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Insights From Work Without Limits

Insights From Work Without Limits 2020

“What do you have permission to try and do now that you may not have previously had? How many more intelligent risks can you take in order to begin to become [an] agile enterprise?”

—Peter Sheahan, Author and Founder of Karrikins Group

This year has forced a fundamental shift in the way we think about work. After months of disruption, leaders are looking ahead. How can businesses better position themselves today to jump on tomorrow’s opportunities? Upwork’s Work Without Limits 2020 virtual summit explored answers to that question with more than 20 industry leaders sharing insights and expertise during the half-day event.

“Companies are really struggling because they need to get things done,” said Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork, in her opening remarks. “They often have real constraints around budgets [and] around the commitments they can make to employees about certainty going forward. And yet they have to find a way to move forward with agility and resiliency in a model that works for them.”

For many business leaders, the new model includes flexible talent. A survey conducted in April found that nearly half (47%) of hiring managers are more likely to engage independent talent in the future due to the COVID-19 crisis, while 73% are continuing or increasing their usage of independent professionals.

As keynote speaker Peter Sheahan pointed out, now is the time to pitch a new model to move your organization forward. “There is a specific window of time during a crisis when both the appetite inside an organization and the appetite outside an organization for doing things in new ways present themselves,” he said.

The result can be a more agile and innovative company, one that recognizes it doesn’t have all the smart people in the world on payroll and knows how to leverage the wealth of resources available. Here’s a look at some of the insights shared during Work Without Limits to help your team navigate the way ahead.

We know remote work works

If there were still doubts, 2020 has confirmed that for many people work is not a place. “All of a sudden, you took 40% of the entire U.S. workforce and you moved them remote simultaneously. Right now, that’s delivering about 65% of all the economic output,” said David Henshall, CEO of Citrix.

“Work is more about output, more about deliverables and goals and those things that you can accomplish,” he added. “The place is irrelevant.”

COVID-19 has also prompted a sharp shift toward digital transformation, with businesses equipping themselves with the tools, ideas, and innovations required to tackle new problems in a way that’s accessible anywhere.

Just as importantly, organizations are exploring new ways to gain velocity.

Businesses need to move forward faster

“In January, in the U.S., Unilever did not make hand sanitizer,” said Mike Clementi, EVP of HR, Global Markets at Unilever. Enter COVID-19: The company’s Shea Moisture Hand Sanitizer went from idea to market in six weeks, with $1-million in sales in its first six weeks on the market—quickly becoming the #1 hand sanitizer in many large grocery stores.

“Startups need to achieve scale before corporations master agility.”

—Mike Clementi, EVP of HR, Global Markets, Unilever

Unilever started to explore how to move more quickly in 2018, and it quickly became clear that the underlying issue wasn’t the company’s strategy but how it approached the work.

“The old way was a linear approach. The way things are getting done now is far more iterative,” said Clementi, describing the agile model the company transitioned to over the past two years. “You’re continually learning: Delivering value earlier in the process, listening to feedback. You assume constant change. Then you’re constantly working with cross-functional people to improve [a product] and make it better.”

Clementi said it’s a process that prioritizes individuals and interactions over process and tools. And the result is a better output than what they’ve had before.

Citing “The Technology Fallacy”, Upwork’s Tim Sanders, VP of customer insights and host of WWL, explained that many organizations reach the same conclusion on their way to digital maturity.

“[Research has shown that] what it takes to succeed is a laser focus on the talent piece, not the technology piece: Finding ways to infuse specialists to fill every single talent gap, cutting down on the latencies, and increasing the quality of the execution and the organizational momentum,” he said.

And the reality is that, when you make talent a priority and shift your focus to outcomes and delivering value, how you access talent changes. It’s something Sanders refers to as core versus peripheral: Distinguishing between the core competencies your company needs to own and the peripheral work that could be done in other ways, such as partnering with independent professionals.

“[In the agile model] core team members focus on what they’re really, really good at, managing the four Ps: people, projects, partnerships, and performance. They don’t have to upskill to adapt to change. They bring in specialists for that.”

—Tim Sanders, VP Customer Insights, Upwork

Travis Bogard, head of product for Samsung NEXT, agrees. “It’s really more about, ‘What am I trying to get done?’” Bogard said. “Not how much time are you sitting in the office, but what is the ultimate output that you’re trying to get? When you distill projects down and work down in that way, you start to realize the independent work is the same as the full time.”

Once your mindset has shifted, it becomes less a question of whether independent talent can bring you closer to your goals and more a question of how best to use that expertise.

Leverage independent talent to get to the next level

“I don’t think about talent,” Peter Sheahan said. “I think in terms of outcomes, knowledge, expertise, and problem solving. It’s those that allow you to react quickly and extract the value that’s present in those opportunities.”

The reality, he said, is that companies don’t have the resources in-house to be constantly and consistently responsive; if you try to grow all the talent you need from the ground up, the market will leave you behind.

“You’re going to have the leaders and the laggards,” Sheahan said. “If you don’t have really agile, rapid talent/expertise/knowledge solutions, I just don’t know how you’re going to compete at all.”

But how can companies leverage independent experts? WWL speakers shared some of the ways their organizations have leveraged independent talent on Upwork:

As a competitive advantage

“As we started to see the output, the quality, and the price point become far more competitive than what it would be internally vs external, that’s truly when the lightbulb came on,” said Ryan Vestby, CEO of CompuVision.

For on-demand access to specialized expertise

When Kevin Scott, now head of technology for PGA of America, was working for ESPN, he says they needed someone with a very niche—and unlikely—combination of skills. They found one person with the right combination on Upwork. “You hear a lot about how statistically the best people in the world don’t work for your organization and that never hit home until we met that guy.”

To make an outsized impact

Amy Grant, head of brand and consumer at Digicel, oversees marketing across 32 different markets and geographical areas. She said budget is always top of mind: “We knew we couldn’t duplicate having agencies or creatives in each market. How do you scale, how do you develop once and then localize? … We weren’t going to be able to [meet expectations] working with the resources we had at the time.”

To fuel productivity and bridge gaps

At Flexera, business needs meant they needed more talent, and hiring new employees, at the time, averaged 72 days. But there was still a lot of work to do in the interim. El Lages, SVP of people and culture at Flexera, said that’s when the value of flexible talent became clear: “Upwork in the immediate term helped us fill a gap and ensure we were maintaining productivity. Then it became more about continuing to leverage Upwork so we’re increasing the velocity of productivity.”

To test and optimize

Kelli Negro, CMO at Mitratech, said partnering with external talent helps confirm what to do next and how to do it better. “We have a very diverse marketing organization but we’re constantly wanting to test, to optimize, to try new things,” she said. “In order to do that you can’t always look inward. You need to be able to look out and find people that are experts in those areas.

“The organizations that succeed in the future [will be] those that are the most agile and can get that special information and put it at people’s fingertips in real time, when the business opportunity presents itself, because it won’t be proprietary anymore,” David Henshall said as Work Without Limits drew to a close.

“This level of flexibility, creativity, and people that can thrive on more ambiguous models are the ones that are going to truly succeed in the future.”

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