30 Sep 2020 21:10 IST

Covid has been pivotal in changing the game for gig workers

Organisations can benefit from short-term contracts and quality services that the gig economy offers

As the world economy plunged into a sharp downturn because of Covid, organisations were faced with difficult choices from business models to maintaining operations to sustenance of their workforce. Quick but difficult decisions had to be taken. While some organisations swiftly transitioned to remote work, others struggled. This resulted in mass furloughs, lay offs, and salary cuts. There is a strong headwind against businesses and cost pressures are intense. Yet work needs to be done. Business recovery needs to happen and workforce is needed.

The solution lies in finding solutions that meet the needs of both the organisations and the workforce. A rising number of highly skilled, displaced workers are turning to ‘gigs’ or contractual employment as they wait for economic improvement. The organisations need to strategically plan to utilise this new found pool of talent.

Outsourcing makes a comeback

Gig work is not really a new phenomenon though, as freelancers and independent contractors have been around for many years. But corporations have evolved differently. Organisations started with having people in house to cater to everything that they needed to get done — all functions were in house — from sales, HR, finance, to customer service, maintenance, and so on. As businesses matured, they started to differentiate between core and non-core activities, operational and strategic activities, and the concept of outsourcing evolved.

As ‘outsourcing’ became more common, it evolved to moving out of functions giving rise to a new ecosystem of service providers in the areas of temporary staffing, maintenance, payroll, technology support, and so on. This created a pool of temporary staff who would be available for specific tasks, often working on multiple assignments and clients.

There were also a set of ‘freelancers’ not associated with any set up who would take up temporary/ short term projects based on interest, skill set, time available. These were often considered low cost resources leveraged for short duration with varying and unpredictable outcomes, both by established organisations and start-ups and emerging organisations.

Covid-19, a catalysis for change

Covid has caused an unprecedented challenge where business leaders are faced with very tough choices on what kind of work to continue and what not to do any more. Businesses have had to let go of good resources just to keep their heads above water. Cost pressures drive choices that they are aware are not optimal from a long-term business sustainability.

This gives rise to a situation where there is an incredible pool of talent who might be in need of employment and organisations looking to get core work done without committing to long-term contract. This is where the ‘gig economy’ and organisations can partner for a win-win in a way they have never done before. It needs a sense of willingness among organisations to trust the work delivered by a gig worker. And, the worker must also show commitment towards the job and treat it as “real work” and not part time.

People, too, are realising now more than ever with all the changes this pandemic has brought about, that gig working will offer them the right mix of skill-building, work experience, flexible arrangement and recognition that they have been looking for. It is no wonder then that taking up a gig role, or multiple gigs at a time, is becoming more commonplace and a new way of working.

For gig workers, more gig opportunities mean a growing portfolio of experience and a chance to diversify one’s skill sets. This trend will continue to grow as companies shift from experience to skill-based hiring practices. The time isn’t far when 50 per cent of a team could well be made up of gig professionals. Gig working exhibits characteristics of what we expect to be the future of work. It is devoid of limits, end point, a fixed direction, and any kind of dependency. This is what sets it apart and makes it a favoured choice of organisations as well as those looking for employment in these uncertain times.

What organisations can do

Recruiters and employers working in highly specialised fields can benefit from keeping a team of highly skilled pool of gig workers in their database so that they can be deployed for specific assignments as and when they are needed. Organisations can, thus, do the following:

· Map out the things that the people who were let go did

· Call out what can be dropped and what needs to be done to ensure success of the business in the near to mid-term.

· Float these tasks with the skill set required on various platforms

· Invite job seekers to apply in a structured manner

· Ensure these workers are chosen without ad-hoc calls, just like regular candidates are hired on a full-time basis. Communicate working hours, deliverables, duration of assignment, and so on, clearly

· Pay the gig workers fairly, based on deliverables and impact of the job

· Establish a way of working between the organisation and the gig workers. Organisations must train their managers to work with gig works and enable then to cement long-term fruitful associations.

Trust equation

Working with gig workers ensures lower absolute cost for the organisations without the long-term commitment. It’s a win-win for everyone. The organisation gets its work done and the gig worker gets financial stability, work experience, possibly expansion of knowledge, skills and industry perspective, and increased employability for future. Overall economy benefits, and in turn, the society benefits. However, this does require a massive mindset shift — both on the part of the organisation in entrusting core work to gig workers and on the part of workforce, to take on gig assignments with full commitment, during these challenging times.

(The writer is Founder and Managing Partner, Marching Sheep, an HR advisory firm.)