Associations: the collaborative hub of the future

In this article we focus on one of the dominant messages that came from both the 2013 and 2014 Associations Matter Studies -  the challenges members face in adapting to the changing work environment.

Our analysis of the responses provided in these studies leads us to the view that a real opportunity exists for associations to address the gaps created by the changing way we will work.

The way we (will) work

There are three influences changing the way we will work in the future – the way we manage our career, new technology and the workplace environment.

A recent Deloitte white paper on the workplace of the future (1) predicts a move away from the power of institutions towards empowered individuals.  As has been well documented, younger professionals will experience far more career changes during their lifetime and are increasingly likely to ‘loan’ their talents to organisations, as opposed to working solely for one employer.  The move by large employers towards casual, part time and contractual employment models, and easier access to labour markets around the world, will also impact on the way we manage our career.

This new working environment is also increasingly influenced by changes in technology; technology that allows us to be connected anytime, anywhere.  Coupled with the need for flexibility, in the way and the hours we work, there will be a profound effect on the stereotypical workplace, with less emphasis on a shared physical environment. And as teams become global and virtual, and ‘teleworking’ more commonplace, the role of the ‘office’ will significantly change. 

As one member states, “as the labour market moves from a permanent work force to a more professional contractor and entrepreneurial workforce, professional associations will fill the gap to collaborate, as single organisations would normally” (Member, 30-45)

The need for professional associations in this new era becomes paramount.

The successful professional association of the future will be one that addresses two areas that help members to remain informed and connected in an increasingly disparate workplace.

1. Keep members informed, up to date and educated

With the predicted move away from powerful institutions, individuals have to become more responsible for their own careers.  They need to be able to obtain information and get advice quickly, and in the absence of an employer and an office, the association must become the trusted source of intelligence and expertise.  Associations are also the logical choice to provide quality training and accreditation programs that keep members educated and up to date with developments in their field.  

Positively, 80% of members surveyed in the Associations Matter Study think associations do this well.  And while a small number of respondents (3%) indicated that the increased availability of online information and learning resources could diminish the role of associations this should be treated as an opportunity for associations to become the leading voice in their field. 

2. Make it your role to facilitate collaboration

Associations can also provide an environment that facilitates the ability of their members to network and share ideas. Bring members together. Create learning hubs and insight communities. Make it your role to facilitate collaboration!

Discussion forums, insight panels, webinars, workshops and seminars are all a means of bringing members together so they can learn from one another.  On-line methods in particular have huge potential because they bring the dispersed professional community together. And, they are becoming increasingly popular, with a total of 63% of members surveyed selecting on line media and mobile apps as preferred methods of communication. 

And, magnifying the opportunity this provides associations, the benefit of these activities is that their value increases over time.  As more members become aware of them the importance of membership is further enhanced by the need to belong to the professional community or collaborative hub.

In the words of another member, “there is a growing need for professionals to have a 'hub' where they can access information, network and undertake professional development through training.”  (Member 46-60)

The changing work environment provides enormous opportunities for associations

For associations to be a relevant and valued force in the future, they will need to consider the challenges members face regarding the way we will be working in the future.   But in doing so there is enormous opportunity for associations.

Members recognise that professionals cannot function effectively in isolation, and that their professional association is capable of providing the framework for the collective benefit of all members.    The professional association has the ability to fill the gaps left by the changing way that we will work.

(1) It’s (almost) all about me – Workplace 2030: Built for us. Deloitte Australia, July 2013