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Welcome to the new age of organisational fluidity

The last three years have seen wholesale and accelerated change in the way technology is deployed to support work, particularly remote work. This largely successful response has left its own legacy. A certain scepticism about non-office working was rapidly dismantled and has been replaced by organisational soul searching for ‘the right’ hybrid work balance. Whatever the answer, working from home and hybrid work are certainly mainstream features today, changing towns and cities, transport systems, and many people’s lives and careers along the way.  

There have been quieter changes, too. Organisations are becoming more fluid, less formal, and more speedily pragmatic in the way they treat technology and teaming. We see this in the way law firms are increasingly driving growth through fee earners who don’t work directly for the firm and are instead contractors or associates working on a firm’s behalf. Or how private equity partners must share data and synchronise across time zones, including when not in the office, or during pinch points, such as deal transactions that won’t wait for office hours. 

This pursuit of fluidity will have far-reaching effects on the way companies source talent, treat data, access applications, and deal with each other. 
Operating softly, globally 
As global trade decouples and reorganises itself in a physical sense, it may be that the next chapter of global business is one defined by ‘soft operations’, where skills, data, code, and talent flow more easily between teams and organisations. Cloud computing encourages and enables new ways to innovate and team, and your IT operating model should reflect the array of different use cases it faces day to day. Data must flow securely and easily within the company, and from the company. Teams must remain productive both inside and outside the borders of the organisation. All of this can be enabled via technology if it’s implemented correctly, but it raises serious questions about traditional IT operating models. 

In these near-future scenarios, organisations will deal not only with hybrid workers, but with workers who could be anywhere, on all kinds of different contracts, using an array of different devices. These workers may be organised in small groups or working alone as specialists. In such a world, data must be safe, but also available, shareable, and retrievable for projects to flourish. Teams are bespoke and change quickly, sometimes on a project-by-project basis. In this context, a key attribute of the successful organisation is the ability to constantly rewire and re-configure itself – to be organisationally fluid. 

Progress through learning 
Organisations will have to answer serious questions along the road to what we might term this ‘fractional’ way of working. For example: how might a private equity firm collaborate with its portfolio companies’ executive teams in a way that balances the governance of its investments against the risk of invalidating its corporate insurances? How do you measure and monitor workforce productivity if work is being done by teams of internal and external contractors, freelancers, and suppliers in mixed locations? What are the implications for HR and finance? What happens to corporate culture? Do you try to control it, or set it free for the next stage of its development? 

In the end, there is no instant switchover for doing business in radically new ways. Fluid working and data sharing will require constant learning about what works and what doesn’t, and the anticipation of unintended consequences. There is far more to learn, for example, about the negative effects of isolation on remote workers and how to develop and train people, now that the physical closeness of the office environment is less common. 

The fractional model can be inefficient too, and significantly increase risks. For instance, a legal firm leveraging freelance fee earners to conduct case work may be acceptable, but when fluidity reaches the stage where key data is being handled by people outside the organisation, the right controls and legal contracts need to be in place, or the organisation may be increasing the risk of operational inefficiencies or IP theft. 

Stick to first principles 
No doubt such changes sound exciting to some. Others may groan at the prospect of more years of upheaval as the borders of traditional ways of working dissolve further. Unfortunately for the second group, it’s clear that we are in an age of constant re-invention. Just look at the ways cloud platforms now refresh services and applications weekly, or even multiple times daily, compared to the annual updates of on-premises systems. 

Encouragingly, amid all this change and re-arrangement, some themes remain constant and true. At Doherty Associates, we live by this: don’t just use technology. Map the technology to what the organisation is trying to do. Making some, or all, of your people just a few percentage points more productive will drive more revenue, and more importantly, gives you the boost you need to pull away from your competitors.  

Contact Doherty Associates here, for a discussion about how your organisation can secure the benefits of the latest industry, technological, and business trends.

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