“The gig economy is empowerment. This new business paradigm empowers individuals to better shape their own destiny and leverage their existing assets to their benefit.”John McAfee
In the past decade, there has been an enormous increase in workers taking temporary jobs rather than stay in traditional employment. This has created a labor market which is characterized by freelance work and short-term contracts, rather than permanent positions. The “gig economy” promises empowerment to the worker, and a great deal of benefits to business – and a totally different way to how we approach workloads.
But how prepared are our organizations to work differently? Does the way we work with third parties need reassessing? And can we allow our digital workplaces to become more permeable to accommodate temporary staff?
The rise of the gig economy
The number of people in the gig economy is continuing to rise, and according to Investopedia, two-thirds of the working population in the U.S. is in some gig capacity, with estimates set to increase in the foreseeable future. But why is gigging becoming the preferred choice for so many professionals? There are a few factors that have helped the rise of the gig economy:
• The development of information technology has allowed individuals to work remotely.
• Economic factors have meant many businesses are looking for cheaper ways of accessing talent.
• The balance between work and looking after dependents can be tricky; freelancing can offer the flexibility and independence needed.
Building a connected digital workplace
The development of information technology has made the “flash organization” – the crowdsourcing assembly of skilled workers to fulfill projects – a suddenly viable form across a huge swathe of industries. From companies like Uber and Airbnb to agencies and start-ups, it has never been easier to pick up work with an organization without ever having to meet, speak or visit the offices of the employer.
The gig economy has many benefits to a company. Without having to bother with employee benefits and admin associated with a more permanent team member, companies can access the service and experience straightaway to fix a pressing problem.
Services like Fivrr, Upwork and People Per Hour have capitalized on this growing sector. These platforms connect organizations with gig workers to fulfill jobs, projects, and tasks that need immediate attention.
Businesses now are more elastic in their operations than they once were. With the help of contingent workers, they can expand or contract according to market conditions. However, with the adoption of this liquid workforce, challenges that include the company brand and quality standards, and the alignment of corporate vision arise.
The benefits of the gig economy to a business
Productivity is now separate from location and is on the increase. Gallup’s research has shown that the volume of employees who have worked by telecommuting has risen to 44%, up from 39% in 2012. The gig economy has many advantages to a business:
Choice: The gig economy has fostered vast numbers of highly skilled people looking for temporary roles. On Upwork for example, there are on average 1.7 million active freelancers on the platform and just over 70,000 jobs. This equates to a ratio of 24 freelancers per post, and while that number fluctuates between the job category, it consistently means rich pickings for the employer.
Economy: The cost of a gig worker is significantly cheaper than hiring a full-time employee. Without PAYE and other taxes and benefits, the office space, hardware and software and other associated costs of hiring
Picking up the slack: Temporary work has always been the domain of creatives: animators, designers, copywriters who are called upon to work on projects. But the gig economy is also providing a place where roles, currently in decline in the employment world, are on the rise in temporary work. For example, while the requirement of the employed middle manager is on the wane, there is a massive demand for them to overlook projects in temporary roles.
Equality: In Hays’ UK Diversity & Inclusion Report 2018, over half of the respondents (58%) believe those in charge of their organizations have a bias towards those who look, think and act like them. That’s certainly not the case in the gig economy – without a face-to-face introduction, individuals are hired on the basis of their ability to do the job. Depending on the level of interaction between worker and organization, this could have a powerful and positive effect by allowing insights, skills, and ideas from a more diverse workforce.
Eliminates bottlenecks: Managing a project creates countless chores, and sometimes the smallest tasks that need tackling are stalled because of individual workloads. Say you need a logo designing to send out immediately, but your in-house designer is on a deadline to design the website, sending the job out to a third party is the perfect solution to avoiding delays, freeing up resources and increasing efficiency.
Building a connected digital workplace
When the gig economy doesn’t work
Of course, “flash organizations” have their limits. Despite their many benefits, they don’t hold the solution to many business challenges:
Not long term: Gig economy is ideal for a short-term problem, but for any long-term challenges, a more permanent solution is required. Define the life span of the project and agree with the freelancer taking the job on so you both know how much time is needed to invest.
Isolation: One of the reasons workers give up gigging and commit to an employed role is the feeling of isolation. Working solo is part of the freelance territory, and while it can have merits – a certain degree of autonomy not found in traditional working, for instance – it’s easy to feel cut off.
Insecurity: The partnership between temporary worker and business lacks the strength found in employment.
What your business can do to navigate the gig economy
With this so-called “digital nomadism” an increasing occurrence in the workplace, organizations need to respond appropriately to changing, flexible, “non-standard” work arrangements. This is to ensure that the labor market effectively balances flexibility and security for both workers and employers.
It’s inevitable the gig economy will influence your business at some point. To get the best out of hiring temporary workers, it’s important to examine key areas of your business – those departments and teams that will have contact with temporary workers. How can your organization reimagine a more fluid workplace?
Bridge the divide: No doubt, the gig economy fosters flexibility, which is something all organizations could benefit from practicing. However, the easy hiring of skilled temporary could go some way to create insecurity in more permanent members of staff. It’s crucial to bridge the gap between employees and gig workers to form a better understanding of roles, responsibilities and what each individual is bringing to the project.
Create a positive experience: Being part of an organization working together is a lot more emotionally fulfilling than working alone, as long-term contingent workers can testify. To ease the experience, it could be beneficial to invite temporary workers to meet and work alongside the in-house team every so often.
Bring the gig economy mindset in-house: One of the key aspects of the gig economy is being able to utilize strong skillsets at will. However, these skillsets may not need to be found in third-party services – often, they could already be in your organization. Many employed workers will have skills that are under-utilized in their current role. Rather than letting them lie unused, organizations should take on a frictionless flexibility in order to transfer these skills to different roles accordingly.
Building a connected digital workplace
How to adapt your digital workplace
The gig economy fits nicely into the lives of its workers, and with it on the increase, how have organizations can cater their business to enjoy its benefits successfully? Traditionally, there are significant divisions between employees and freelancers. It’s imperative that companies change the way they operate and interact with temporary workers.
When there is a geographical divide between the worker and the organization, the business must strive to close the gap using the technology available. Digital workplaces can easily be adapted to work better for temporary workers, to improve speed, efficiency, and the entire working experience.
Integrate more: In my former role as a freelancer, I was used to all communication – the brief and scope of work, my costs, their terms and feedback – done by email. In fact, in most jobs, there wasn’t even a formal introduction by phone. With the many businesses I worked with, I never met any other team members, and sometimes would have to research the size, location, and history of the company to get a better understanding of whom I was working with.
Recruitment: The recruitment process for freelancers and contractors is less rigorous than traditional methods, but despite this, the coordination, admin, and navigation of legal issues can be a burden. By using a controlled workflow system, processes can be scaled down, and paperwork is kept at a manageable amount.
Onboarding: Temporary workers who are invited in-house benefit from a brief onboarding. By using an intranet to display vital information such as office layout, parking, an organogram of the different departments, you can help the worker bed in and find information quickly.
Collaboration: On the other hand, most gig workers will be working remotely. This means that there is a huge requirement for a permeable digital workplace. A business needs to work on how they can create a collaborative platform while maintaining its security criteria.
Communication: Take advantage of the multiple communication platforms available. Slack, Yammer and Trello are all services which allow a constant flow of dialogue, allow workers to get quick answers to questions and create an office ‘buzz’ even when the individual is working from home.
We have the tools; we have the skills – businesses just need to carry out the well overdue job of marrying the two to enhance the way organizations operate, employees to focus on their roles and temporary workers to apply their skills to the task in hand.