Jen Snow is A.Team’s CTO in Residence. She is the former CTO of AFWERX, the US Air Force Innovation Wing.
If there's been one universal truth about the world of work post-COVID, it’s this: It's really hard to recruit and retain top talent.
It doesn't matter if it's in government or in the private sector, an organization can have the top labs, the latest technology, the coolest hacker space or innovation hubs, but it won't matter if they don't have access to the right talent. Without it, their ability to compete diminishes exponentially.
Most of the recent conversation has focused on the role of remote and hybrid work. After all, 94% of remote-capable workers want to work remote or hybrid, according to a Gallup poll. According to a recent A.Team survey, nearly half of HR leaders are worried that a return to the office will tank their ability to attract top talent.
If you want to build a team with top tech talent, going remote or hybrid isn’t enough to win the talent war.
As competition for top talent increases, those companies that lack the infrastructure or willingness to embrace hybrid or remote will be at a deficit. They will be limited to the talent that they can hire locally. The pool of potential candidates gets shallow fast. These companies also are more likely to get tunnel vision on projects because their perspective and idea exposure are both limited.
But here’s another truth: If you want to build a team with top tech talent, going remote or hybrid isn’t enough to win the talent war.
The winners of the next five years will be the companies that leverage not just hybrid or remote work options, but another key tool that’s just emerging: just-in-time talent.
What’s just-in-time talent, and why does it matter?
“Just-in-time talent” is a term for the use of highly-skilled contract workers from around the world who can accelerate projects in tangible, meaningful ways. Especially within the complex life cycle of a new technology, just-in-time talent can scale up an engineering team during those crucial moments in the product roadmap when extra firepower is needed.
Big projects are completed in phases and only certain teams are needed for each phase, but an organization often is required to maintain these teams and talent long term. How much ROI is lost on a team that’s on pause between projects or underutilized by a company? What’s the cost in dollars, time, and ideas when a product or engineering team is limited to the narrow set of experiences within one sector? What if that same team had expertise working across five sectors? Can you quantify that value-add?
What if instead of following the traditional workforce development and deployment cycles you could bring in expertise at the right moment, to be phased in and out as needed on each project? That would prevent the team from growing organizationally stale in ideas or exposure. An idea that solved a challenge for a metaverse project may also be equally useful, in a different way, for an insurance, adware, edutainment or telehealth project. In this model, companies can explore problems in new ways, without the help of some big consulting firm.
Just-in-time talent can scale up an engineering team during those crucial moments in the product roadmap when extra firepower is needed.
Decentralized, distributed teams are also great for workers. They allow highly-skilled individuals to come together to work on the projects that matter most to them, with the teammates they enjoy collaborating with and learning from. They can work from anywhere. Once vetted into the talent network, they have their choice of projects, selecting timelines and priorities that best fit their work weeks, skill sets, and pay grades. This model isn’t just possible, it’s already happening.
When Uber, AirBnB, TaskRabbit and others created the sharing economy, many of us were surprised and delighted by their smart, insightful offerings and by their ability to see a need that others had missed. The builder economy will be the next big marketplace for competition and transformation. Those companies that have access to it will excel and those that don’t will find themselves fighting over dwindling access to talent.
Case study: How Lifepoint leveraged just-in-time talent to empower physicians
One of our most respected professions, the practice of medicine, is also one of the most challenging spaces to work in today. In addition to his full-time role as a neurosurgeon at a Denver hospital, Dr. Alex Mason conducted virtual appointments after hours with patients at other hospitals on STeM, one of Lifepoint’s telemedicine platforms. The problem was that every week, Dr. Mason spent an incredible amount of time manually completing the required paperwork for each appointment.
The information sharing solution was siloed and fragmented, resulting in poor communications between Dr. Mason and his colleagues. They got bogged down in multifactor authentication and all the different forms and protocols for each hospital. There was no standardization in how he and his peers completed the necessary reporting and how they engaged with patients. Dr. Mason had a simple goal: to be able to see more patients and to have great autonomy in his after hours telemedicine appointments. But the platform problems held him and his peers back from being able to engage at the level they wanted to.
A problem set like this would likely take months to solve using traditional teams. Instead Lifepoint opted to bring in A.Team for a design execution session. Much like design thinking, which allows ideators and facilitators to work alongside clients to identify pain points, design execution takes the pain points plus the ideas generated in the workshop and goes to work immediately. The team identified which problems they could solve in the near term, which would require a bit more work, and mapped out a strategy to get STeM and Dr. Mason back on track.
An A.Team product manager and a UX expert listened carefully to catalog the challenges. They took two weeks to spec out the necessary solutions while integrating both physician and patient requirements. At the end of two weeks, they had a clickable prototype ready for user testing. From there it would take roughly six weeks to get to a testable solution for Lifepoint’s new specialties-as-a-service STeM physician hub.
This kind of speed to solution is unprecedented in traditional teams. That’s because to get great tech and increased productivity, you need to have top talent to help accelerate your projects. The companies that chose to diversify by tapping into organizations like A.Team will have a unique advantage in that they get to self-assemble highly-skilled technical teams that can supercharge in-house teams when needed or can execute independently to get products to market faster.
On-call dream teams
Just-in-time platforms like A.Team can provide access to a dream team at the precise moment when they are most needed. In military terms we call this the Mass Effect: When a commander can synchronize all the necessary elements to produce a decisive effect granting a distinct advantage over their adversary. In business, this would be that rare unicorn known as a Strategic Competitive Advantage. Companies now have access to external top talent with cross-cutting, multi-sector expertise that allows them to accelerate solution development, deployment and increase overall organizational productivity in ways that their competition can’t match.
Talent will make or break the future of today’s companies. Those that embrace the new workplace realities will, like a smart commander, be looking ahead for any advantage to secure their wins—including access to just-in-time talent resources.