Pop goes the workplace: The rise of flash organizations

Posted On July 28, 2017

You know all about startups. But have you heard about pop-ups?

In an economy where layoffs and job insecurity are becoming the norm and employers are trying to do more with less, pop-up employment or “flash organizations” may be an emerging trend in certain industries.

Flash organizations are loosely knit teams of freelancers, often who have not even met each other, assembled to work on a single, complex project and disbanded when the job is done.

Citing a pair of Stanford University professors who have studied the phenomenon – and who coined the term “flash organizations” — the New York Times noted that such working groups make sense in industries like software development and pharmaceuticals, where the success of one or two major projects can fuel a company’s bottom line for the entire year.

The Times draws the parallel to Hollywood, where actors, directors, makeup artists, set designers and technical people are brought together to create a film.  Sometimes you get “American Beauty” or “A Few Good Men.” Sometimes you get “Howard the Duck.”

Along with the understanding that they only make sense for certain types of project-based industries, the Times notes three key factors to making a flash organization work effectively: a reliance on data and computing power, the establishment of clearly defined roles, and – believe it or not – middle management. For a collection of people who don’t know each other and are working remotely on the same project, clear direction is paramount.

We have seen components of this phenomenon already with outsourcing and contract work. Technology has made it easier to train and direct teams of workers located in different places. Many companies already allow their employees to work remotely. It’s a short jump to shift toward hiring remote workers per project and saving the overhead of having them on full-time staff.

What does all this mean for workers? More uncertainty. Should certain industries move more toward the use of freelance labor as opposed to full-time employees, those workers would be on their own with things like health insurance and retirement benefits – on top of the inherent instability of when and from whom the next job will come.

Certain skillsets are always going to be in demand – and will be able to command a premium price. Technical and scientific expertise will remain valuable, regardless of the parameters under which it is employed.

The rise of freelance labor, however, might add more uncertainty to an already uncertain world.

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Categories: Workplace