The future of work includes that growth-minded CEOs who are looking for strategic leadership pivot to the fractional model because it offers the best cost/benefit ratio.
There’s a massive disconnect in the world economy. According to data from the US Chamber of Commerce, in 2021, businesses added nearly four million jobs to the market.
Despite living in a period of expansive job creation, now, fewer Americans are employed in July of 2022 than during early 2020. It’s clear that jobs are out there.
So why aren’t they being filled?
Citing an unprecedented quit rate for the year 2021, experts refer to this mismatch in employment rates as “The Great Resignation” mostly fueled by the covid-19 pandemic.
With the turbulence of the last few years, over 40 million workers quit their jobs in 2021. Interestingly, though the Great Resignation affected workers across demographics and industries, the rates of resignation were highest amongst mid-career employees, suggesting that resignations were tied to frustration, compensation, and burnout, rather than to retirement or the high turnover rates typically associated with younger people.
This data set indicates that, overall, the current imbalanced state of the workforce is tied more to worker satisfaction than to a lack of available jobs.
This is also true on a larger scale. In fact, 54% of the global population reports feeling overworked by their jobs.
At the same time that workers are reporting a lack of satisfaction, the cost of labor is rising due to logics of supply and demand; as the supply of willing workers decreases, the value of a singular worker increases. Therefore, businesses are fighting to find a tight balance between the changing demands of the labor force and their own need to generate profit.
Given that a global majority of workers are dissatisfied with their jobs, compensation, work life balance, and a sense of fulfillment, adapting to this modern employment climate is no longer a choice for businesses.
In order to survive, transformation is a necessity and the competitive advantage that business leaders need to keep top of mind.
But it’s not enough to merely transform; it is critical that any pivots a business makes will support its short-term survival needs as well as its long-term growth potential.
In other words, just because a new strategy is popular does not mean that it will be the right solution for every business in the field.
The turn towards AI, robotics, and automation
Some businesses and industries—such as automatable factories and data processing companies—are incorporating new technologies like AI and machine learning to solve their worker shortages. This transition makes sense for those industries because their long-term growth depends on their ability to support the world’s exponentially increasing data banks or to support quick changes in market trends.
However, not every industry can so easily adapt to a fully automated workforce.
While advances in technology, and specifically AI, can integrate into almost any business model and supplement the output of human workers, they can’t replace the creativity and connection that thrive in any office environment. And, of course, workers are not robots; they’re people who are increasingly demanding flexibility and fulfillment from their jobs.
Luckily, though the pandemic placed significant strain on families and workplaces, it did reveal a possible solution to The Great Resignation. By demonstrating to employers and employees alike that remote or hybrid work is possible—and, in some cases, favorable—the pandemic brought to light the power of flexibility.
In McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey conducted in 2022, data showed that 58% of Americans had the opportunity to work remotely on one or more days per week. In fact, workers highly covet the opportunity to adopt a hybrid or fully remote schedule; the same survey found that 87% of workers will choose a flexible schedule over a typical 9-5, Monday-Friday arrangement.
While it seems that the highest majorities of educators, healthcare workers, and technical workers choose hybrid or remote schedules, the study also found that across “demographics, occupations, and geographies,” flexible schedules are popular.
These statistics, combined with the fact that flexibility ranks as the third-highest priority that workers report when finding a new job, together suggest that in order to fill jobs and find balance in the workforce, every industry should aspire to a flexible future.
One way to do it is by switching towards fractional professionals for specific business functions.
The word “fractional” can get a bad rap. It sometimes carries associations with fragmentation or incompleteness, bringing to mind broken teams or irreducible denominators.
But when imagined optimistically and creatively, “fractional” also implies flexibility and adaptability. It conjures images of newly possible alliances and, therefore, finally accessing untapped creative potential. In short, fractional captures the new needs of today’s modern and changing workplace.
In the last several years, the shift toward flexibility and freelancing has already been underway among employees. Surveys conducted by Upwork and Edelman indicate that in the future, if current trends continue, it is possible that a majority of American workers will incorporate flexible freelance work into their lives and careers.
It makes sense, then, that the next step for truly innovative businesses is to take inspiration from the current movement toward fractional professionals to outsource key areas and add flexibility within the workforce and shift their own leadership systems to the same model.
Current changes in the workforce are global in scope, and worldwide commercial networks are just as fluid. Remote workers are in high-demand and rising.
Shifting to a fractional model for leadership—in which C-Suite level experts ‘freelance’ with businesses on an ad-hoc basis—makes it possible to incorporate greater diversity of thought into any business.
Having decentralized business leaders also transforms the interpersonal dynamics of a workplace from strict hierarchies into collaborative networks.
In a workplace that implements fractional leadership, every employee is empowered to take ownership for their role and responsibilities while earning the flexibility and fulfillment that will allow them to thrive. It’s a win-win for employees and employers and there is no need to return to the office.
Of course, the benefits of fractional leadership are also fully tangible.
For businesses struggling with overhead costs and hiring issues, a fractional approach can cut costs and hiring difficulties while saving time and money. This is because fractional leadership allows leaders to hire for exactly what they need and evaluate or change their strategies as projects develop.
With greater democracy and delegation, fractional leadership teams also bring heightened efficiency and lower overall costs.
The last few years and the great reshuffle have pushed every business leader and worker to change their habits and adapt to new situations. But they have also encouraged the very best and bravest leaders to imagine a new future.
Already, the most innovative businesses are sketching the scaffolds for a more sustainable and dynamic workplace.
Despite their different approaches and aims, one thing is for sure: the future they’re building is fractional.
Joe Frost is a global speaker, thinker & entrepreneur leading the fractional & decentralized leadership model into the future of work.