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Preparing For The Future Gig Economy

Assessing, Adapting, Managing and Evolving

Jeremy Tipper

To review the original article click here 11th Jul 2016

The gig economy is, for a large number of us, already a reality. The idea of a 9 to 5 job that requires the physical presence of employees at their desk is now a concept that looks set for extinction. Statistics show that working on a flexible basis has never been so popular. Indeed, figures released by the Office for National Statistics in May this year showed that self-employment increased by 182,000 year-on-year to 4.69 million. Self-employed professionals now account for over 15 per cent of the UK workforce.

Furthermore, research by PwC has found that 29 per cent of professionals want the chance to take control of their career, what they do, and when they do it. This rise of the freelancer has led to more individuals choosing to take their employment into their own hands in order to access a more varied and highly flexible work life. Technology is enabling this, as more apps and websites are developed to better enable people to work in remote locations and across time zones.

The result for businesses is the need for a change in workforce expectations and the evolution of existing company practices, but it’s perhaps fair to say that, for many leaders at least, knowing how to make the first change is a challenge. So how can a business adapt to better benefit from, and indeed manage the gig economy?

"...we’re heading back to a way of employment that was prevalent – and successful – for centuries."

Assessing and evolving systems
Operating with a more flexible, contingent workforce requires new and updated systems to both streamline processes and manage risk. Your candidate and employee database, for example, will increasingly become one of your most valuable assets, but is it really suitable for its purpose now? Or has it been left to stagnate of late? What about your work terminals? You may need to consider providing laptops or embracing the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

While a more flexible approach to employment can certainly widen the pool of talent you can tap into, it also leads to a greater need for interactive systems such as online video conferencing to be incorporated into daily life. While individuals might not be physically working in the office together, they will need – and indeed the company should encourage them – to have some form of presence to build a connection as a team.
Before going any further, then, I’d highly recommend considering if your business operations are set up to accommodate the ‘gig’ workforce.

Adapting leadership styles
We all know that the best way to implement change is to take a ‘top-down’ approach, and implementing new working practices to better maximise the opportunities of the gig economy is no exception. Adapting how you work can be tricky, particularly for managers who have perhaps spent years honing their leadership skills. Simply explaining to the senior team why you are adapting existing practices can go a long way to getting buy in from those individuals who will, at the end of the day, be managing what can only be described as a constantly changing workforce.

Added to this, it’s important to remember that managing people with varying working hours, across multiple locations (sometimes even borders) while maintaining a level of consistency for employees, customers and stakeholders is going to be difficult. But if we all shied away from challenges, the business world would stagnate.

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Before introducing initiatives such as flexi hours, hot desking or unlimited holidays, ensure everything is in place to support this – including a ‘manager’s toolkit’ that identifies any barriers to productivity.

I’d also advise tapping into the experience of your network to see what has and hasn’t worked for them – including any training courses that have helped them or their staff to adapt their leadership style to better suit the gig economy. It’s important as well to talk to your existing staff. You’ll want any new styles of working to both support the new flexible workforce and suit managers’ requirements.

Managing skills development
Finally, while you might be working with a more flexible workforce that consists of a larger number of contingent workers, your commitment to people and skills development isn’t diminished. The nature of individuals that thrive in the gig economy may vary from the more traditional employee profile, but they will still want to grow professionally and will want to work for an employer who supports this. And remember, if you’re operating in an industry with an inherent skills shortage – IT or construction for example – ensuring the future workforce has the requisite skills is simply a business imperative.

According to PwC’s Future of Work study, 46 per cent of respondents globally expect at least 20 per cent of their workforce to be made up of contractors by 2022. In the US, Staffing Industry Analysts predicted that the contingent workforce will double in size to 50 per cent by 2020. From an attraction point of view, this means that competition for the best talent in the gig economy will increasingly become more intense, so demonstrating a commitment to staff that mirrors the historical expectations of the permanent workforce will certainly be a USP for your company.

I want to end with insight from futurologist Dr James Bellini for any business leaders out there who may perhaps be concerned about the changing nature of the office:

“Lest any of you mourn the passing of ‘the job’ be aware of a couple of lessons from history… [T]he concept itself will one day be seen as a blip in the long continuum of working practices. Before the Industrial Revolution brought those ‘dark satanic mills’ to Britain the vast majority of working people, apart from craftsmen, survived with a variety of gigs or mucked in with rural neighbours to manage livestock or plough, plant and bring home the harvest.”

It would seem, then, that rather than an entirely new form of working, the gig economy in fact demonstrates that we’re heading back to a way of employment that was prevalent – and successful – for centuries.

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