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4 Key Takeaways From the Work Without Limits Executive Summit

Originally published July 31, 2019, by Amy Sept

Companies need a strategy to access the skills and talent they need in order to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To discuss what that strategy might look like, top leaders and visionaries were in Chicago, IL, this week for the third annual Work Without Limits™ Executive Summit.

“When change happens you have two attitudes you can adopt. One is you embrace the change and you will thrive. Or you may resist the change. Every single Fortune 500 company that has disappeared from the [Fortune 500] list falls in the second bucket.” —Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork

As Lisa Bodell of FutureThink observed in her opening session, the future is about talent. But the way companies find, hire, and engage workers has changed—and most organizations aren’t ready. Steve Hatfield of Deloitte Consulting said 90 percent of companies work with alternative workers, including freelancers and agencies. And yet, the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report found that just 28 percent of executives surveyed feel ready or very ready to capitalize on that workforce.

Sometimes challenges come as much from the need to unlearn traditional mindsets, behaviors, and strategies that have lost their efficacy as they do from learning new things. How can your company break the mold to create an environment that’s ready to adapt? Here are four key themes that emerged during the summit.

1. Provide meaningful work

Every generation wants to do meaningful work. But younger workers are more likely to leave if they don’t get it: millennials and Gen Z are driven to make an impact. As Matthew Mottola, a former freelancer who now works at Microsoft, said: He wants to know the what and the why behind a project, but don’t tell him how to do it—trust that he will get it done.

2. Embrace a distributed mindset

Rather than fixating on where work happens, companies are increasingly moving work to the talent. Distributed team models aren’t just a way to address talent scarcity, they enable the kind of flexibility that’s a priority for many workers: Control over their schedule, where they work, and how they get things done. But it takes purpose, intention, and thoughtfulness to create a truly high-performance remote team.

3. Foster empathy

Younger generations are redefining work, questioning the status quo and influencing change as they move into leadership roles in greater numbers. This can be a source of friction between different generations in the workplace—but it doesn’t have to be. As workforce innovator Sophie Wade pointed out, today’s work environment is unfamiliar to everyone but each of us interprets it according to our own context. When colleagues pause to consider not just what someone feels but why, that empathy can help close gaps and improve understanding so everyone feels heard and supported.

4. Prioritize relearning and reskilling for everyone

If the half-life of a technical skill is now 18 months, what does that mean for a career that might span 50 or 60 years? Freelancers are more likely to reskill than non-freelancers, it’s part of their strategy to stay relevant. But as new roles come together that rely on skills that may or may not exist today, lifelong education will become a priority for everyone. Rethinking how we learn and acquire new skills—both individually and collectively—is a critically important challenge for companies that has implications for both performance and innovation.

The future is here…and it’s bright

The future isn’t defined for us; it’s up to us to take command and drive change. What can your organization do differently? Stay tuned for additional articles with insights from the Summit.

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