“Liquid workforce” – the name alone is intriguing. This is Accenture’s term for adaptable, change-friendly workers who are so agile and so ready to work beyond their current assignment that they become a competitive advantage for their companies – helping them adapt quickly to market changes.

The liquid workforce is one of five key trends that Accenture identified in its Technology Vision report, subtitled People First: The Primacy of People in a Digital Age. Flexibility is one aspect of that liquid workforce, but so is the relationship between individuals and their companies.

Because technology has so fundamentally transformed every aspect of business – from business models and strategies to processes and job functions – there is tremendous pressure on the workforce to quickly adapt to these evolving demands. For example:

  • Automation. As automation increasingly takes over routine manual tasks, there is greater demand for the skills where humans excel ─ non-routine, interpersonal and analytical jobs.
  • Freelancing. The explosion in freelance work creates the opportunity for companies to leverage a contingent workforce and quickly access a broad range of skills and experience.
  • Training. The pace of change highlights the need for continuous training and skills advancement. It’s a matter of learn or get left behind.
  • Demographics. The increasing dominance of the workforce by “digital natives” (someone born or brought up during the digital technology age) opens the door for companies to fully leverage this demographics technology acumen, digital expertise as well as their aptitude and enthusiasm for teamwork.

It wasn’t so long ago that employees – from accountants to delivery truck drivers – could spend entire careers at the same job, using the same skills to support their organizations’ generally unchanging objectives. There was comfort in stability. That has all changed. Now companies of all sizes are compelled to change their products, services, and sometimes even their business models, often over and over again.

The liquid workforce is anything but stable. As Accenture describes it, organizations “are reshaping themselves to rapidly adapt to any disruption. To compete in today’s market, companies must look beyond simply updating skills. To drive change, they need to become agile at each level of their business. By embedding the assumption of constant change across the enterprise, companies will be able to access critical skills sooner, innovate faster, and operate more effectively.”

In a bold but fascinating prediction, Accenture foresees – within a decade – a new Global 2000-level company structure that has no full-time employees outside the C- suite. This company would be comprised entirely of freelance workers.

In the same vein, the Technology Vision report also predicts that organizational charts will become increasingly meaningless and obsolete, as employees’ skills, focus, and functions will be in constant flux, but with one common constant: the objective of achieving strong outcomes for the company.

Training is critical in a liquid workforce scenario. To seize opportunities quickly, companies must have the right people with the right skills, and if they don’t have them already, they need to assemble them ASAP. For many companies that means thinking ahead and providing continuous training for their people to meet the anticipated business needs.

That training, Accenture says, will take many forms, from massive online open courses to digital training platforms and collaboration tools, combined with predictive workforce analytics aimed at driving better decisions.

“Creating an agile workforce might sound challenging, but the rewards are immense,” Accenture declares. “Once organizations start to harness the power within such a workforce, they will find that they can grow smarter and faster than they ever imagined.”

Do you see a liquid workforce in your future? Let us know what you think.