My daughter started swim lessons last week. Emersion therapy at its best, the sessions are every day at 5 pm for two weeks. For a working parent, the anxiety of speaking in front of hundreds of people is nothing compared to that of racing across Houston in 4:30 traffic.

I'm not the only one racing to the pool in high heels; there's another working mom with a child in my daughter's class. As we heave a collective sigh of relief that both our children are in the pool with swimsuits ON, we start talking about what we do.

Turns out she's a corporate executive-turned-entrepreneur as well. Once a high-powered, jet-setting energy trader, she now runs family real estate investments and is growing a wildly successful indoor playground business. When I asked why she "retired" from corporate life at such a young age she didn't hesitate to tell me her story.

After her first child was born, her company offered to reduce her work hours, which I applauded. She smirked and said, "Yes, but the expectations were going to be the same." She wasn't interested in the unplanned travel, late nights, and high stress of energy trading.

The reality is this isn't just a "working mom" phenomenon. Daniel Pink's 1997 article "Free Agent Nation" predicted what this ex-corporate professional and thousands of others have created for themselves: They are self-employed or interim workers who are not just doing "temp" work. They are highly credentialed, creative, and pedigreed individuals who want a more flexible way to work and live.

Pink said employees were devising new ways to earn a living due to bad managers, unreasonable work demands, lack of security, and toxic work environments. Add to that employees with no sense of loyalty, competing demands on their time due to dual-working households, and a desire to work differently -- and you have a completely new workforce.

This flexible way to work was supported by three major events: Y2K, Sarbanes-Oxley, and the financial crisis and economic downturn of late 2008. Organizations needed talent, but not on a permanent basis. Or as in the case with the downturn, they needed to reduce staff but the work still needed to get done.

Enter the flexible workforce. The contract pros. The independent consultants. The highly talented interim executives.

This wasn't just a blip or reaction to a bad economic situation. Some found they really enjoyed working project to project. Employers found using interim workers, who were also interested in permanent roles, allowed both sides to test drive cultural fit.

This was (and is) a new way to think about your workforce. Need to staff a drill ship quickly? Hire a contract recruiter with the expertise and industry connections, and then release her once the ship is ready to go. Need an interim executive while a 6-9 month search process plays out? Hire and then watch as productivity doesn’t dip and employees feel relief that there is someone giving direction. Need a SWAT team to conduct due diligence on a major acquisition so your regular staff stays peacefully unaware? Call in a contract M&A expert and team.

In order to stay nimble and productive, organizations must embrace this "Free Agent Nation" and come to realize that flexible staff means higher margins and increased satisfaction. Additionally, interim workers who are able to build a portfolio of working with a number of stellar organizations are more marketable and knowledgeable once they are ready to re-engage.

The ability to move and shift with changing economic and business cycles is a competitive advantage, as there will be another 2008 and 2009.

Instead of double- and triple-hatting your rock stars, why not investigate the growing number of agile professionals who are at your disposal and can actually advance your company? To be competitive for talent, organizations must embrace the project professional, throwing out biases associated with long-tenure.

My swim lesson friend has the ability to consult, mentor, and drive growth as well as spend her time developing a plan to expand her playground business. She is the new flexible workforce - with muscle and talent to supplement or enhance your employee base.

Published on: May 1, 2014