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How many people work for us?

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How many people work for us?

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Seems like a fairly innocuous question, doesn’t it? Surely a piece of information that HR can just roll of the tips of their tongues?

Well, in the shifting sands of today’s virtual organisations, it’s not as easy to answer “how many people work for us?” as it used to be.

You have employees. You have contractors. Most of those people will probably be in the visibility of your HR group. But then you have consultants, suppliers, partners, maybe even customers. How many people work for a particular organisation at any given point in time is an increasingly difficult question to answer.

But hey, Matt’s overcomplicating things. Again.

Except I’m not, I’m afraid. Knowing how many people work for your organisation at any given time, and who those people are, is an increasingly important thing. Without knowing who should be working for you today, who do you let in to your building? Who should be given access to systems and data? Who should you be paying for on pay-as-you-go, per-user-priced Cloud software?

When I deployed Google Apps for the first time, into a global marketing agency, we had the good sense to know that we didn’t really know how many active users we had in the organisation. We knew staff numbers. We knew how many accounts existed on the old on-premise systems (but in a world where the incremental cost of an additional user is zero, the motivation to accurately manage those user accounts drops dramatically).

By the end of the first year we found that the total number of people we had as employees was actually only about a half of the total number of Google accounts that we needed to sustain. If we’d based our cost modelling purely on staff numbers, we’d have been 100% out.

Now marketing is an industry dominated by freelancing. But that means we should think of it as a signal for other industries in the future, not an edge case.

How many people work for your organisation is going to be an increasingly important number to know, but over coming years will probably become increasingly challenging to calculate.

There again, you can always resort to the old Musical Hall answer. “About half of them…”

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