Transforming Tomorrow: Harnessing the Future of Work

By Yolanda Lau

The future of work unfolds with boundless potential and transformative opportunities awaiting. As we stand on the cusp of exponential change, a new era emerges in which the skills imperative for success diverge from those of the 20th century. The rise of automation, artificial intelligence, and the gig economy is changing how we work. To thrive, companies and individuals must be proactive in preparing themselves for the future of work.

Embracing Automation

The rise of automation is one of the most significant changes in the future of work. Automation encompasses various technological advancements aimed at reducing or replacing human labor with machinery or software — and is expected to reshape almost every industry. Many low-skilled jobs, such as assembly line work or data entry, will likely be automated, leading to a transformation in job roles and skill requirements. Automation isn’t about replacing humans entirely — instead, it’s about augmenting human capabilities and efficiency. Companies must invest in training and development programs to ensure their employees have the skills required to adapt to this evolving landscape. While automation may displace some jobs, it will also create new opportunities for those who can design, build, and manage automated systems.

Integrating Artificial Intelligence

In tandem with automation, artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the future of work. AI technologies — including machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and robotics — are increasingly integrated into various aspects of business operations. While many fear that AI will lead to widespread job loss, the reality is more nuanced. AI has the potential to enhance productivity, streamline processes, and unlock new possibilities. However, individuals who resist or fail to adapt to AI may find themselves at a disadvantage in the job market. Companies must invest in AI education and training to empower their workforce to leverage AI technologies effectively. Every senior executive should be thinking, “How can my team use AI to augment themselves?” By embracing and integrating AI, companies can gain a competitive edge and drive innovation in the evolving landscape of work.

Navigating the Gig Economy

Simultaneously, the gig economy continues to grow, redefining traditional notions of employment. More people are taking side gigs, to hedge against potential layoffs and to sharpen and learn new skills. And more individuals are gravitating towards freelance or contract engagements, thanks to the rise of online platforms facilitating flexible work arrangements. To adapt, companies must embrace the liquid workforce — and learn to cultivate and work with a virtual talent bench engaged in project-based work.

Shifting towards Project-Based Work

The future of work will also see a shift towards project-based work. This trend is driven by the need for agility — and for organizations to constantly be responsive to changing market conditions. Project-based work allows companies to quickly assemble a team of experts with the necessary skills to complete a specific project, rather than maintaining a large permanent workforce. Companies must invest in project management and collaboration tools — and create a documentation-first culture — to ensure that their employees and contract workers can work effectively in project-based teams.

Cultivating Skills and Adaptability

To prepare for the future of work, companies must be proactive in developing their employees’ skills and abilities. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as on-the-job training, online courses, and formal education programs. Companies must also invest in leadership and management development programs to ensure their employees have the leadership skills required to succeed in a rapidly changing workplace.

Individual Agency in Career Development

Individuals must take ownership of their career development and professional growth — honing their skills through lifelong learning and side gigs. By actively cultivating adaptability and resilience, individuals can position themselves as indispensable assets in the dynamic landscape of the future workplace. Individuals must also be proactive in building their personal brand and cultivating professional networks. Today, everyone is a brand — and individuals must curate their online presence and narrative to authentically reflect their values, expertise, and aspirations. Doing this stratgeically can help find uncover new opportunities. When combined with a strong network of weak ties, individuals can leverage diverse connections to achieve their career goals.

The Imperative of Work-Life Fit

The future of work is also likely to see a greater emphasis on work-life balance, or as I prefer to call it, work-life fit. We’re already seeing this with some countries exploring a four-day work week and others have made it illegal for companies to contact employees outside of the workday. Executives, policymakers, and workers are realizing that work-life fit is essential for both individual well-being and organizational success. Companies must adopt flexible work arrangements, offering employees the ability to work from home or on flexible schedules. They must also invest in creating a workplace where mindfulness, compassion, and grace are commonplace.

Take Action to Transform Your Future

The future of work is here — and it’s teeming with promise and transformation. The time for action is now. Whether you’re a company leader or an individual contributor, the future of work awaits. Embrace change, augment yourself, invest in growth, and seize every opportunity that comes your way. Together, we can shape a future where innovation thrives, and success knows no bounds. The journey starts today — let’s make it count.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Scaling Your Flexible On-Demand Workforce

The future of work is now, and it’s more important than ever to develop a modern business strategy that relies on building and scaling your liquid workforce as a critical component of your blended workforce. The pandemic has made it clear that enterprises need to build and develop a flexible, on-demand talent pool to be prepared for changing market demands and trends. In fact, a recent HBS and BCG study found that nearly 90% of business leaders expect that working with on-demand talent will be important to the success of their future strategic initiatives.

But scaling your liquid workforce is easier said than done, especially for companies without the structure or processes in place to develop and manage this at scale.

Scaling Your On-Demand Workforce As A Competitive Advantage

When you’ve built your on-demand workforce in a scalable way that anyone in your organization can access, it is a competitive advantage. Business leaders can quickly find, hire and deploy deeply experienced talent such as consultants, project managers, researchers, or even interim executives to lead or support mission-critical projects.

It becomes possible to deploy temporary resources to strategic initiatives in supply chain, logistics, pricing, operations, product, finance, marketing, strategic planning, digital transformation, R&D, data analytics, or market research — for both high- and low-complexity work — to overcome capability and capacity gaps. This allows for increased speed to market as it becomes easier to find the right people at the right time to help you enter new markets, launch new products or move into new regions.

The rate of innovation is increased and seen through new business models by testing new products and ideas more efficiently without committing internal resources — and by accessing broader talent pools. The increased labor force flexibility allows companies to try new ideas without increasing fixed costs in the form of new full-time employees.

Whether you’re a consumer packaged goods company, a social enterprise, a life sciences conglomerate, a tech startup, a financial services firm, an agency, or any company in any industry, developing and scaling your liquid workforce can help you grow your organization more efficiently.

Understand Your Existing Capabilities

The purpose of the liquid workforce is not to replace all employees with contractors, consultants, and freelancers. The goal is to build an elastic set of skills that can be deployed on-demand whenever and wherever they are needed — and those skills can come from both internal employees as well as external talent.

Begin with building visibility into the skills available both inside and outside your company. This is about more than job titles and salary history — it’s about creating a repository of skills and background knowledge.

Make sure all executives and leaders are aware of all consultants, freelancers, and vendors that all teams have worked with. This kind of holistic and centralized approach to integrating the liquid workforce is important. I’ve seen different teams inside the same company hiring different outside consultants and researchers to achieve similar goals, resulting in 50% to 100% greater costs.

Furthermore, make sure all leaders and managers know what skills are available within the company. Sometimes it may make more sense to pull an existing employee to work on a short-term project rather than hiring external talent.

Find Or Designate An Executive Sponsor

As you may have noticed, companies struggle to develop a flexible, on-demand workforce without a companywide strategy for building a digitally ready liquid workforce. While I believe that human resources departments can spearhead a blended workforce strategy, most companies benefit from having someone at the executive level who can internally advocate for liquid talent as a strategic advantage. From my experience, this person is typically the COO, CFO, or CHRO but can also come from procurement or other teams.

This C-level advocate must believe in the importance of shifting talent strategies to include external talent. They must be passionate that shifting talent strategies is a competitive advantage. But more than that, they must have cross-functional relationships to change how employees perceive external talent, fostering much-needed change.

Integrate An Operational Platform

Managing the on-demand workforce is both like and unlike managing a full-time workforce. To effectively scale an on-demand talent pool, companies must have an operational platform like Liquid (our offering) that will support end-to-end management. This platform is the key to enabling visibility and transparency, which provides a companywide view of all projects, costs, and talent. Plus, an operational platform can help standardize, streamline and automate the core processes involved in managing an on-demand workforce — a critical requirement for successfully scaling.

Embrace The On-Demand Workforce

It’s time to move to a blended workforce and build your on-demand talent pool. A flexible workforce provides the agility that companies need to quickly take advantage of opportunities, grow in new areas and respond to challenges. To compete and thrive in the future of work, engaging the on-demand workforce is no longer optional — it’s essential.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Eight Practices Of Successful COOs

Being the chief operating officer or head of operations is hard work. In many organizations, from tech startups to social enterprises, the COO is the director of “getting everything done.” While COOs need to have strong organizational, analytical and project-management skills to solve problems strategically and create procedures, there’s much more to the job.

Whether you’re a new COO or an experienced VP of operations looking to level up your game, you’ve come to the right place.

The following are eight things successful operations leaders do:

1. Build COO-CEO partnership and alignment.

The COO role is unique at every company and depends on company specifics and the CEO’s needs. Align with the CEO early and often on what you can take off their plate. This might be a mix of company-wide alignment and planning, owning departments or teams and taking on special projects or initiatives. Never forget that the CEO and COO are partners in growing the business together.

In some ways, the COO role is a lot like the chief of staff role — you are a sounding board and thinking partner. Like any meaningful relationship, trust, empathy, and communication are foundational. Building and maintaining trust requires maintaining confidentiality when needed, being transparent with the CEO, and thinking through situations and problems using the lens of what is best for the organization and the CEO. Always own up to any mistakes made and lead with grace and compassion.

2. Develop relationships.

Yes, you need to be intelligent, perceptive, and organized, but operations is also about knowing the right people and getting them together to get stuff done quickly and efficiently. One COO I know told me that the biggest value-add this past year has been running workshops to help people decide what their priorities are — not the analytical bits she was hired for.

Make time to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Adapting your style to what others need allows you to develop more robust relationships with your team and colleagues. Be willing to shift how you talk and act, depending on what is appropriate for that specific person in that particular conversation.

Put the work into understanding the power dynamics and politics in your company. In every organization, there are people who are not necessarily senior in role or title but who are very well respected. These are people you don’t want to overlook — you want them on your side.

3. Develop adaptability, flexibility, and resiliency.

Just as soft skills like resilience and adaptability are essential for the future of work, these same skills are needed to be a high-performing COO. Adaptability fosters creative thinking, which is critical for planning and executing strategic initiatives. Flexibility enables you to quickly pivot to any opportunity or challenge, while resiliency helps you overcome those challenges.

4. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

As a COO or director of operations, your time is limited. Preparation is invaluable. Have a clear plan of what you need to get out of each discussion before going in. Prep your presentations and workshops with as much detail as is practical. The more work you put into clearly understanding what you need out of each meeting or event, the more likely you will get it. And the more efficient you are with each meeting, the more people will know you appreciate their time and, in turn, will appreciate you.

5. Develop a data-driven mindset.

For COOs, a data-driven mindset is essential for tackling day-to-day and strategic decision-making. Successful COOs rely on data and metrics as critical inputs when determining recommendations and decisions. But being data-driven doesn’t mean using any and all data. You need to know which data matters, why, and for what purposes, while being mindful of any data limitations. A data-driven mindset requires open thinking, not rigid thinking — data can yield unexpected possibilities and opportunities but can also leave questions unanswered.

6. Keep it simple.

Don’t overcomplicate things. You may be tempted to demonstrate your intelligence by using fancy words or phrasing things in a complex manner. Instead, make it a point to create simplicity and clarity with straightforward questions, clear reports, simple explanations, easy-to-follow presentations, and uncomplicated plans. The more you can distill complex concepts into something easy to understand, the better. While your work is complex, present it so that anyone can follow along — which will make work more efficient. Simplicity breeds speed, scalability, and success.

7. Build your team.

Like any leadership role, as COO, you’re only as good as your team. But as the future of work evolves, how you build, grow and adapt that team is changing. A 2020 HBS and BCG study surveying business executives found that 90% expect that talent platforms will be critical for their competitive advantage. As COO, you need to draw on the right skills and expertise at the right time — on-demand freelancers and consultants can add and supplement the skills and expertise of your team to accelerate strategic initiatives and ensure success.

8. Don’t forget the strategy.

There is never a lack of high-priority things to get done. It can be too easy to get down into the weeds and neglect the high-level strategy. Spend some time each week thinking about the largest obstacles to the company delivering on its goals — like needing more output from a particular team. While you might not be able to address everything immediately, make sure you’re making significant progress each quarter and over the course of a year.

Take operations leadership to the next level.

Following these eight practices can help you achieve success as COO, regardless of industry. Evaluate to what extent you’ve already adopted these practices and what you can do to continue to improve in each area. You’re no longer just the COO — you are the critical partner in helping to grow and evolve your business.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Six Tips to Build and Integrate Your Flexible, On-Demand Workforce

How we work has changed. The pandemic has accelerated trends already in progress, and it’s become imperative for organizations to develop a flexible, on-demand liquid workforce.

1. Develop a flexible, on-demand workforce as a competitive advantage.

A November 2020 HBS and BCG study of leaders and executives reveals insight into how companies are changing how they think about their workforce. A growing number of organizations are shifting their talent model to a blend of full-time employees and freelance workers as a future competitive advantage. Nearly 90% of respondents expected working with on-demand platforms for premium talent to be critical to the success of their strategic initiatives in the future.

More than half of leaders responding to the same study said they expect their full-time workforce in the future to be much smaller than their current one, and the same number said they would increasingly prefer to rent, borrow or share talent with other companies.

Executives and leaders agree that the future of work requires embracing a modern business strategy that includes working with on-demand consultants and advisors.

2. Change work definitions to be project-based.

A flexible, on-demand workforce cannot function if leaders don’t get better at planning and defining the work itself. The risk of redundancies, missed handoffs and other unforced errors only grows when some or most of the team responsible for delivering work includes freelancers, consultants, and contractors.

This starts by training employees to ask the right questions to get to the right level of clarity and detail about what needs to be done. Use this input to clearly define the scope into discrete pieces of work with finite milestones for external talent. Ambiguity and shifting goals can quickly escalate costs and reduce effectiveness when working with the on-demand workforce.

3. Create an integrated approach for the liquid workforce.

At most companies, consultants and vendors are kept isolated from the inner workings of the company as much as possible. Executing work across cross-functional teams has always been challenging. These issues can be magnified when working with external talent without an integrated mindset and approach. All workers — employees as well as freelancers, consultants, contractors, and vendors — need to understand the overall goals of work. They must also have visibility into pre-existing and ongoing work that informs the work at hand. Keeping the liquid workforce siloed can duplicate work and increase the time and cost for completing work.

Truly confidential and sensitive information should be protected with many internal safeguards. And it’s essential to have every external worker and employee sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or, as we use in our company, a confidential information and invention assignment agreement (CIIA) before work begins. But while it is necessary to keep strictly confidential information safe, it’s paramount to also provide access to the data, information, and people needed to get projects done quickly and efficiently.

4. Define new processes and guidelines.

At some companies, consultants, freelancers, and vendors are subject to rigorous scrutiny, including background checks. Some may have master services agreements (MSAs) or independent contractor agreements (ICAs) or similar contracts in place. But in all too many companies, external workers are governed on a case-by-case basis at best — or with verbal agreements at worst. This puts undue stress on hiring managers and workers, as well as the legal, finance, procurement and HR teams who share the burden of compliance.

Make sure to get fully signed and executed MSAs/ICAs along with NDAs/CIIAs and clearly defined work orders before work begins. This helps to mitigate compliance risk and ensures that work gets done smoothly.

5. Change the culture.

A flexible, on-demand workforce is disruptive. It’s the future of work. Workers and managers will have to rethink their roles, and some will question — or even resist — change. Great shifts require cultural adaptation.

Executives and employees will need to trust outsiders with information and think about freelancers, consultants, and contractors as more than just people who execute non-strategic work. Leaders will need to be more transparent and better at communicating specific, discrete objectives for the work they need to accomplish. Teams must become adept at working with a revolving set of colleagues, both full-time employees, and on-demand workers. This begins by building the habit of explicitly verbalizing formerly implicit team norms and making progress more transparent for others to track.

6. Build in software that integrates your flexible, on-demand workforce.

Moving to a flexible workforce requires leaders to think very differently about how they integrate outsiders with their most important work. A successful organization must build the capacity and capability to manage the complexity of compliance, payments, and legal agreements across multiple cross-functional teams. Key to building this capability is partnering with a vendor management system (VMS) or freelancer management system (FMS) like Liquid (our offering), WorkMarket, or Coupa with the tools and processes to help.

Using a VMS can help organizations scale and optimize project-based work at a lower cost, with lower risk and greater transparency and visibility. The same HBS and BCG study mentioned above also found that difficulty in onboarding external talent quickly and efficiently is a barrier for companies engaging flexible talent. Automated onboarding is just one of many key benefits of using a VMS or FMS.

Building Your Flexible, On-Demand Workforce

Building and integrating a flexible, on-demand workforce requires rethinking work definitions, integrating external talent, adapting company culture, and enabling via processes and software like a VMS. While these requirements can initially seem daunting, each is critical for companies to engage their on-demand workforce successfully. And flexible, on-demand workforces are increasingly becoming an essential strategic lever for companies. It’s time to embrace the future of work.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Modern Businesses Need Modern Strategy

The future of work is rapidly changing and already impacting businesses today with the growth of the liquid workforce. Companies are also facing ever more complex challenges as we are increasingly globally connected. Modern businesses need a modern business strategy built on strategic and operational agility to thrive and grow, especially in today’s turbulent times. To compete successfully, companies need to iterate rapidly and be opportunistic in their approach.

Developing Strategic And Operational Agility

In Harvard Business Review, Donald Sull, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, wrote, “Business opportunities are not distributed evenly over time. Rather, firms typically face a steady flow of small opportunities, intermittent midsize ones, and periodic golden opportunities to create significant value quickly.” This statement is as true today as when it was first published in 2009 and underlines the importance of strategic and operational agility in any modern business strategy.

Since that time, what has changed for businesses are fundamental shifts in how we work, where we work and what we work on. Covid-19 has rapidly accelerated the shift to remote work, but the future of work is much more than that. Workers, particularly knowledge workers, are increasingly becoming their own bosses. Upwork and the Freelancers Union reported that in 2019, over 57 million people worked as freelancers in the U.S. Similarly, as companies increasingly embrace agile and scrum methodologies, work is becoming more project-based than strictly role-based.

Modern companies dynamically build specialized project teams to tackle different opportunities and challenges. Startups to enterprise-size companies can successfully develop and execute modern business strategy by enabling two key pillars: an agile, flexible workforce and project-based work.

Creating An Agile, Flexible Workforce

As the liquid workforce grows, companies are working with FlexTeam, GLG, Catalant, and other consulting companies or expert marketplaces to develop a blended workforce that consists of a mix of full-time and on-demand (liquid) talent. Human resources leaders are rethinking their approach to building and developing a company’s workforce, shifting to growing a talent-based workforce. With a talent-based mindset, these leaders consider both the near-term and long-term skills and experience needed to support a modern business strategy. The workforce is no longer composed primarily of employees; it’s now an overall talent pool of full-time employees and liquid workers available to tap on demand.

With liquid workers as part of the workforce, companies can nimbly and quickly deploy the right talent to address strategic opportunities and challenges. Knowledge-based workers can swiftly jump in from day one to lead or execute projects. Companies benefit from faster time-to-market for projects and more cost-effectively managing their resources. A blended workforce often yields fresh thinking and new ideas — it can even boost diversity and inclusion for a company.

And while this workforce may be a fluid, yet integral, part of the team, it’s essential to have the right onboarding and processes in place to set up every liquid worker for success. Building strong relationships with your liquid talent is critical for retaining them in your talent network for future engagements.

Shifting To Project-Based Work

Project-based work has long been supported by traditional, big consulting companies. However, working with big consulting companies frequently poses challenges for modern businesses. These companies often move too slowly; the future of work requires modern businesses to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities or resolve challenges. Additionally, consulting companies can be expensive to engage, particularly for smaller companies.

Modern businesses are increasingly relying on liquid talent for project-based work. These knowledge workers can bring a new perspective and deep expertise and can quickly jump in and help these businesses address specific questions, challenges, and opportunities, often through shorter engagements. For example, liquid talent might create competitive or strategic analyses, conduct market research or build financial models. On-demand talent supports all levels of businesses, also serving as consultants and advisors for corporate boards.

The key to engaging liquid talent for high business impact is to focus on answering very specific questions or addressing particular challenges.

Transitioning To Modern Strategy

Competing successfully in an increasingly complex environment requires businesses to be nimble, agile and opportunistic. Building an agile, flexible workforce and shifting to a project-based work mindset are critical. Without these fundamental building blocks of modern strategy, businesses are forever conceding the potential for first-mover advantage. Start taking advantage of the opportunities today and tomorrow by shifting to a modern business strategy approach.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

The Future Of Work Is More Than Remote Work

An Entrepreneurial Workforce

What is the future of work? For many, this idea has become focused solely on shifting to a digital workplace. Covid-19 has caused us all to rethink how and where we work, accelerating the shift to the remote office, but the future of work is so much more than going remote. In my view, the future of work is the liquid workforce where workers are self-employed entrepreneurs.

Companies are increasingly relying on a blended workforce, engaging a mix of full-time and on-demand talent (or liquid workers). This enables companies to smartly and cost-effectively employ the best available talent to meet their skill and work needs at any given time. Liquid talent is being engaged at all levels, even as on-demand consultants and advisors for corporate boards. As the liquid workforce becomes a critical strategic asset for companies, HR leaders are evolving their roles and responsibilities to take charge of leading a blended workforce.

For liquid workers, and particularly knowledge workers, the future of work offers a return to our entrepreneurial roots. Liquid workers can achieve “work-life fit” and gain greater independence and control of their work.

Opportunities For Companies

This shift to the future of work is resulting in challenges and opportunities for companies and for liquid workers.

Shifting to a blended workforce requires companies to rethink their processes and systems. Liquid workers are not employees and need different workflows — for example, think about onboarding. The compliance steps and documents required are distinct for 1099 versus W-2 workers. How you welcome and bring on the liquid talent also needs to be different. Your onboarding needs to enable the flex worker to hit the ground running from the moment they start.

Working with liquid talent is also inherently very fluid, with projects simultaneously starting and ending across a company. It’s essential to have a robust contracting process that you can simply and easily replicate with every new liquid worker. Likewise, you need to have the right financial processes and systems in place to ensure full visibility of liquid worker costs, invoice management and payment. Today, many companies still manage their freelancers and independent consultants using spreadsheets.

Opportunities For Liquid Workers

To fully take advantage of the future of work and maximize talent pools through a blended workforce, we need engaging liquid workers to become as easy and as operationally standardized as it is with full-time employees. It needs to be easy and efficient to source, contract and manage liquid talent.

For individuals, although the idea of being your own boss and having your own company can be exciting, it’s also daunting. Just as with a startup, being a solopreneur can be an uncertain endeavor. It can also be confusing to figure out everything that needs to be done administratively as a self-corporation, particularly in areas such as insurance, disability and professional development that might have been taken for granted when working in a traditional corporate environment. Individuals new to being liquid workers can also find it to be isolating.

Solving The Future Of Work

To shift from the traditional to the future of work, individuals need help to make running their businesses easy and time-efficient. They need support in managing their companies, addressing benefits (such as insurance, access to credit and disability), meeting legal requirements and building human connections (training, coaching, etc.).

The shift of the professional workforce will continue, and the pace is likely to increase. The focus on the rights of liquid workers, such as with California’s AB5 law, is not abating. Managers will need to adapt their people leadership skills to lead, motivate and integrate a blended workforce successfully. But to fully achieve the future of work and realize the true potential of the liquid workforce, we need solutions that will address the barriers that still exist.

Many solutions are under development, but there’s still so much opportunity left to build the capabilities required for the future of work, which include:

  • Helping companies and liquid workers find each other and connect.
  • Making it easy and straightforward for contracts to be executed.
  • Enabling companies and liquid workers to work with each other effectively and efficiently.
  • Simplifying the process of establishing and managing liquid workers’ businesses.
  • Offering options for liquid workers that meet needs for traditional benefits, such as insurance and 401(k)s, professional development and community connections.

Companies and individuals are continuing to shape the evolution toward a more entrepreneurial and independent workforce. Remote work is just one aspect of the future of work. Consider how you can go beyond the integration of remote work and include the future of work in your human resources strategy.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Tackling Diversity And Inclusion: Sponsors, Consultants And Advisors As Part Of Your Strategy

The business case for diversity and inclusion is clear — diversity in thought correlates directly to increased economic output. But without a chief diversity officer or chief diversity and inclusion officer, it falls to HR to lead on diversity and inclusion.

The Business Case For Diversity And Inclusion

There are a multitude of known strategies for improving diversity and inclusion, including creating policies and practices that tackle unconscious bias, improving company culture and securing buy-in for D&I strategies. In addition, I recommend engaging on-demand consultants and advisors as part of your D&I strategy.

McKinsey found that companies with diverse executive teams achieved 53% higher returns on equity than less diverse teams, Similarly, Morgan Stanley found that the share price of companies with more women in their workforce (and in senior positions) outperformed companies with fewer women.

McKinsey also discovered that companies with the most gender-diverse executive teams were 21% more likely to have industry-leading profitability, while companies with ethnically/culturally diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to outperform on profitability. More importantly, McKinsey illustrated the penalty for diversity failure: Companies at the bottom for both gender and ethnic/cultural diversity were 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability.

Complexity Of Implementing D&I Strategies: Tackling Systemic And Structural Issues

Improving diversity and inclusion clearly leads to improved business and economic performance. What’s not as obvious is how to improve diversity and inclusion.

Unconscious Bias Training Isn’t Enough

Diversity and inclusion is complex. Start by objectively defining and measuring diversity and inclusion goals. Given the business case for D&I, all executives should work to increase diversity and foster a culture and environment where every employee feels welcome. Authentically incorporating D&I into your corporate culture is necessary to ensure that your D&I strategy is embraced and successful. This, in turn, helps HR create a recruitment strategy for attracting a more diverse pool of candidates — and build a robust talent pipeline to attract, develop, mentor, retain and sponsor diverse leaders and workers at all levels.

Unconscious bias training makes individuals aware of how stereotypes and biases impact behaviors and decision-making. Training executives and employees to overcome racism, prejudice, bias and discrimination is a start, but it’s not enough. D&I strategies must also tackle systemic and structural issues (SSI) — complex issues that allow biases to persist in the workplace and throughout society.

Sponsorship Programs Are Better Than Mentorship Programs

HR professionals need to ensure that evaluations for hiring and promotions are done by multiple leaders using objective variables, lessening the effects of the systemic bias of preferring to hire people who look similar to themselves. Diverse search and evaluation committees can be helpful, if truly diverse — one token woman, trans, black or brown person doesn’t count.

Sponsorship programs are an effective way to overcome network gaps, another systemic and structural issue that further increases inequality. CNBC reported that up to 80% of jobs are secured by networking. Most people leverage their network (“who they know”) to secure even a first-round interview — and diverse candidates usually have smaller, less powerful networks to leverage.

While mentors serve as advisors who help mentees shape their ambitions and plans, sponsors take a direct role in sponsee advancement. Sponsors are senior-level leaders who advocate for sponsees, helping them earn promotions and raises and get credit for their successes. Sponsors put skin in the game, using their network and connections to advance sponsees via guidance and, crucially, endorsement.

Sponsorship or advocacy programs should contain elements to support the roles and development of both sponsors and sponsees. For example, create structured leadership programs for sponsees and formulate a thoughtful selection process for sponsors, positioning sponsors as agents of D&I change to lead to economic gains. Lastly, build in strategic touchpoints and guidance for sponsor-sponsee interaction.

On-Demand Consultants And Advisors As A Short-Term D&I Strategy

These are just a few D&I strategies that every company should implement today. As Ellen Pao says, we also need more radical solutions to tackle D&I. But these strategies move slowly, and economic gains will take time to manifest.

Melinda Gates founded Equality Can’t Wait on the premise that it’ll take 208 years to achieve gender equality at the current rate. We need to do more to tackle diversity and inclusion — and companies who don’t will stagnate as competitors with clear and effective D&I strategies will increase economic output. Working with diverse on-demand consultants and advisors is an unconventional D&I strategy, but an effective one.

Firms like ours (FlexTeam) and Business Talent Group exist to keep women engaged during the mid-career period when many choose to leave the traditional workforce — a decision often driven by caregiving for children or elderly parents. By reengaging women who have left the traditional workforce, you make a direct impact to keep the workplace more diverse.

A Better Future

But beyond that, corporations that need to move quickly to increase diversity are turning to on-demand workers, consultants and advisors as part of their D&I strategy. These on-demand thought leaders from diverse backgrounds — backgrounds that your company lacks — can tackle high-value projects for your company. By engaging diverse thought leaders to assess and react to technology trends and challenges, your company can start to manifest economic gains from diversity of thought while working on longer-term, wide-ranging D&I strategies.

Diversity and inclusion should be an integral component of your management strategy. Today’s executives and HR leaders need to engage diverse on-demand consultants and advisors as part of a multiprong strategy to tackle the complex, systemic, structural problems at the root of D&I issues.

Are you heading toward stagnating business performance or are you leading your organization toward a better future and improved economic performance?

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Four Tips For Managing Your Liquid Workforce

By Yolanda Lau

We’ve all heard that the “gig economy” is the future of work. Estimates put the number of Americans doing freelance work between 54 million and 90 million. In particular, there’s been an increase in the number of freelance strategy and management consultants, as well as marketplaces and platforms connecting businesses to independent consultants. Boutique sites like SpareHireHourlyNerdMBA and CompanyHillgateToptal Business (formerly Skillbridge) and 79 Studios’ own FlexTeam make top quality consultants more accessible to and affordable for smaller businesses.

The future of work is the liquid workforce, and trends show that it’s imperative for companies to activate this cohort in order to maintain their competitive edge. Managing your liquid workforce — from freelancers to highly specialized on-demand advisors and consultants — is both like and unlike managing your full-time workforce. Overall, much is similar, but the specific strategies and techniques are slightly different.

Having managed hundreds of freelancers, I’ve learned that to successfully grow and manage your liquid workforce, you need to think like both a human resources leader and a finance leader. Once you’ve mastered this, your company will become more agile, and you will accelerate your own career development.

Here are four tips that can help leaders working with the liquid workforce, whether you are managing a few freelancers or hundreds.

1. Developing Your Talent Pool

How can you attract the right freelance talent for your company? In many ways, it’s similar to searching for the right candidate for a full-time position. When hiring an employee, establishing the strengths, experience and skills the right candidate will possess is critical. You also need to assess and evaluate the candidate, along with checking referrals. To source candidates, canvas your network for recommendations and use online portals.

From a tactical perspective, these actions are mostly the same when hiring a freelancer or vendor. The main difference is that instead of posting a job, you will post a request for proposal (RFP).

Your approach to liquid and full-time talent will diverge on strategy for developing those pools. Inherently, your freelance talent is fluid. How often and how long you work with each freelancer will vary. Often, you will want to start freelance work within days — or even hours. What this means is that to fully take advantage of the potential for liquid talent to accelerate your business, you need to approach the development of this talent pool strategically.

Think ahead about the types of skills your business will need over the coming year. Do you already have relationships with freelancers with those skills? If not, consider using smaller trial projects to recruit and vet new freelancers. Keep track of your liquid talent pool in a database or freelancer management system — make it easy to search and find the talent with the right skills and experience.

2. Onboarding And Processes

Just like your company has human resources management systems and processes for managing full-time employees, you need to have the right processes and systems in place to successfully grow and manage your liquid workforce.

A robust onboarding process that includes both automation and customization is just as critical for your freelancers as it is for your employees. The right onboarding process not only gets your project off to the right start, but also ensures your company is compliant with regulations. Make sure your onboarding process includes executing independent contractor agreements and nondisclosure agreements, as well as collecting all the W-9 information your company will need for filing 1099 forms.

Your systems and processes should also make it easy to manage and pay your freelancers. As you grow this team, keeping track of projects and invoices can become complicated and time-consuming very quickly. Plus, as your liquid workforce becomes a critical part of your overall workforce, you need to have robust financial management. Your company needs to not only accurately track payments, but also track cash flow and future expenses for your freelancers. To become an expert manager of your liquid workforce, you have to be more than an HR leader — you have to also be a finance manager with complete control and visibility into current and future expenses.

In my experience, depending upon the number of freelancers you hire, you can easily save 20 or more hours every month by using an FMS instead of manual processes and spreadsheets.

3. Evaluating Your Team

Effectively managing your liquid workforce is about much more than handling RFPs, contracts and invoices. Providing feedback to your freelancers throughout a project is critical to successful project completion and to building long-term relationships — 360-degree feedback matters for freelancers, too, not just employees. Gather feedback from anybody who worked with an individual freelancer. Use the responses to share feedback and to review their performance.

As part of your review, remember to think ahead to potential future projects. What types of projects is this freelancer best suited for? What level of complexity can he/she handle? Keep notes on working style or other factors to help you partner even more successfully on the next project.

4. Retaining Your Freelancers

Like your employees, freelancers want to be valued. Would your employees still want to work for you if they were underpaid? What if you didn’t pay them on time? Are you offering the freelancer routine work, or is it more interesting, challenging and intellectually stimulating? Do you provide positive and constructive feedback? Are you committed to the freelancer’s success and providing support when needed? Think about these factors from the freelancer’s perspective; this will help you build long-term relationships with your liquid workforce.

Don’t forget that for most freelancers, one of the critical benefits of freelancing is flexibility. Make sure you are supporting this and respecting any boundaries set on available hours for communication and meetings.

Beyond Liquid Workforce Leadership

As you develop, manage, evaluate and retain your liquid workforce, you’ll expand your skills as an HR professional and position yourself for executive-level advancement. What’s more, using these tips will help you grow your liquid workforce into a strategic advantage for your company, with agile talent ready to tackle any challenge. You and your company will be ready for the future of work.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.