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January is traditionally the time of year when we look backward and forward — like Janus of ancient Rome, one face glancing at the past the other looking to the future. But this year starts with eyes wide open and a resilient mindset — perhaps presenting one of the biggest contrasts to a January start in generations.

It was around this time last year that the WHO first noted a cluster of cases of “viral pneumonia of unknown cause” in Wuhan, China. In the past 12 months, numerous companies have made work-from-home a permanent feature. Zoom towns have sprouted up around the nation. Where you work now matters less than how you work: collaboratively, online, agile.

But as much as Covid-19 has changed the staffing landscape, I believe this once-in-a-lifetime event has not been a catalyst, but rather—an accelerant. The changes happening now have been long underway. Three trends stand out leading to what will likely be the biggest challenge for staffing professionals in 2021 and beyond: How fast can we go and make the changes stick!

Flexibility

Long before Covid-19 hit, knowledge workers have expressed a desire to leave the 9-to-5 world behind. According to a 2018 Harvard Business Review study, some 96% of US professionals say they’d like more workplace flexibility — including non-standard hours, work-sharing, remote access, etc. — but only 47% said they actually had it. With that kind of workplace flexibility now a business imperative, look for even more demand for flexibility by employees as well as employers creating more opportunities to meet that demand so they can retain their best talent.

Borderless

Remote work was well underway long before 2020. It’s now on steroids. According to Statista, some 86.5 million people will be freelancing in the US by 2027 — just over half of the entire workforce. Zoom towns in places like Truckee and Mendocino in my home state of California are popping up, changing the relationship between employee and employer. Other states are seeing similar trends. At the same time, tech advances such as freelance management systems (FMS) will make this evolution toward borderless easier. For example, ADP’s subsidiary, WorkMarket, just launched solutions to help companies manage agile talent alongside traditional FTEs. Everyone is looking to respond to the talent revolution and enhance business agility, transparency and speed. Look for more of these platforms in the future.

Human-First

With millennials now a majority in the workforce — and Gen Z just getting started — look for another trend to accelerate: bringing purpose to the forefront.  For younger knowledge workers, it’s not just about a paycheck — it’s about a purpose. As Blackrock CEO Lawrence Fink recently put it: “Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits, but the animating force for achieving them.” Talent was already migrating to employers who did well by doing good. After this pandemic’s wrenching experience and the human toll it took, companies should demonstrate that they genuinely care not just for the single bottom line—but the triple bottom of profit, people, planet. Think more Greta Thunberg — less Gordon Gekko.

PREMIUM CONTENT: Staffing Company 2021 Planning Package

What Does this Mean for Staffing?

What’s the key to holding these Fifth Industrial Revolution forces of high-tech and high-touch together? Adapt quickly and nurture a vibrant company culture. The best place to start? Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in my opinion. People crave employment security, a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, and recognition for a job well done. Meet those needs and you’re on your way to a better culture where employees can be more self-actualized. Not easy in a world where high-touch isn’t always possible, but not impossible either.

My company’s disruptive business model could be a harbinger. For example, our consultants have the security of W2 employee benefits, but also the freedom to consult directly with clients and design their own portfolio of experience. We work to both widen and deepen our culture of inclusion and recognition while also encouraging consultants to embed themselves within their clients’ environments to create impact quickly. Win-win.

Finally, if this January had a Janus face, the one on the left would wear an expression of relief that 2020 is over. The one on the right should be optimistic and hopeful, though. Changes long underway in the staffing industry are becoming reality faster than ever before. We should embrace many of those changes and I look forward to chronicling how staffing can thrive as a force for good in the new economy.