both and you were first talking to me about Beam, and when I met you about Beam, you were saying the idea, the challenge that often people will, to get out of a full-time job, to get the flexibility that they need, they’d take a job way different. I don’t want to say below, but way different from their career path that they might have been in a high-power job. For example, a partner in a law firm, and step into something that really doesn’t align with where their career’s been heading because it means flexibility.

So, I’m being careful not to name jobs that would be seen as a step down. But Steph, do you still hear that story from people?

Steph Reuss: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is where we need to create those meaty roles that you were talking about before. The ones with career progression that are having an impact in those mid to senior level roles. And I think the reason that that’s been the only option before is because part-time’s been basically earned and not hired.

So, you can earn the right to work part-time in a large organisation because they feel like you’ve earned that trust. And also, it might be a legal obligation as well.

But it’s very hard to then go and find an interesting role somewhere else. And I think that’s because people have figured out how to do part-time roles in, for instance, nursing, or more administrative roles in the past, and they’ve been largely dominated by women as well. All right? But not seen as more professional career, upper level roles.

Stephanie: It’s really interesting. So you two really messed with my head when you came in because I, as a CEO of an organisation. And I thought, ‘Well, I need people here.’

And you made me really think about that idea about well, it’s about the talent, it’s not really about that old-fashioned, as you say, post-industrial revolution paradigm of what work looks like. And when I look at my leadership team, there’s only three of us who are full-time.

Steph Reuss: How’s that working for you?

Stephanie: It’s actually working really well. So job well done.

Steph Reuss: It just means you’re really progressive though because it can be very hard.

Stephanie: That’s a given, Steph. Now look, it’s hard. As a leader I had to stop my basic thing of being annoyed, ‘I need this thing done and that person’s not there.’ And that was my original reaction. But the reason it’s worked because of how the people work and that’s the bit that makes a difference.

Steph Reuss: Yeah. It’s one of the big things that we’re helping organisations with in terms of our organisational design consulting. So, this is, we call ways of working. Right?

Actually, you need to change the rhythm from being, ‘We go and ask anyone at any point because they’re there,’ it’s a benefit of presenteeism to, ‘We’re not going to have people always present in the office, and people are going to be working on different things and they wanna structure their work and focus their work in different ways.’ Then how do we organise things? Probably from two dimensions primarily. One is, when are we having our leadership or team communications?

So that’s a consistent, every week. And so, for instance, for a lot of organisations, everyone’s in on a Tuesday.

Right? Or a Monday, whatever works for that team that respects everyone’s flexibility needs. Not just people who have kids, and not just people who work part-time, but what suits everyone. And making sure the key communication’s happen then so people don’t miss out.

And then the other one is, how do you use technology and things like Slack to be able to keep the updates on whatever’s happening in whatever project? Or with whatever client, or events that you might be holding, or what have you. How do you keep that conversation online so that when someone comes back into the business, after two days for instance, or even after a holiday, right?

Different breaks in work that they can immediately catch up and not have missed out and not be out of the loop, so that they just continuously then fall behind.

Stephanie: So it’s certainly about systems.

One of the big changes for us as an organisation was stopping people talking about people having it’s their day off. So Thursday it’s, ‘Oh, well Thursday’s Vic’s day off.’ So, we had to really make that shift as an organisation. ‘Well, Sunday’s not your day off, you just don’t work on a Sunday.’ And that helped, but it’s taken some time. I think it’s taken a couple of years for us to really embrace it, and the systems are a really important part of it.

Victoria: And Steph, I think there’s another big thing that is pretty clear when you’re moving away from presenteeism because there’s this piece of trust, right?

So, just trusting that someone’s going to get the work done when they’re not sitting in front of you. Actually, it’s interesting, there was a study done in the UK of about 2,000 full-time workers that show that the average work done per day was two hours and 53 minutes.

Stephanie: Yeah, scary, isn’t it?

Victoria: That’s right. And so you’ve got all of these people sitting in their jobs from 9:00 AM till 5:00 PM, or longer, but not actually doing work because they were speaking to their colleagues, which is important. That’s about building a culture.

Stephanie: Collaboration, yeah.

Victoria: Absolutely. But not necessarily about work, but still important. But then you have people checking out the news sites, social media, all sorts of different things that they were doing external to their actual roles.

So, when we talk about, the work getting done, it’s really important that people are there. We know that that’s not necessarily generating the productivity that we want to see. And so really, part of great leadership now and in the future is really building that trust and trusting your employees to do the right thing, and to certainly have those systems in place to enable the productivity and the things to be generated and communication to still happen. But that trust is a huge element of manager capability.

And that’s another area that we focus on because managers need to be changing the way that they’ve managed before. And that’s what you were talking about, finding it difficult to transition because everyone’s got the way that they were working, it’s changing the capability set of a manager as well.

Stephanie: It’s hugely important, isn’t it? And managers all through the organisation.

Victoria: Absolutely, yeah.

Stephanie: Because just the subtle language or the making sure that you’re not leaving someone out or playing favourites. So again, when I was first talking to you both about Beam, and I said, ‘Well, this will work great, easy. Salespeople, simple, they’ve got a target, you hit the target, it doesn’t matter, you hit the target, that’s fine, it’s a measurable.’ How could you do this with someone in a more operational role, Steph?

Steph Reuss: It’s so funny you say that because when we speak with business leaders, there’ll be someone who says, ‘Oh obviously you can do that in operations, but never could you do it with a salesperson.’

But it’s not always the opposite. It’s just different people have different experiences because they’ve seen it work, or in their mind it works in different ways. There’s a lot of people who say a salesperson could never work full-time. So I challenge anyone.

Stephanie: Could never work part-time?

Steph Reuss: Part time, yeah, yeah. Sorry, yeah. So, I challenge anyone listening to think like Steph, but to be really creative about of course it can work. Yeah.

Stephanie: So what are the elements that make it work?

Steph Reuss: Yeah, I think it’s about, or in our experience, it’s about having really clear outcomes. So, what you just mentioned there was with the salesperson there’s a really clear outcome that if you can reach that outcome, then great. And again, if you’re scaling back a five day to a three day role, then you can times it by 0.6, right?

So, here’s where it gets interesting is when you’re talking about an operational role. Let’s say its operations, or HR, or finance, or something like that, often we start with full-time as a default. But what if we don’t have a finance manager yet? Or, for instance, a recruiter yet? We’re going from zero, so why would we go from zero to 100%? Thinking about what we actually need. Is it two days a week or the equivalent across the week?

A good example is someone managing a business’ social media, a social media manager or community manager. Often they don’t have them yet, but they say, ‘Actually, it’d be great for someone to be managing our LinkedIn, our other social channels and to be really focused on our brand voice in there, be more vocal helping us to grow community.’ So, going from zero, you probably want to think about, we probably want some kind of touch in four days a week, or five. And you can schedule stuff to go out on the fifth day, responses. But it doesn’t need to be eight hours a day. That’d be over investing, over capitalising, in that capability in your organisation.

So typically, we see between 16 and 24 hours for a social media manager, right? They need to be able to produce the content, or curate the content to go out, to be able to schedule it in through… What do you call it? HubSpot, or whatever you use. Yep Hootsuite and then to be able to respond. Okay? So that’s a perfect example.

Stephanie: It’s actually a really good example. And again, you’ve gone to one that you could think this could be part-time, but what you’re saying actually, even with finance or with any role, yeah, I think its interesting thinking.

So we will get to training up employers, business owners, CEOs. Vic, what about training the Beamers? Training the talent? Because if people work productively, two hours and 53 minutes a day, then at least if I’ve got someone five days a week, I’m getting close to 15 hours a week. But if I have someone flexibly or fractional employee who’s three days a week, what does that mean that I’m going to get six hours from them? How can you shift or ensure that someone who’s engaging with this new way of working is also working differently?

Victoria: I think really, again, it does come back to what are the outcomes that I want to see in this role and what needs to be done in this role. Right? Being clear on what those objectives and the key outcomes are for each person. I think also, as part of that, it’s being really open and transparent with the manager as well and touching base regularly.

It is really important to skill up a person on what their obligation is in terms of, if they are working flexibly, what do they need to be thinking about? And we do a lot of support now because we’ve realised that this is something that we… It needs to go both ways.

Stephanie: Yeah, that’s right. It’s the both ways, it’s not about employers embracing this. I think it has to go both ways.

Victoria: Yeah. And as always, there needs to be really open lines of communication to be able to be clear on, ‘This is what I’m looking to achieve this week,’ and just that regular interaction is just critical.

Also, we give a lot of, as you start a role, these are the things that you need to think about and these are the conversations that you need to have with your manager before you start with that organisation.

Stephanie: And you have that with the talent on your platform?

Victoria: Yeah. And as we said, that’s just more about just being really transparent from the beginning.

Steph Reuss: I think that for most mid-size businesses there’s a real rub between what’s worked before and what they’re hearing now from talent. Right? And there’s this big problem that people are talking about. Just for instance, one problem with managing talent being their millennial employees are going to stay 18 months, two years. That is not the traditional way of investing, recruiting, training someone up and then they just leave. That’s traditionally awful.

Well, if that’s the way that it’s going to be, then let’s embrace that and talk about how we can design employee experiences and plan your workforce for that kind of rhythm. We’ve talked about people working part-time, changing talent preferences, productivity tools, optimising your budget for each role, finance, for instance.

So, I think the mid-size organisations who are doing this well are re-thinking their organisational design. It sounds big, it doesn’t need to be that big. It’s more just what does the organisation look like? What are the roles that partially are redundant? Part of what people are doing are redundant. Can we structure this differently? And how do we give managers the capability to be able to flex their own teams, but maintain those systems and those rhythms that are going to allow them to really thrive and achieve their outcomes?

Stephanie: It’s great. So Vic, how could a business owner, or a CEO, start to get their head around this? Where would they start?

Victoria: Well, they’re welcome to come and speak to Beam. Yeah. Look, I think one major consideration here is the cost of talent and the cost of attrition and things like that as well. So, I think we have a lot of interactions with organisations that they’re starting to think about workforce planning. And then they start to think about where are we going to find this talent? There’s this huge shortage, we need to think about this now. And so that’s where we support not only on finding talent, but also re-skilling as well. Because realistically, not all of that talent is going to be available, or are you going to be able to compete on salary for that talent in market.

So again, in thinking differently, it’s about how do we look to re-skill our own workforces as well.

Stephanie: But I think it’s more as well. I think it’s about as a leader of whatever kind of business, embracing a really significant shift in work that is happening.

We’ve spoken on this podcast a couple of times about innovation and we’ve got more to come about innovation with people. And I think it’s recognising that this is coming, but you don’t have to… I love that something one of you said, ‘It doesn’t have to be a big deal.’ That you can just start with what you have, or start with who you are as a leader and thinking about how stuck am I in an old paradigm and what are the opportunities of thinking about this differently? Because we know that there is a talent shortage and there’s an even bigger one coming. And so how do we embrace it?

Steph Reuss: It’s a massive opportunity because there are a huge amount of organisations that will just put it in the too-hard basket. And guess what? It’s coming like it or not.

Stephanie: Yeah, so it’s here?

Steph Reuss: It’s here. Yeah, it’s here. So, the people listening to this who are the TEC members are wanting to be innovative and wanting to grow their businesses and so on, so they’ll get it and they’ll get on-board. But it will be a huge competitive advantage for them in their own sectors because there are a lot of organisations who are going to put their head in the sand and it will be too late.

Stephanie: So this touches on everything. This touches on leadership, it touches on your future of your organisation, how you’re addressing it, it touches on competitive advantage and it touches on dealing with what I find when I talk to smaller mid-size businesses that really their biggest issue and that’s talent?

Victoria: No. Well, it’s for small or medium businesses the costs are always huge.

And as you look to bringing in capability, you can look to bring in someone who is not necessarily as experienced in a full-time role, or you can bring in someone who has 20 plus years’ experience to come in, for just two or three days a week, and really their level of knowledge, experience and insight that they can bring into that role can be really, really powerful for your organisation.

So, not to say that we shouldn’t be supporting employment of junior talent within an organisation. Absolutely, there are roles for this. But as there’s a real cost opportunity here to be able to attract talent that can really power the growth of the business.

Stephanie: And I really like that, that whole proposition that as a mid-size business you could actually have people working in the organisation that you wouldn’t traditionally be able to attract.

So congratulations to both of you for addressing this head-on and coming up with some interesting solutions, not just for people looking for this kind of work, but for organisations who are tentatively embracing it, or in fact going in wholeheartedly.

Great conversation, thank you so much for sharing with us some of your thoughts and good to talk to you both.

Victoria: Thanks Steph.

Steph Reuss: Thanks Steph.

Stephanie: So that’s TEC Live for today. CEOs are in the business of making decisions and leadership is the art of execution. I’m Stephanie Christopher and look forward to talking to you next time.

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