The Future of Work for Associations

Written by Jacob Wilder on June 11, 2018

Over the next few years, staff structure at associations will undergo huge changes that will present opportunities for more efficient and nimble operations. This is made clear by several Social, Technological Economical, Environmental and Political (STEEP) factors, listed below. (The #CAEProud crowd will remember the acronym!)

More With Less

Lessons learned from the Great Recession have heavily impacted this trend. Out of necessity, many business owners and executive directors discovered that they could do more with less. Now many years following the recession, in a booming economy, these owners and executives have learned that they can still push staff a little further by supplementing full-time roles with available technology, gig and contract work. With successful sites like Fiverr and Upwork, the rise of artificial intelligence and automation, the trend toward leaner and more productive association staff is here to stay.

Economic & Environmental Pressure

Environmental pressures are influencing staffing and the way we work. Consider the changes in healthcare. For example, the Affordable Care Act increased hiring costs for employers in the US. Associations, like any other business, must watch their bottom line. This isn’t to say that there is a wholesale trend of associations putting revenue over people. However, making wise business and fiscal decisions on behalf of the association and its members makes reducing the number of association staff or avoiding the hiring of new staff an appealing cost-saving measure.

The association staffing environment isn’t all bad. Teleworking is also on the rise, which bodes well for employee satisfaction and saves the association money. According to a 2016 study from PwC, those who work from home at least once per week are 48% more likely to rate their job a 10 on a happiness scale, where 10 is the highest rating. With that in mind, what does in-office staff time look like?

The Gig Economy

The rise of the gig economy has inspired workers to find a niche area of specialty and focus on that. This working style–coupled with the ability to be your own boss– may become an increasingly popular option for the modern worker who seeks a better work-life balance.

Flexibiliy in Hiring & Staffing

The executive director of tomorrow’s association will be in a better bargaining position when it comes to hiring and staff selection. The staff who require an intimate knowledge of the organization, or who are member-facing, need to be in the office. For other roles, employers are free to make hiring decisions with the option to extend teleworking arrangements that reduce office overhead and may even be able to reduce payroll costs for those employees. With such cost savings, owners may even be able to hire two or three part-time positions at near the same cost of what it would have been to hire one, in-office staff member.

Automation & Artificial Intelligence

Automation and artificial intelligence are becoming more widespread, replacing workers and creating abundance. What role is human capital going to play in a world of abundance? Markets are created because of scarcity. If there isn’t scarcity, will there even be a need to work? What does work look like in that future?

Staff Training

Job roles and responsibilities are changing. How do you conduct training for staff in this new world? How do you conduct training for contractors? Will there be training for contractors at all? It’s time to consider what the association of the future looks like from a staffing perspective.

In Practice

As a member of a small staff association, I’ve seen environmental adaptation and flexibility in our staffing structure. This includes decreasing our staff while increasing our output. We’ve also leveraged technology, the gig economy and contractors to get the work done.

Questions to Ponder

All these STEEP factors leave association board and CEOs with some heavy questions to ponder. How will associations respond to these issues that are challenging our members in their professions and industries? What is the role associations are going to play in response to all this change? These are the vital questions and challenges that we must solve as we face the future of work in the association space.