The end of office culture? The open talent economy is just the beginning

Sheri Brissenden

“What the open source model did for software development, the open talent economy is doing for work.” This is the opening line of a 2013 article by Deloitte. The concept of the open talent economy has been around for a while, so why are we still debating it?

The open talent economy reimagines the recruitment process. While businesses were once limited to hiring employees based within commuting distance of the office, this approach expands hiring to the best candidate wherever they’re based, and irrespective of whether they are full-time, freelance or temporary workers. Employers get the best candidates, clients get the best results and candidates get the best jobs. 

A great life well lived

When I look back at the way work was when I started out, it was all about keeping people in. It was entirely structured, both physically and theoretically. You’d go into a physical office and have an assigned desk. Your career path would be mapped out and you’d be told how you were doing compared to other people. Work was something you did. If you were lucky you enjoyed it. But you did it so you could have a life.

The word “open” is the most exciting thing about the open talent economy. It’s such a departure from what came before. Work now has the potential to be a fantastic part of your life, not just a means to the rest of your life. 

Employees are empowered to find a work-life balance that works for them and take ownership of their career, choosing projects that suit their values, build their skills, and fit around their life. Life decisions no longer have to be career altering; moving to a new country or scaling back hours to accommodate family don’t have to be synonymous with getting a new job. 

More than just a cost

Part of the challenge for employers is to change the way they view talent from a cost perspective. Whether you’re paying salaries, bonuses and benefits for permanent employees or fixed costs for freelancers, it’s vital to see talent as an investment. 

A happy workforce generally means lower staff turnover, which has tangible business benefits. Research shows that replacing an employee costs six to nine months’ salary on average, or up to 213% annual salary for executive positions. That’s anything from £3,000 to £200,000 or more. Investing in the happiness of your employees is an investment in the future of your business.

For The Frameworks, the pandemic was a catalyst because it really showed us that location doesn’t matter. When we needed to hire an employee in North America, I advertised in places like Detroit and New York but ended up hiring someone in Wyoming. She’s since moved to Chicago. Her location has made no difference to the high quality of her work, and she fits in wonderfully with our team despite being nearly 4,000 miles from our HQ. 

People not buildings

Opening up the hiring process to people no matter where they are based can remove the need for large office spaces. The disappearance of a central base can be daunting; we’ve always valued the buzz and banter of office life at The Frameworks. But we’ve learned over the last couple of years that office culture isn’t rooted in a physical thing. It’s about the people and the ethos of the company. When we work remotely, each home setting becomes a little pocket of the wider company culture.  

Onboarding new hires can be challenging. We have found that, because we operate an online-first approach to working, and use tools such as Zoom, Slack and Miro every day, when new hires join they feel immediately integrated whether they are in-person or remote. We assign all new hires a “buddy” and prioritise ensuring they meet all the teams. We haven’t set any rules around coming into the office, but people generally choose to come in once or twice a week if they can because they appreciate working together physically. Our new hires slot easily into this, and it means there’s always someone there to meet them.  

The high level of integration between our teams is the key for us. One of the ways we cement this is by ensuring that all team members involved in a project are included from the start, not brought in just when their input is required. This level of understanding means we are truly one team; it keeps our culture alive and produces great work for our clients too. We also have monthly socials that are valuable for getting together and strengthening our bonds. 

Ultimately, the open talent economy can’t end office culture because that culture was only ever about people. If a company’s culture is so reliant on a building that losing it will cause it to crumble down, there’s an argument that it wasn’t robust enough to begin with. For me, culture has always been front of mind in the hiring process; is the person right for the company and is the company right for the person? 

The Frameworks has embraced the culture of working beyond the boundaries of the M25; our employees in Devon, Chicago and Valencia are just as integral to our business as those in London. I’m confident that, so long as we keep hiring the right people, our culture will thrive. There’s no debate for me.

A version of this article previously appeared on HR News in October 2022.