Much has been said about why individuals desire greater flexibility at work, far less about what organisations need and want. To investigate this, Odgers Connect – the consulting division of the global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson – recently published its international study of employers’ shifting attitudes to professional support.
Based on interviews conducted by Source Global Research with senior executives at 250 companies in the UK and three other key European markets (Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands), the study found that what organisations prize most highly in employees is flexibility. Indeed, 68% said they need this the most to support their changing business models. The findings strongly suggest that employer demand for independent consultants will rise across all areas of work.
Brexit is likely to prove an opportunity for independent consultants as organisations grapple with tight deadlines and rapid changes. However, there are many other reasons why employers need flexible working too.
Team Structures Are Changing
By employing flexible workers, companies can adapt to changing business models and avoid a traditionally inflexible ‘pyramid’ team approach to projects that is common to management consultancies. The Source research shows that almost half of organisations (48%) cite flexibility as the key reason for selecting an independent consultant over a conventional firm – making this factor more important than price.
Flexible Working Keeps Costs Down
Cost structures of most organisations increasingly rely on access to external support. We found that 38% of employers across all markets chose an independent consultant over a big firm based on cost.
The study also showed that in four out of eight areas of consulting that employers were asked about, independent consultants were rated above large firms and on a par in a further two – making them not only more flexible, but also better.
Organisations Lack Capacity
When companies employ fewer permanent staff to focus on their core needs, this often results in lack of capacity at peak times. More than 40% of the organisations surveyed in the UK say that they have the professional skills they need internally but are simply short of capacity to get everything done.
Flexible Workers Can Be Specialists
Expertise remains important to employers, with 29% citing a need for flexible workers in areas such as technology and compliance. However, independent consultants are highly rated for the quality of their work, particularly in specialist areas. Almost a third of organisations said they expect to increase their use of independent consultants in areas like data analytics and digital technology as well as in regulatory work. These areas are traditionally seen as a reliable source of income by the biggest management consulting firms.
The Challenge of Employing a Flexible Workforce
In spite of all of the benefits, the employers surveyed say their main reservation about making use of flexible working, independent consultants is the challenge of finding the right people. Most currently use personal connections and recommendations from trusted peers. Although, Source notes that with demand growing rapidly this will soon become unsustainable. Employers expect robust assessment to assist with recruitment, and guarantee quality, particularly in areas like digital and data analytics. Watch the space on this one – unless an independent consultant could advise?
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