It may be best for us to start this one with an explanation. What, after all, is the ‘gig economy’?
When you strip back the fancy name, this new working trend is all about people who want to free themselves of the confines of full-time employment. It’s a tactic that can work brilliantly for both the individual in question and the business that employs their services. The former gets to be independent and cease working for ‘the machine’, while the latter can pick and choose skills as and when needed, thus reducing staff overheads and increasing productivity when needed.
In 2016, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) discovered that the gig economy in Britain had doubled in size. Apparently accounting for one in ten people, these self-styled independent workers were starting to flood a market that was clearly struggling to accommodate them.
The TUC’s Frances O’Grady led the charge for freelancers and short-term contract workers by suggesting that “gig economy workers face the double hit of poverty wages and weaker employment rights. Whether they’re waiting tables or driving for Uber, all workers deserve respect, fair pay and basic protections.”
These concerns are understandable, but their prominence in the mass media proves just how popular the gig economy is becoming.
As with any contract-based work (for that’s what the gig economy essentially is), this form of skills acquisition needs a careful, experienced hand if it is to prove successful. Pick the right gigging worker, and you’ll reap the rewards; pick the wrong one, and you could end up in a much worse state than when you set out.
You may not be convinced. The gig economy may sound a little too fragile for your liking, and with O’Grady’s words ringing in your ears, you’d be forgiven for shunning the option entirely.
Not so fast. We think the gig economy suits a huge number of businesses, and we’d like to explain why.
It’s a boon for HR
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re an HR professional. If so, you’re probably all too familiar with the challenges that surround recruitment.
Finding the right full-time staff is incredibly difficult, and even when roles are fully defined and successfully filled, their long-term benefits or justification for being a permanent fixture sometimes become unclear as time goes on.
Let’s take the example of a software development firm that has just won a big contract. If the project requires a particular programming skill that doesn’t reside in house, the temptation might be to recruit a new full time member of the team. And that’s great, until the project ends and the business realises that the skill in question is no longer required for subsequent projects.
As a result, the HR function of the business would be left with something of a moral and strategic dilemma. Is it worth keeping the person on? How can their time be filled?
If the ultimate answer results in redundancy, we don’t need to tell you how horrible the next few weeks are likely to be for all involved.
Now, imagine if that same company had instead delved into the gigging market to find someone with the skills required. The period of employment would have had a defined start and end date (the beginning and end of the project), and no egos would have been bruised or ties messily severed when the project ended.
A cleaner result for all, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Employing full time staff is a costly affair, and while there are few businesses that can get away with minimal full-time staff, it’s sensible to only invest in the overheads associated with full time employment where it is absolutely necessary.
Fewer people ‘on the books’ means a far lower cost base when it comes to staff and recruitment, and if you work in HR, that means you’ll forever be the darling of finance and board meetings – a very nice place to be!
The ability to pick from more condensed talent pools
The problem with recruiting on a mass scale is that you have to sift through an awful lot of the wrong types of candidate to find the one that will do the job intended. And that means a significant amount of someone’s time – and therefore business cost – will be required to do so.
If you tap into the gig economy instead, you’ll discover a far smaller, more condensed talent pool that can be easily defined, filtered and searched for the right people.
That means far less of someone’s time during the recruitment phase, which can only be a good thing.
Benefit from flexible working patterns
Most gigging workers operate during very flexible hours. By the very nature of their line of work, jobs are often designed to fit around their lifestyles, and while this might sound rather alarming for a business that values a 9-5 working ethic, it can actually be incredibly useful for project-based work.
If a project is dealt a tight deadline or is likely to feature ad-hoc revisions, the ability to call on someone who can perform work at odd hours and outside of the confines of a normal week can sometimes be a lifesaver.
Lower learning and development overheads
It stands to reason that, if you employ fewer people full-time and instead turn to freelancers and gigging workers who must maintain their own development and learning strategy, the cost of training and employee development will fall.
This requires the business to trust that such workers will do just that, but if it can, the chances are it’ll be able to divert more of the internal learning budget to areas where it’ll be most effective in-house and for full time staff.
Additional opportunities are likely to arise
The gig economy doesn’t always result in ‘hire-and-forget’ parachute appointments. Often, the people you encounter will have other contacts or even skills themselves that can benefit other areas of the business.
There’s a world of opportunity out there both for freelancers and the businesses who employ their services. Reach out to it, and you never know what you’re likely to find or what friends you could make.
The gigging economy isn’t for every business, but it’s hard to think of many organisations where ad-hoc workers wouldn’t be beneficial in some shape or form, even if on a very irregular basis.
The challenge lies in accepting a new form of working, because gigging workers are the polar opposite of full time staff. While many will be able to work on-site, the rise of home working often means they’ll do their best stuff while within the confines of their own environment. For some businesses, this will be a tricky juxtaposition to come to terms with.
However, if you can allay your fears about the gig economy, it may prove hugely beneficial for your business.