How Organizations Can Become Project-Based In The Future Of Work

The nature of work is changing: Companies are increasingly thinking of work as project-based rather than role-based. We’re moving toward a project-based economy, and this shift toward the future of work is accelerating due to the pandemic. The more you can think of work as project-based versus role-based, the more agile your team and organization will be.

What Is Project-Based Work?

Project-based work has clear goals, milestones, and deliverables, and a defined start and end date. Projects may take hours or months or longer — the duration varies with every project and business need. But the work is aligned against business needs and objectives, not specific roles.

The Benefits Of Project-Based Work

As business leaders, we all want our teams to be agile and nimble, and embracing a project-based work mindset helps you increase speed and agility. A recent MIT and Deloitte report found that executives are increasingly thinking of their workforce as an ecosystem — drawing on the diverse skill sets of their universes of full-time workers and freelancers to meet business challenges.

With a project-based approach, you can innovate faster, quickly pulling skills internally and externally as needed. You can also operate more efficiently, dialing up and down skill-based resources by drawing on your workforce ecosystem.

How To Shift From A Role-Based To A Project-Based Organization

So, increasing agility, innovating more quickly, operating more efficiently, etc. — it all sounds ideal, but how do you evolve from a traditional, role-based organization to one that is project-based? There are a few critical steps to support success in this journey.

1. Change work definitions: First, you have to redefine the work. And this is an ongoing effort, not a one-time fix. Consider your immediate, short-term, and long-term objectives. How do you define these objectives in terms of projects? What skill sets do these projects need? Consider how your current workforce maps against these opportunities. Which skills do you need to source from freelancers and contractors? By developing what Deloitte calls “an adaptable network of teams,” you can build the flexible organization you need. Using a consulting firm that is experienced in project-based work can help you shift away from role-based work.

2. Focus on planning: For this model to work well, you must put an ongoing emphasis on planning. One of the advantages of working with on-demand talent is that you can pull in resources at short notice. However, when shifting to an overall project-based work approach, you need to plan ahead and have a project road map. Your road map will continually evolve to adapt to business strategy and needs, but you should always be thinking about the next project(s), particularly for your full-time employees.

3. Evaluate your processes: A flexible, on-demand workforce will not function well without robust processes and communications. The probability of redundancies, missed handoffs and other unforced errors will only increase when some or most of the team delivering the work includes freelancers, contractors, and consultants. Also, consider how you can improve the connections and communications with your team.

4. Build your talent bench: As you map the skills of your full-time employees against project-based work, you’ll find areas where you may need additional resources or different skill sets. Developing a bench of external talent makes it easy to pull in the right skill sets when and where you need them. I’ve shared my tips for building and integrating your on-demand workforce — this advice can help you scale your flexible workforce.

5. Hire and train for critical thinking skills: Soft skills, like adaptability and self-motivation, are essential in the future of work. Critical thinking is one of the keys to success with project-based work. Asking the right questions is critical. Employees and freelancers need to ensure they have the right level of clarity and detail so costs and effectiveness aren’t compromised.

Project-Based Work Is The Future Of Work

Not only how we work is shifting toward project-based work, but also how we hire team members and promote our own experiences. In the future of work, roles and buzzword-filled online profiles will become less important while project-based identities become more meaningful.

A project-based work model can help your team be more nimble and innovative. It’s time to start thinking about your team’s skill ecosystem and how you can organize and deliver in a project-based environment.

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.

Secrets Of Developing A Digitally Ready Workforce

Before 2020 started, remote and virtual work had already grown 159% since 2005. This growth has been driven in part by the rise of the liquid workforce. Freelancers and independent consultants have long been shaping the future of work and making a digitally ready and virtual workforce a reality.

The work that we do and how we do it is also transforming. The World Economic Forum has predicted that over the next 10 years, digital skills will be required for 9 out of 10 jobs, and automation will change 5 out of 10 jobs. Freelancers are also at the forefront of this skills transformation.

Rethinking The Workforce

The current environment is rapidly accelerating these trends. So how can we develop a digitally ready workforce that can scale and grow a business? Insights from working with executive-level freelancers and consultants can help provide the answers.

The liquid workforce has steadily grown over the last decade, with over 57 million people freelancing in the US last year. This growth has been driven in part by the shift to more project-based workflows in companies. One of the fastest-growing segments of the gig economy is knowledge workers due to the demand for a digitally ready workforce. Knowledge workers serve as on-demand consultants and advisors, helping companies to take advantage of business and technology trends.

Redesigning Work Styles And Workspaces

Increasingly, companies are moving toward a blended workforce, with a strategic talent pool of full-time workers for long-term needs and liquid workers for dynamic, short-term needs. This strategic approach increases flexibility, agility and diversity while fluidly scaling digital readiness.

The events of 2020 are likely to result in fundamental changes to our workspaces, accelerating the shift to virtual and flexible work and making it increasingly important to communicate effectively with fewer meetings. The new digital workspace will require managers to embrace flexibility and autonomy. Freelancers have learned how to build trust virtually. A key enabler to building that trust is having shared, clear goals and objectives. Combined with proactive, open and transparent communication through modern communication channels, freelancers can establish effective working relationships despite never interacting in-person.

Developing An Agile Mindset

The accelerated shift to digital and virtual interaction in our workspaces will put pressure on soft skills, with communication, collaboration and emotional intelligence all increasingly essential. The importance of emotional intelligence, also referred to as EQ, is often underestimated but is directly related to not only great leadership, but also the ability to learn from experiences. We all need to learn to adapt our work styles to match the fluidity of our workspace with a more versatile approach. For example, we need to easily pivot between multiple internal communication channels, adapting our communication style and tone to each for effective virtual and in-real-life collaboration.

Core to any digitally ready workforce is the ability to handle and seek change. Individuals need to be agile, flexible, and willing to learn. Successful freelancers are entrepreneurs and, as such, must be nimble, ready to take risks, and look for opportunities. These freelancers are curious and take the initiative to continue to advance their knowledge and skills. When hiring freelancers, you can use trial projects to gauge fit. Similarly, you can task employees with small projects to assess their agile potential.

Investing In Continuous Learning

To develop the necessary agile mindset, individuals must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. According to research by McKinsey, the key traits to seek among individuals are the ability to handle ambiguity, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Agile thinkers embrace change and adaptability and strive to keep improving their skills and knowledge.

Successful freelancers continually assess and develop their skills, following personalized pathways of development. Seventy-eight percent of freelancers surveyed by Upwork responded that soft skills were at least equally important as technical skills to their success. These development pathways are pursued by combining online courses, mentoring, coaching, and experiential learning. For freelancers, proficiency in using collaboration and productivity tools is a minimum standard to achieve. They also require strong technical skills in their areas of specialty, combined with cognitive and soft skills.

Developing a digitally ready workforce requires assessing your company’s current talent in terms of both hard and soft skills. You also need to understand their passion for learning and curiosity — key traits that the best freelancers share. Support continuous, ongoing learning within your team, and help individuals develop the best personal learning pathway. Developing digitally ready talent isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey.

Identifying and developing digitally ready talent sets the foundation for an agile business that is ready to adapt and scale. While half of jobs may change due to automation, creative and critical thinking, thoughtful communication skills and emotional intelligence will be essential strengths to develop, regardless of how technology evolves over the next decade and beyond.

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.

Clearing The Calendar: How To Identify And Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

It isn’t easy to be working at full brain capacity with so much going on in the world. These are unprecedented, tumultuous times. It’s important to give your team the mental and emotional space that they need right now, as it is more important than ever to bring emotions to the workplace. Helping your team adjust to remote work by reducing the number of conference calls can also help to improve morale — and productivity levels.

Too Many Conference Calls

These days, work feels like going from one videoconference call to the next. Scheduling conference calls or meetings often feels like the simplest way to tackle business issues. Want to brainstorm ideas? Let’s hop on Zoom! Not sure which action items to work on? Let’s jump on Meet! Need a status update from your team? Time for a conference call! Unclear about what the project scope is? Let’s schedule a meeting!

Does this sound like your team? There is a time and a place for a videoconference call or meeting, but in the age of remote work, I’m hearing that many workers feel overwhelmed with conference calls. The future of work has accelerated, and millions of Americans are adjusting to working from home. Many team leaders are managing remote workers for the first time. In turn, a number of managers have asked me for advice on reducing the number of meetings so their team can spend more time working, instead of talking at each other.

Replace Conference Calls With Concise Written Communication

With remote work, clear and concise written communication becomes essential. In many cases, you can replace large conference calls with brief but comprehensive documentation or succinct memos with detailed appendices. If your team struggles with writing clearly, start with small adjustments to give workers time to learn and adapt.

Keep in mind that clear written communication is a sign of clarity of thought. Writing a detailed memo requires better thought and understanding of what is important and how things are related. When your team members have clarity of thought, it’s easier to rally your team around a common goal. Your employees will be thankful for fewer meetings, and your team will be more closely aligned on goals, project plans, strategies, and processes.

Consider this: Jeff Bezos has said that in meetings of Amazon’s executive team, before any discussion, everyone sits in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed narrative memos. These carefully crafted and edited memos allow the team to spend the meeting having more in-depth discussions — they make the meetings more productive. Bezos shared his tips for writing memos in an annual shareholders letter.

Other Alternatives

In other cases, you could replace your conference call with an email, Slack message, or an @ mention in your team’s project management software. Sometimes, it’s best to plan a solo brainstorming session to clarify your ideas before writing them down to share. Personally, I find that I do my best brainstorming while walking outside, getting some fresh air.

How To Decide Whether To Schedule That Next Meeting

Ask yourself these questions to help with your decision-making process for scheduling meetings.

Do I know why I want to schedule a meeting?
It’s tempting to schedule a conference call when you don’t know what to do on a project — it provides an illusion of progress. But if you’ve already had a meeting to plan and structure the work, spend some solo time thinking strategically. Evaluate the scope of work and the current progress toward milestones, and you should be able to start figuring out your action items and other progress that must happen. Then, ask yourself the next question.

Do I need input from colleagues?
Now that you’ve figured out the action items, you may find that you don’t need outside input. When this is the case, get to work instead of scheduling a meeting — at this point, that would be an inefficient use of your team’s time. On the other hand, if you need your team to provide feedback or answer questions before getting to work, move on to the next question.

Is a real-time conversation necessary to move the project forward?
If you need some feedback or additional information from your team, ask yourself whether you need a real-time convo. If not, you may be able to communicate over email or an instant messenger or group chat (I use Slack with my teams). In some cases, asking for clarification directly in your team’s project management software may be the best course of action. The more you allow your team to work asynchronously, versus in synchronous calls or meetings, the more chunks of time your team will have to focus on deep work. But if your specific questions do require a real-time conversation, then you may need to schedule a conference call or meeting.

Do you really need a face-to-face meeting versus a conference call?
I recommend videoconference calls versus audio-only conference calls. The addition of video makes conversations more effective because of visual cues — participants can read body language and easily know who is speaking. If it’s a quick question with only one person you know well, a phone call is probably best. But if it requires more discussion, schedule a videoconference call.

Spend an adequate amount of time preparing for the videoconference call to make it as efficient and productive as possible. Write down goals for the videoconference and desired outcomes, and prep and send out materials in advance.

In some cases, you must communicate face to face and in person. We won’t be able to cancel all meetings, but we can do our best to make the most of them.

Hopefully, with these questions in mind, you’ll be able to reduce the number of conference calls and meetings your team has to attend while increasing your team’s productivity (and morale).

This article was originally published in Forbes.

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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.