Parsing Bill Gates’ statement on flexible work arrangements

Bill Gates is widely quoted as saying the following regarding flexible work arrangements:

The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.

Bill Gates

In recent years, more companies are hiring people under a range of different employment models, from hiring freelancers and contractors to managing geographically-dispersed teams. Google, notably, has more contractors on staff than traditional employees.

Bill Gates’ quote is often used simply to bolster the case for flexible work arrangements, but there is a far deeper message here. It is not simply that companies need to offer workers more options to choose their own ways of working. The key message, I believe, is that companies need to evolve from seeking the best person they can convince to accept a traditional job and relocating to a specific location. What companies need is to focus on finding the best person, regardless of how they want to work or where they want to do it.

Especially in fields that involve information technology and software, which are globally-portable, building products that are less than best-of-breed dramatically reduces the chance of success. To shoot for this level of quality, it is imperative to find the very best people available and, as Gates notes, the chance of being able to attract these people is enhanced if companies allow them to work when and where they prefer.

There is an old joke about whether its better to wait for Mr. Right or to go with Mr. Right Now. The parallel to employment is whether companies are willing to forego Mr. or Ms. Right Here in order find Mr. or Ms. Right, the person who is best equipped to lead, innovate, and to help a company truly differentiate itself.