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The unbundling of work - From centralised nodes to networked relationships.

Are we seeing the final unbundling of work?

Whilst the long tail of interconnected businesses who work together to bring us goods and services is not a new concept - each link in that chain, each supplier or provider, was in most ways encapsulated - the farmer owns the land and cattle, the mill owned the equipment and employees, the agency buys the laptops and hires the staff. Each unit would be a self-contained creator of something.

But we're increasingly seeing a shift further away from centralised ownership to decentralised coordination, reflected more and more in not just the progressive businesses, but also in the mainstream.

Employees are no longer tethered to a physical workplace.

People are no longer exclusive to a single employer.

Working hours are no longer fixed to the 9-5/M-F.

Employers are no longer restricted by a finite talent pool or obligation to provide work.

Workspaces no longer have a single occupant.

Teams no longer need to have a consistent shape over time.

Clients no longer need to be tied in to exclusive partners, or a single relationship to source their specialists.

The bundle of employer, employees, space, capabilities and relationships have shattered apart - and a new range of operating models, systems, platforms, opportunities and challenges have rushed in to fill the gaps.

And we're all feeling the growing pains - or at the very least, questioning how to adjust and redesign for what unbundled work looks like.

For freelancers, it feels like a huge new opportunity - a new openness to discovering and working with people who aren't already part of the team, means more businesses are investing in finding ways to build new extended workforces.

For businesses, it feels like a huge challenge, and without an active design process to pause and ask: "What does the new shape of our workforce look like, and how do we work best with them?", the old models will be applied to the new models, and most likely fail - or at best, be harder work for poorer outcomes.

The unbundling of work means that where the cohesion and strength sits moves away from the elements in the supply chain, the entities, the organisations, the agencies, the employers - towards the connections, the networks. We need thicker, smarter, stronger well designed relationships, not just strong nodes.

We'll increasingly see services which offer these connections between nodes in the network - coworking spaces are places to assemble, talent platforms are ways to grow networks, communities are ways to strengthen those networks, and the emerging roles of people who help develop a strategy for designing and leveraging these networks - the space which I'm inhabiting.

These networks take time to build, grow, develop and activate. You can't turn it on overnight. It requires proactive investment and nurturing. The businesses who saw this happening three years ago, are having successes now. 

The unbundling is happening, whether you're engaged with it or not - and the organisations who don't take stock of what it means for their ways of working and total workforce, will find themselves even less able function in the next three years.

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