In our post-COVID moment, we are quite possibly staring down the barrel of what some experts believe will be the greatest labour market shake-up of our times: the Great Resignation. The term was first used by Professor Anthony Klotz in 2021, and since then, it’s become one of the most ubiquitous buzzwords in recruitment.
The phrase is self-explanatory; workers have been handing in their notice in record numbers. For HR departments already facing significant talent challenges, this has had serious implications. According to data published by Forbes magazine last year, businesses were already struggling to find the talent they needed, with almost half reporting that they couldn’t fill advertised positions.
However, the Great Resignation isn’t to say that talent is disappearing into some sort of void. Instead, it’s migrating; many of these individuals are abandoning the 9-to-5 to go freelance. Therefore, just as workers are changing up their approach to work, companies need to change up their approach to recruitment. In light of this, I propose an open-source approach to recruitment: open talent.
From the Great Resignation to the Great Migration
The pandemic marked a seismic shift in the HR landscape, granting highly skilled individuals newfound flexibility to explore, travel, prioritise family time, and redress the work-life balance. Now in the wake of return to the office, many of these skilled professionals don’t want to forego their taste of freedom.
Consequently, this has spurred a notable exodus in favour of freelance work. Statistics from Italy demonstrate a significant trend: voluntary resignations reached 777,000 in the initial ten months of 2021, marking an increase of 40,000 compared to two years prior. Concurrently, there was an 18.2% surge in the registration of VAT numbers during the same year. Undoubtedly, a palpable shift is underway.
It would seem here that the term “the Great Resignation” is a little misleading. Critics of Professor Klotz propose that rather than merely resigning, what's unfolding is more aptly termed the Great Migration. Talent hasn't vanished; instead, it has relocated. Those with an optimistic viewpoint might regard this movement not as a loss of talent but as liberation—an emergence of open talent.
Understanding Open Talent
This means like workers themselves, recruiters need to be more agile, flexible, and creative. But how can this be achieved? What strategies can we adopt to weather the storm? As in an industry that’s often at the vanguard of changing markets, it’s often useful to look to tech for inspiration. Here, I propose the notion of “open-source” as a touchstone for change.
Compare open-source software to out-of-the-box programs. While the latter is familiar and convenient for sure, open-source is adaptable and made-to-measure. That’s why the most tech-savvy organisations generally opt for open source, where possible. Instead of looking for off-the-shelf talent solutions, HR departments should embrace the liberation of talent that the Great Resignation has brought. They should seek to adapt, upgrade, and re-write the code, as we do with open-source software.
Employers can harness the flexibility of freelance talent to fine-tune their operations. They can engage experts on a project-by-project basis, customising teams to align with specific objectives and streamlining the hiring process. Simultaneously, this approach caters to the preferences of a new breed of post-pandemic workers. Ultimately, hiring freelance talent might prove to be more productive for both employer and employee alike.
What may have seemed an impossible endeavour to break away from on-site work is now recognised as an achievable goal—completing essential tasks without constant oversight. For employers, the takeaway is clear: assess the situation, analyse the data, and embrace the open talent economy. Highly skilled professionals are actively seeking freedom, flexibility, and a conducive work environment that promotes a balanced life.
A Cut Above Gigging
However, there exists a faction of critics who are sceptical about the opportunities presented by the Great Migration. These critics often leverage the mechanics of the gig economy to support their case, citing insecure contracts as indicative of deteriorating working conditions. Yet, the counterargument here emphasises the fundamental differences between an open talent economy and the gig economy.
The gig economy primarily thrives on transient tasks, characterised by short-term contracts that compel freelancers to shift from one job to another constantly. In this setup, incomes are often insecure and low, mirroring the relatively low skill requirements for the roles. Consequently, there's an ample pool of available workers, alleviating employer concerns about churn. Notable examples include ride-sharing and food delivery.
Undeniably, the gig economy offers certain advantages, catering to individuals seeking flexible schedules, supplemental income, or those with limited skill sets. However, it's crucial to emphasise that an open talent economy operates on an entirely different paradigm.
Open talent comprises highly skilled professionals who opt for freelance work due to the
high demand for their expertise, enabling them to command premium rates compared to traditional employment. Essentially, the supply and demand dynamics of the gig economy are inverted in an open talent framework.
The term "gig economy" often carries negative connotations, unfairly influencing perceptions of freelancing as a whole—a bias that needs reevaluation. If orchestrated effectively, an open talent economy has the potential to cultivate a mutually beneficial recruitment ecosystem. Skilled freelancers wield greater bargaining power, allowing them access to more stimulating projects and enhanced remuneration. Simultaneously, employers stand to benefit from heightened productivity and overall enhanced performance.
Be Open to Change
To make this step change, we must foster a culture that values freelance talent on par
with full-time, on-site employees. This shift is well underway; according to statistics
compiled by Outvise, 50% of hiring leaders stated a greater reliance on freelancers in
2022 compared to the preceding year. However, those who want to stay ahead should accelerate adoption.
While there's a surge in the availability of freelance talent, there remains a journey ahead to fully cultivate the growth potential of an open talent economy. Leadership must recognise the importance of gauging the emotional pulse of their workforce—it's time to tune in and get to grips with the nuances.
This approach doesn’t only benefit workers; we need to do away with the attitude that it’s us merely bending to their will. All told, the conventional office setup isn’t necessarily a hotbed of productivity. Such cultures often breed complacency, where mere physical presence equates to being productive. Frequently, performance is better evaluated based on outcomes rather than mere time spent.
Global business leaders should explore the prospect of engaging freelance talent at scale, fostering a future where freelance opportunities abound. Acknowledging and comprehending the inherent desires for flexibility and freedom represents a way of
addressing employees' reservations regarding on-site work.
Meanwhile, employers can reap the benefits of on-demand, tailor-made teams that get
the job done. The time to embrace open talent is now.
Co-founder and CEO of Outvise, the largest online talent marketplace for Business Tech freelance experts. He is also a member of the Technology and Training. Committee of Fiber Connect Council MENA. Experienced in Management Consulting for telco and media. Prior to founding Outvise, he was working at MTN.