Gig Economy: How To Manage A Rapidly Changing Workforce

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22-06-2018

7 min read

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The gig economy has always existed, but never at such a torrent pace.

We’ll look at two kinds of gigs:

1) companies in rapid change go gig-to-gig, and

2) a new powerful talented workforce of gig workers.  

The challenge for managers is matching the current temporary needs of the organisation with the pool of temporary workers.

In the beginning… Show Biz Gigs 

The entertainment industry has always been a gig economy – job-to-job, production-to-production, and concert-to-concert.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a gig is a job, usually for a specified time ‒ especially an entertainer’s engagement.

I watch this up close as the president of New York Theatre Barn, a New York City non-profit theatre company dedicated to incubating and producing new musicals that tell untold stories.  In this setting, we present 12 new musicals each year.

The writers and actors take a chance, as do we, as a theatre company. Some of the works first staged have gone on to Broadway. And, even on Broadway, all shows have a limited run – whether a day, or more than a decade.

For every show, it is a limited run. And, in business, for every company, product or service, it is a limited run, until there is a new gig.  

For every writer, choreographer, actor, musician, director and producer, it also ends – as it does for every worker in business, until the next gig.

Businesses have gigs

Buggy whips are now extinct. The recording industry supplanted records and CDs with streaming music. Companies and industries have always been in gigs.

Is the automobile industry next? What are the chances in 20 years that most cars will run with a gasoline motor – versus electric?  

IBM used to be a leader in personal computers until it sold the division to Lenovo in 2004.

General Electric, inventor of the light bulb, no longer makes them. Every industry and product has a lifecycle – all of them end when the gig is up.  

In the meantime, while organisations thrive, scenarios arise when workers need to be brought in on the spot to complete projects.

Company scenarios requiring gig workers 

So, let’s look at a few common scenarios when gig workers are needed.

  1. Regulatory changes requiring companies to meet compliance.

For example, how many experts are there in General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

In short, it is an European Union (EU) law that states, “the protection of natural persons in relation to the processing of personal data is a fundamental right.” 

And this law applies to all EU citizens even if they are outside the confines of the EU. This has caused thousands of consumer sites to make sure they are GDPR-ready.

To do so required a dedicated temporary project team at many companies.

  1. Companies that change strategic direction.

This is a regular occurrence, especially in emerging growth companies. Many companies developing a technical solution are often looking to match the solution with the best market opportunity.

As a result, companies must quickly execute a new strategy. To the rescue, gig workers!

  1. Turnarounds.

For organisations to effect a turnaround, according to Investopedia, the “company must acknowledge and identify its problems, consider changes in management, and develop and implement a problem-solving strategy.”

In the world of the gig economy, there are turnaround experts. An example is the current chief executive officer (CEO) of Best Buy, Hubert Joly, as cited by Barron’s ‒ this being his third stint.

  1. Speed to market.

Companies that must accelerate a project or product to market might not have the people power to get the job done, so they call in specialists.

This is often the case at technology companies that need coders to come in on a contract basis.

  1. Need to fulfil larger contracts.

Large organisations often need workers to fulfil contracts. In many cases, these are massive government contracts.

Case-in-point: there are more than 45,000 government contract jobs posted on Indeed.  

Too much choice: 162 million independent workers 

People definitely go gig to gig. And, gig workers span every walk of life. It is commonplace for a high-powered, interim CEO, to get an Uber to go to the next meeting. Both the CEO and driver are gig workers.   

Consider that according to McKinsey, “some 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population in the United States and the EU-15 countries are engaged in some form of independent earning today.”   

So, one out of five people are independent workers, and there are subsets of those workers. McKinsey again breaks them down into two major groups: “preferred choice” and “out of necessity”.  

The titles are self-explanatory, and of the 162 million independent workers, 70% are preferred choice workers. These are people who could work at a company and prefer to be a free agent. Yet just 30% are “free agents”, where independent work is their primary income.

For managers of significant organisations with a defined mission, it is critical to engage the right people to drive key performance metrics. And, managers must find talent at the right place and at the right time.  

The talent pool can quickly become sparse.

As companies and business units within companies become highly specialised, finding the right people means finding the right specialist.  

When you couple that with the pace of change, organisations can often find themselves in a predicament – finding a person for a job that never existed before.  

READ: Will You Swim Or Sink In The Talent Ocean?

 

The managerial challenge 

So, the gig economy is workers going from gig to gig – and organisations going from gig to gig.

It is the managers at organisations who are tasked the most. In this fluid, fast-paced environment, leaders must find just-in-time labour.

It is 1) the right skill, 2) at the right time, 3) for a period of time.

So, in considering that companies themselves are ever-changing markets and strategies, finding people can be like finding a needle in a haystack ‒ even with today’s powerful algorithms to match people to job search sites.

As a manager seeking to lure talent in the gig economy, the competition is immense. Companies like Apple, Google, and others vie for workers.

On the other hand, with millions of gig economy workers, finding the right people is a challenge. In fact, finding and retaining excellent, competent gig employees is as tough, if not tougher, than full-time employees.

Here is a main reason: the gig employee did not take the job for benefits. There is no health insurance, savings plan, or deferred compensation to hold them down.

They are free agents. And the very best, talented free agents are in demand.  

Organisations are competing for talent who can range from light industrial workers to highly skilled IT experts, marketing specialists, engineers, accountants, HR professionals and retired executives.

In fact, many executives are retiring to gig work, serving on boards and offering “interim” C-level executive help.

The opportunity for an agile organisation 

In looking at the vast pool of gig talent, it is an opportunity to create a flexible workforce and an agile organisation.

Companies can quickly scale up or down to fulfil short or long-term contracts, improve performance and fill skill gaps.

Here are some guidelines for building an agile company with an agile workforce – and leverage the gig economy.

In this list, we are assuming that these are skilled, preferred choice workers.  These are people who could work at a company yet prefer to be a free agent.

Hiring 

  1. Flexible culture.

Flexible organisations need to have a culture of flexibility. If your company has work that can be accomplished virtually, don’t tie workers to an office, tie them to the completion of tasks.

Creating a work culture without limits opens opportunities to build collaborative virtual teams.    

  1. Increase the speed to hire.

If you have an arduous hiring process with many forms, streamline the process.

Talented gig workers are interested in the work, not dozens of forms for approval as a worker, or vendor.

  1. Interviews should not be different than those for full-time employees.

Gig candidates should engage in a 360-degree interview with subordinates, peers and superiors to evaluate how the worker will perform on the job.

The hiring organisation should get information on previous projects and check references.

  1. Written agreement.

Have a specific agreement for the work. Enumerate the role and clearly define the expectations of a gig worker. Make the agreement for a defined period of time with reviews.

In addition, make sure the worker has no conflicts of interest – and if appropriate, have them sign a non-disclosure agreement.

After hire 

  1. Team.

Once hired, these workers are part of the team – even if they are working on one defined project.

However, the gig worker should not be treated as a full-time employee. A gig worker (depending upon your agreement) may have other assignments that are outside your organisation.

The focus in managing them should be on the work product, not their day-to-day activities.

2. Understand what drives the gig worker as you manage him or her. 

The highly-skilled gig worker usually wants to perform meaningful and interesting work and make a difference. They are most often self-driven and seek to attain excellence.

Make certain they are always challenged and engaged in making a difference. Their reward in a “gig well done” is getting their next gig.  

3. Get referrals.

Ask if the gig worker recommends others. One of the jobs of a manager of a gig workforce is to consistently look for other gig workers.  

In conclusion 

Managing the gig workforce is a challenge – but also an opportunity. The talent pool is immense, but so is the competition. It is a gig worker’s market because we are at some of the lowest unemployment rates.

On the other hand, companies are changing quickly to meet market demands by offering workers great, interesting work.  

To meet the organisational demands, companies have never had more choice in talent.  

Now meet the challenge and seize the opportunity of the gig economy.

 

Rob Wyse is a leading publicist in the United States as well as a prolific writer. He is a top commentator on workplace issues and dysfunctional CEOs. Rob is also the managing director of Capital Content, a PR and marketing firm that develops issues-driven thought leadership and strategic communications campaigns. To connect with him, email us at editor@leaderonomics.com.

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