Embracing the Future: Surviving and Flourishing in the Gig Economy
If you’ve been following the trends in the HR world, it’s likely you’ve heard the phrase “gig economy” tossed around in more than a few publications. So what is a gig economy and why is it getting so much attention? A quick Google search provides the following definition: A gig economy is a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.
A 2006 report from the U.S. General Accountability Office showed that one in three US workers was already freelancing in one form or another. Fast forward to 2020, and Deloitte expects this figure to grow to 40 percent.
This move towards a gig economy, while not an entirely new concept, is still one of the most significant changes in the workforce in the last 30 years.
The recent buzz around the gig economy is largely because platforms like AirBnB and Uber have made gig jobs scalable. In addition, recent regulations in the US are likely to make overtime very expensive for employers, which have increased the numbers of contingent employees across many industries.
This trend has led some experts to believe the job market is going through a gig revolution or an “Uberization” of the economy. Soon enough we’ll all be temporary workers, performing specific tasks and switching employers rapidly. Employers will benefit from lower labor costs and be able to match the size of their workforce to their business needs in almost real-time.
The Gig Dichotomy
With today’s workers preferring the freedom of gig labor, regardless of the type of job, gig work is poised to cross the Rubicon from being an outlier used in reference to seasonal labor, to a full-fledged labor revolution.
So why hasn’t the revolution arrived? Why are we not enjoying the freedom of living off our choice of gigs? Like most revolutions, the gig revolution cannot happen overnight. Some rigid obstacles prevent the Gig Economy from turning into The Economy.
While overtime regulation may push the gig economy forward, other legislation and regulations have taken it a few steps back. However, the highest hurdle the gig economy has yet to overcome is not regulatory. Surprisingly, it’s from the companies themselves that would seem to have the most to gain.
The tasks we entrust to our contingent workers have changed and often require familiarity with the company’s business systems, processes, and tools. At the same time, regulatory compliance makes the training process longer and more complex even for the simplest of jobs.
It simply does not make sense to spend a month training someone who will only be employed for a short period of time. Instead, what usually happens is employers assign the extra work among their current staff, making them unhappy with the arrangement.
Begin with a Strategy for Onboarding Your Gigsters
Despite the many challenges, there are also solutions. If we want to see an actual economy that runs on gigs, technology will play a key role. There are already some solutions that make the process of finding and recruiting contingent workers much easier.
Though some might argue the effectiveness of their content and delivery, MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) like Lynda.com and Udemy provide a way for dynamic and mobile gig workers to get on-demand training, accessible at all times from anywhere to help them get up to speed quickly.
At the same time, tools must deliver the insights businesses need about their contingent workers. Thus allowing them to make quick decisions. Until we have tools that make employee onboarding and training fast and effective, the gig economy will not scale.
Before you begin purchasing training tools, however, start with a proper strategy that includes your objectives and processes.
Begin by asking yourself how gigsters are different from your full-time workforce.
- Who and where are your contingent employees?
- What parts of the organization do they interact within their training?
- How do they prefer to receive training?
- What does a contracted employee need to know before they can get to work?
- Do they need a basic overview of the company and its culture?
This might all sound complicated and costly but it doesn’t have to be. You’re not creating a contracted employee onboarding and training strategy from scratch.
Training in the Gig Economy
Adjust the onboarding and training processes you already use with your full-time workforce to serve you and your gigsters:
- Lego Blocks Training Process | Create instructional modules that can be used and reused easily in training of all employees, not just the contingent ones
- Self-paced | Let your freelancers train by themselves at their own pace and test them along the way
- Online and Remote | Enable cross-platform access to training materials, company policies and wiki knowledge bases to give contacted workers on-demand access to relevant information
- Engaging and Interactive | Use tools like videos, searchable knowledge bases and quizzes, rather than long texts and manuals
What Happens When Gigsters Leave (or How To Prevent Corporate Amnesia)?
The people you hire come equipped with relevant knowledge and expertise. It’s one of the reasons you hire them – they contribute to the organization. The problem that arises with the “gig economy”, in that regard, is that it neglects contingent workers’ contribution to the corporate memory and knowledge, and limits their involvement to pre-assigned tasks.
This loss of corporate knowledge often referred to as “corporate amnesia,” has become very familiar in industries employing a large proportion of seasonal employees process. These knowledge leaks can be very costly for the organization.
To avoid corporate amnesia, training tools are not enough. Organizations need to employ technological solutions that do more than just train employees. The effective communication tools demanded by the gig economy should provide for better knowledge preservation methods as well.
The Future of the Gig Economy
Companies like Uber and AirBnB have made the gig economy a reality for many. Overtime regulations also push the gig economy ahead by forcing businesses to increasingly hire contingent labor. However, most of us are still far away from living completely off gigs. Most jobs still require significant enough training to deter hiring temporary staff.
For the gig economy to truly take off we need technology that can shorten the time it takes to train any employee. Doing so will dramatically reduce the costs associated with training, and eliminate corporate amnesia. When that happens, we’ll all finally gig it up.