May 5, 2022

Increasing productivity from the human cloud

CEO of Open Assembly and Vistage Speaker, Barry Matthews, is no stranger to the gig economy. In his own business, he helps global enterprises to digitally transform access to talent. His wife is also a big user of the gig economy, so she helps to bring the concept to life. 

Barry is confident that gig economy talent models are increasingly relevant to businesses of all types and sizes. In a recent Vistage webinar, he demonstrated how such models can be used to improve both business and personal productivity. Here’s how.  


Employing the smartest people in the world

“No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. So said Bill Joy, Co-Founder of Sun Microsystems. Barry’s take on this is slightly different. 

“No matter who you are, many of the smartest people in the world are available on-demand and able to work for you right now”, he says. 


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The way we work has changed beyond recognition in the last two years. “Work is no longer somewhere we go, it’s something we do”, says Barry. 

He compares the way that we access skills and talent to how Amazon has changed retail. “If you want to buy anything you go onto Amazon, look for it and have it immediately delivered to your door. We can access skills and talent in the same way. Whether we want a software developer, data scientist, graphic designer, there are people we can tap into remotely right now - if we know where to look.”

The B2B human cloud - the pool of human talent available and accessible through digital platforms - is currently worth $10 billion globally. But with a 20% compound annual growth rate, it’s becoming ever more important. 


A “digital freelance revolution”

Barry firmly believes that a flexible, freelance employment model will be the predominant model for knowledge work over the next five years. 

Between 2020 and 2021, freelancing grew by 34%. Nearly 90% of business leaders see talent platforms as vital for their competitive advantage. Meanwhile, one keynote speaker at the Collaboration in the Gig Economy conference suggested that we are only 2-5 years away from a point where most of the workforce is non-employee”. 

“For some sectors, like technology, it’s predicted to be the predominant employment model”, says Barry. He cites examples from some of the major talent platforms. Upwork, for example, delivers $3bn of work to 475k clients per year. Freelancer has 58 million registered users. Fiverr has 500 categories of work available. 

They attract a wide variety of workers: from full-time workers who answer customer queries for another business in their spare time, to those who have lost their jobs due to COVID and relish the fact that they can choose their own working hours and projects. 


The three main open talent models

There are three main models when it comes to finding and hiring open talent

  1. The internal talent marketplace: Using gig economy technologies and models for internal employees to improve internal mobility. “This allows you to match skills, rather than job roles, with client needs”, says Barry. 
  2. The external talent cloud: Being able to find skills from the cloud as part of the gig economy
  3. The open innovation platform: Using a crowd of clients, suppliers and/or employees to provide innovation ideas for your business via a digital platform. “This fundamentally changes the client-supplier dynamic”, says Barry. 


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There are various ways to access open talent. “There are about 350 different open talent platforms out there”, says Barry. “The key is to understand when to use one versus another. It’s important to research how they work, how much they charge, how they approach contracts and compliance.”


Why have digital platforms become so popular?

Seven of the world’s ten most valuable companies, says Barry, are platform businesses - so the rise of talent platforms is no surprise. He cites eight reasons for their popularity. 

1. Everything on-demand

“We, as consumers, expect everything on-demand. It’s exactly the same in an enterprise”, says Barry. Employers want skills immediately, without the time-consuming processes needed to hire a permanent employee. 


2. Remote working 

“COVID has changed perceptions of what can and can’t be done remotely”, says Barry. By 2025, he says, around 70% of the workforce will be working remotely for at least five days each month. 


3. Talent scarcity

There is an increasing global talent challenge - fuelled in part by the shift to remote working. “By 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people”, says Barry. “Demand for these ways to find talent using different means - like the cloud - is driving supply”. 


4. Automation and re-skilling

As roles are displaced by automation, many workers are thinking about either freelancing or supplementing their income by using a freelance platform.

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“As employers, we all need to consider that our employees may be putting themselves out there on freelance platforms”, says Barry. “While some may embrace this, others may see it as a risk to their IP and confidentiality.”


5. Reducing fixed costs

“If they can move from a fixed cost base to a variable cost base for some skills and just pay for what they use”, says Barry, “that can be very attractive for employers. He cites his own business as an example. There, he uses freelancers for social media, web design and bookkeeping, helping him to manage costs on a variable basis".


6. Business agility

Agile has developed from a software development methodology to a business model. Similarly, the ability to tap into skills via a digital platform for a short time has increased business agility. “You can try things in a very inexpensive way before making significant investment”, says Barry. 


7. Diversity and inclusivity

Human cloud models democratise employment opportunities. They allow talented individuals to apply for and be accepted for work based solely on capability. 

“It’s a model that increases diversity”, says Barry. “Talent is universal, but opportunity hasn’t always been. Now, thanks to digital technology, that’s changing.”


8. Millennials and Gen Zs

By 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials. “These are people that are born digital”, says Barry. “They want to work in a different way - and as employers, we need to understand this.” 

Those coming into the workforce are increasingly thinking digitally, thinking flexibly, thinking remotely. “With talent scarcity such a problem, these demographics will vote with their feet”, he adds.


Is using the gig economy right for me?

In his business, Barry uses a variety of exercises to establish whether the gig economy is the right fit for a company. 

One such exercise is to draw up a heat map of your company: a blueprint of every division. “Are there areas in those functions where you could benefit from additional capacity and capability?” asks Barry. Think about


  • Whether tasks could be delivered into that function remotely
  • Whether training is required - and whether it can be done remotely, if so
  • Internal system access requirements
  • The duration of the task


After answering these questions, Barry suggests places where the company can access the talent in the areas required. 

You’ll find more of these exercises - as well as further information about the topics covered above - in the full webinar, which you can access here


Many thanks go to Barry for his time and advice. If you have business expertise that you’d like to share with others, why not consider becoming a Vistage Chair?


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