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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Do you dream of being your own boss? Turning this dream into a reality has never been more possible. The Internet and always-on availability of smartphones has driven a widespread democratization of entrepreneurship. Apartments are doubling as hotels, Priuses are taxis and living rooms are craft manufacturing and distribution centres. The explosion of the sharing economy has profoundly changed the structure of business and the fabric of the Canadian workforce. Whether they are taking contract work on the side or forgoing full-time employment altogether, more Canadians are rethinking career norms.

These structural changes to the workforce present an enormous opportunity for professionals both to add and derive significant value from the companies they work for. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman describes this new dynamic as a "Tour of Duty": a commitment by employer and employee to a specific, mutually beneficial mission that's expected to last a finite amount of time. Ignoring this shift is not an option for leaders who want to stay ahead. Here's what leaders can learn from the sharing economy to retain the best workers and thrive.

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Flexibility, not necessarily stability

Flexibility is the name of the game for employers looking to adapt to the shifting workforce structure as the millennial professional places a high premium on flexibility. A recent PwC study conducted with the University of Southern California and the London Business School found that 64 per cent of millennials would like to occasionally work from home, and 66 per cent of millennials would prefer flexible work hours.

This goes beyond accommodating diverse work styles and schedules. Listen to your employees' unique needs and understand that a one-size-fits-all approach might not make sense. For instance, LinkedIn's New Norms @Work survey uncovered that almost 30 per cent of Canadian workers would choose a higher salary over increased benefits. How can you anticipate your employees' diverse needs? Ask them. Incorporate a conversation on expectations into your hiring process. Ask prospective employees what they're looking for and be prepared to deliver.

In the workplace, there isn't just part-time and full-time. At companies which have embraced the "Tour of Duty" model, there are myriad ways professionals can make a business successful. The sharing economy allows workers to earn a living without sacrificing family time. For instance, Uber, a company driving this paradigm shift, celebrated Mother's Day with a social media campaign, #UberMoms, to showcase Uber partners with families who are using their cars to make extra cash on their own terms.

Rethink your talent brand

In the sharing economy, your employer brand becomes paramount not only to attracting talent, but retaining it. A 2014 Career Builder survey found that while 59 per cent of workers are generally satisfied at work, 21 per cent said they plan to change jobs this year or next. Workers aren't just taking on more tours of duty throughout their careers – the modern employment path is often made up of many different careers.

I believe in continuous learning. While your values remain constant, you should always look to improve what you can offer your staff to adapt to the evolving workforce or you risk losing your best performers. Workplace culture is an important part of your employer brand, but as more professionals opt for the Tour of Duty approach, leaders must consider what else they have to offer. Does your company have a mission that people believe in? How are you contributing to their professional growth?

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Think like a startup

To thrive, companies must think like a startup and embrace agility. Gone are the days of talent as a fixed cost in your organization. If you're nimble and adaptable, these changes to the workforce structure can be hugely beneficial. Companies can scale quickly as opportunities arise, and trim costs easily during quieter periods. This means putting the systems in place to manage the new model. You don't need to be small to be agile. Even Fortune 500 companies can be nimble if leaders have done their homework and put the proper processes in place for bringing talent on board.

The world is changing. The sharing economy has transformed how professionals think about their careers and what they expect from employers. There is no gold standard for organizing your workforce. The needs of employees are diverse and complex and it's important that companies view their employer brand as fluid. As the business landscape shifts, look to your employees to help you navigate this new world.

Brian Church is country manager at LinkedIn Canada.

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