Accenture Technology Vision 2016 reveals that a liquid workforce of flexible, multiskilled people is an increasingly prized resource.

The term “liquid workforce” is beautifully evocative.  It can conjure an image of Salvador Dali ‘s painting “Persistence of Memory,” with the iconic melted timepiece and animal carcass saddled with a watch. Or it brings to mind the shape-shifting characters of science fiction who easily move through the tiny space between the floor and door. These subjects share an easy ability to adapt to changing conditions; boundaries don’t count.

In point of fact, native adaptability has moved beyond the realm of art and entertainment to become a highly prized trait in today’s workforce.  The speed of change brings new demands on traditional organizations, just as it does on new ones, and a workforce that can respond well to different needs as they arise is a huge advantage for any organization.

At most companies right now, work remains siloed, with employees usually aligned by business function and with low levels of collaboration.  Employees get training on an ad-hoc basis to use specific tools and technology in which the company is already invested. These workplaces foster little collaboration and no organized innovation. They are just not set up for fast response and creative action, so they are vulnerable to more nimble competitors.

The workforce of the future will be set up for change and should be a far more interesting place in which to work. It will replace silos with working groups that come together for a particular project, and these groups will emphasize collaboration, agility and sharing skills and training.  This environment will encourage workers will feel empowered and to innovate.  And organizations will use their extensive workplace data for predictive analysis to find the best way to deploy people.

With constant change a given, the composition of the workforce will become more fluid. Businesses will reach out for fresh ideas and fresh skills and bring on external talent through formal contractors and platforms.

So where are we on this journey toward a liquid workforce? Accenture surveyed 3,100 business and technology executives around the world to learn how technology is affecting their organization and found—not surprisingly—that the future already has begun.  Disruptive technology and the disruptive businesses it spawns are squarely on the radar of executives, even in industries not yet touched by major innovation.

The pool of available workers has been shifting, too, with millennials—the generation of digital natives raised on technology and change—now exceeding Gen- X’ers as the most prevalent largest generation within the workforce. Meanwhile, the US freelance workforce, put at 3.2 million now, is expected to double by 2020, reaching 7.6 million, according to Intuit. Traditional roles and org charts are vanishing, and within 10 years, we could see companies with no full-time employees outside of the C-suite.

When a business is pushed to change products, services and even business models, it needs a liquid workforce that can quickly respond.  No wonder executives in the Accenture Technology Vision 2016 study valued “deep expertise for the specialized task at hand” as only the fifth most important characteristic, behind others such as “ability to quickly learn,” “ability to multitask” and “willingness to embrace change.”

The liquid workforce is one of the five major technology trends identified in Accenture Technology Vision 2016. The report provides a plethora of practical information about the demands and solutions that accompany advancing technology, and different ways organizations are handling them.

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