Year of gig workers

It’s widely known as the “Uberification” of work. And various studies and surveys suggest that as much as 60 per cent of millennials are interested to work as gig workers who are more keen on flexibility and a better work-life balance. The changing business models of many companies also suggest that a growing number of people will be hired on an as-needed basis.

So it is certain that the buzz around the gig economy is set to grow louder in the new year. But companies will be wrong to assume that only drivers or delivery boys or hotel roles such as bar staff will be part of the gig economy. Technology work such as software testing or web design, or legal work and auditing activities have already become part of the new ecosystem and will gain traction. The new year could also see more specialised jobs coming in as organisations choose to hire contingent workers to fill a skill requirement that is not typically available in the permanent workforce. 

So how are companies gearing up for this new environment? Are employers ready to handle the challenges of the inevitable shift in labour models? 'Very few’ would be the answer to both the questions. This is surprising as most companies and their HR professionals already know (unless they have cut themselves off from the real world) that a significant portion of their workforce would soon be made up of contractors and temporary workers, and that the gig economy presents advantages to both employers (cost savings) and employees (flexibility and freedom). 

According to a PwC report, The future of work, only about half the companies provide training to casual workers and a mere third offer them performance appraisals. And despite worries over such workers’ lack of engagement, less than half the employers bothered to include them in internal communications or considered them for recognition awards.

That’s probably because most companies are not confident about the commitment levels and quality delivered by the outsiders. Also, they are not sure about how and from where to source this talent. After all, many of the talented independent professionals often have client waitlists, spanning over several months. So the idea should be to build a gig-friendly branding so that such people want to work with you.

There is economic logic, too. Gallup's data finds that 21 per cent higher profitability comes from selecting the top 20 per cent of candidates based on a scientific assessment, and temporary talent is as important to the work as full-time talent.

One of the problem is that most companies are still stuck in fixed half-yearly or annual performance reviews. But with people coming in for shorter-term opportunities, annual reviews may no longer be relevant, and the need is to move to more outcome-based objectives associated with specific tasks or deliverables. The feedback has to be fast as even temporary workers, especially those with higher skills, want to know whether their work has been to the satisfaction of their clients. So the leadership culture must shift to more collaboration and partnership.

The other aspect is to address the concerns of full-time workers who should not feel threatened by the induction of freelance professionals. The immediate response from the full-time employee would be resistance. So the need is to educate existing employees about the transformation — that the outsider is not coming in to replace him.

This is important as in a blended workforce, there could be teams of permanent and freelance workers in different places working on the same projects. To ensure that they work seamlessly, there must be systems to ensure that each worker is connected to each other, with visibility of work documents and timelines. While full cultural integration between the two types of staffers may prove too idyllic at times to be credible, efforts have to be made to engage them as much as possible. 

The short point is that 2020 could be the year of the gig workers. For companies, it makes ample sense to adopt the new staffing module, as according to Mercer, the gig model offers more flexibility, reduced fixed costs, and the capacity to react much faster to market changes. It is also an opportunity to tap into a new international talent pool and access expertise on demand. Tomorrow’s winners would be companies who would have a robust on-boarding system in place for gig workers.

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