One of the most important ideas for understanding the future of work is that the unit of analysis will be the task or project rather than the job. In terms of evidence-based management, the key data will focus on tasks and projects, rather than on jobs.
The domain of work and the work relationships HR is dealing with are going to expand to include “alternative work arrangements” well beyond traditional, regular, full-time employment. This is often incorrectly called the “gig economy” and focuses on things like Lyft, TaskRabbit, GitHub, MTurk, etc. The more accurate way to think about it includes contractors, freelancers, volunteers, etc. Such workers, in various forms, will become a more important part of the workforce. The change will be quite significant, even though it will not happen everywhere, and every job is not going to be replaced with gig workers.
Let me give an example of how evidence-based management plays into this issue of alternative work arrangements. Someone might hypothesize that there will be problems with such workers because they will feel exploited. Rather than just assume that’s correct, an evidence-based HR manager would look to see what evidence exists around that hypothesis. It turns out there are studies that found that contractors, for example, can be more engaged than the employees they work with side by side, although it doesn’t happen every time. It seems to come down to whether contractors feel they had a choice in taking on the work or if they feel they are being exploited due to lack of other opportunities. Such evidence will lead to better decisions about where we use alternative work arrangements and how we manage them. Evidence-based HR will play a large role in encouraging these new work arrangements to empower, rather than to exploit, workers.
See Gig Economy Challenges Old Order to read more about employment in the gig economy.
John Boudreau is a professor of management and organization, as well as research director, at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations. This piece was adapted from People + Strategy, the professional journal of HR People + Strategy, SHRM’s executive network.