woman working as a freelancer from home
PHOTO: Annie Spratt

The gig economy is a growing and there are gig workers everywhere now, including the tech industry. This is nothing new — gig workers have always been a part of the workplace as freelancers, short-term contract workers, or even workers employed by the hour. What is new, however, is the number of gig workers and their place in the digital workplace. While there are new challenges for companies, the most pressing are how they will fit with company processes, culture and management workload.

Defining Gig Workers’ Terms

The need to define the gig workers' position in the workplace, to organize them and protect these kinds of workers is so pressing in Europe the European parliament this week approved minimum rights for employees in the gig economy.

The new rules set out minimum rights for those in casual or short-term employment, on-demand workers, intermittent workers, voucher-based workers, platform workers, as well as paid trainees and apprentices if they work a minimum of three hours per week and 12 hours per four weeks on average. These rules will apply to all companies working in Europe, including American companies.

It’s not just a European issue, at the end of August, more than one third (36%) of US workers were in the gig economy, which works out to be approximately 57 million people in the middle of 2018, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics — the number is set to grow. 

More recent figures from MetLife's 2019 US Employee Benefits Study, show that 23% of Americans with full-time traditional jobs intend to switch to gig work over the next five years. Another 14% say they are considering it. The reasons those with full-time jobs say they are interested in gig work are increased flexibility, the ability to work where they want and the ability to take on multiple, different projects.

All of it is being enabled by the same technology that enables remote working and collaboration. It also enables technology companies that have embraced remote working to turn to gig workers to fill many holes.

Gig Workers in Tech

Jethro Lloyd, CEO of iLAB Quality, points out that technology isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, because each company is solving different problems in different industries and markets. Custom technology initiatives mean experts in different subject areas need to come together to develop a strategy and process that supports the enterprise's success long-term. To source these experts within a budget and timeline, companies often turn to consultants or contractors to do a gig.

“These relationships in my experience work best when a few factors are controlled. First is the contractor/employee's focus on the gig itself. When a project is top priority to the client but not to the employee, things can go wrong quickly because expectations are not aligned,” he said.

This is why having gig employees work onsite can be a great benefit. Expertise and know-how must also be assured. One challenge of the gig economy is telling the true talent from the people coasting between gigs doing mediocre work.

Related Article: Adapt Your Digital Workplace to the Gig Economy

Relying on Talent

In fact, companies are increasingly starting to rely on talent networks vs. full-time employees. Service firms and contractors deliver immediate access to specialized skills and decades of experience, which are irresistible to companies looking to grow quickly, enter new markets or diversify their offerings, said Ray Grainger, CEO and founder of Mavenlink.

The challenge for enterprises, he said, lies in finding the right contractors or service firms; the challenge for firms lies in proving their value. Workers and firms need to start building a digital history of work that plots their real accomplishments and projects along with their personal connections and milestones. In order to thrive in an age of white collar contractors these entities need to convey trust instantly.

One other point worth noting is that millennials’ participation in the gig economy continues to rise, with many millennials opting out of working for a single employer. As millennials become the dominant age group in the workforce, organizational leaders will need to address the concerns of this surging group of workers. “The good news for the C-Suite is that millennials and Gen Z came of age attached to a mobile computer, so implementing software and solutions should help create project management protocols on their terms. Executives shouldn’t stop at platforms; this coming-of-age story of the modern workforce requires technology-aided changes to create a new mindset of flexibility and agility,” said Graigner.

Related Article: How Digital Workplace Disruption Will Carry Over Into 2019

Temporary Workers and Staff

No matter the size of the company, there are teams that require full-time employees, and then there are projects that require a temporary specialist who won't be needed elsewhere, said Reuben Yonatann, founder and CEO of GetVOIP.

The gig economy is continuing the trend of consultants coming in for fixed-term projects, only we now have it trickling down all the way to entry-level positions. It's been a fantastic boon to most small businesses. There are some particular advantages moving forward:

  • Skills alignment - Gig workers who come in under contract can be vetted so that their skills fulfill a project or campaign's precise needs.
  • Time/budget savings - No need to spend time cross-training a full-time employee (pulling them away from their other work), when a project is going to end within months.
  • Limits liability - While you should vet your contract hires to be sure they won't negatively impact company culture, you can rest a little easier in terms of their long-term viability at the company. You don't need to consider whether they'd make an effective executive 15 years into the future: Gig workers are here to get the job done today and know that they will be moving on tomorrow.
  • Talent development - While you're not required to keep a contractor on, it's often a fantastic way for your recruiter/HR team to develop a talent pool they might contact for future full-time opportunities. If you come across a multi-skilled gig worker who has successfully completed one or more projects for the company, it's a no-brainer to reach out to them before setting up a recruitment and vetting process that will cover hundreds of cold applicants.

Those are just a few of the benefits I see to the gig economy. I'm happy it's here, and even happier to allot my budget to gig workers, said Yonatann.

Forward-looking companies are quickly realizing the advantages of rapidly accessing and deploying such highly-skilled talent on an independent basis — as opposed to only “owning it” through traditional long-term employment. This newer model enables more flexible, cost-saving, project based approaches to achieving corporate strategies and objectives in a fast-paced, constantly changing competitive environment. Those enterprises who adapt to this new way of working will be poised for success.