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Thriving in the gig economy

Jeremy Tipper

If you want your business to thrive, then as a leader you need to be flexible with the fact that the workforce is becoming more fragmented. Increasingly, your workforce will comprise temporary and short-term employees, as well as freelancers and home workers. Welcome to the gig economy, says Jeremy Tipper, Director of Consulting and Innovation at Alexander Mann Solutions

According to many Futurologists, by 2020 fixed hours employment will have all but disappeared and half of workers in the UK and US will be freelancers. Where we work will have drastically changed as the workforce becomes ‘consumers’ of work space and offices become a temporary location rather than a permanent base.    

According to the Office of National Statistics, in May 2016, self-employment increased by 182,000 compared to the prior year, with 15% of the UK’s workforce now consisting of self-employed individuals.

Figures from PwC suggest that this trend will only continue at an accelerated pace, with 29% of professionals wanting to take more control of their career, what they do and, perhaps more importantly, when they do it.      

Clearly the 'gig economy' is well and truly here and working conditions are evolving quicker than some of us may have anticipated.

But, as companies look to tap into the skills of a harder-to-reach workforce, this flexible approach to employment can certainly have its benefits.        

So just how can businesses lead and manage such a diverse, flexible workforce? Quite simply, by evolving themselves.      

A new approach to leadership    

It will ultimately be a company’s leaders who will not only have to manage the intricate details of succeeding in a gig economy but who will also be judged on the successful incorporation of this flexible workforce.

In order for an organisation to thrive, it is advisable to ensure managers are fully equipped with everything they need to make the most of this evolving world of work, and that includes a level of retraining.

The age-old style of leadership that many individuals have spent years honing might not be relevant in the very near future, if not already, so it’s important to line up relevant training to aid the transition from rigid leadership styles, to more flexible processes.      

A change in attitude may be required, too. In many organisations, 'temporary labour' is often not as  well regarded as permanent employees, with less emphasis put on assessing capability to do the job, less care taken about managing their outputs, and, ultimately, they are viewed as more disposable.

Freelancers and flexible workers should be considered as an important part of your talent pool, with equal consideration given to assessing their capabilities, their management and their outputs as your permanent team members.     

 If such initiatives and thinking are new to your business, make sure you not only involve senior teams in discussions to communicate the value of the new approach, but also provide them with a ‘toolkit’ that identifies any potential barriers they may face and how to overcome these.

It’s also important to communicate with all staff – you want to ensure that any new styles of leadership don’t just work for managers but the wider workforce itself as well.      

An overhaul of systems

Once you have buy in from the senior team, an overhaul of systems may be necessary or, at the absolute minimum, a review of your employee database and how it will work with a contingent workforce.

You may also need to consider providing laptops or tablets rather than desktop PCs, adopting the Bring Your Own Device concept, and migrating data management from outdated servers to the Cloud in order to ensure all employees have the technological equipment they need to do their job to the best of their ability. This includes the possible need for interactive systems such as video conferencing.       

A commitment to skills development    

This final point may seem unusual given that the gig economy lends itself to individuals seeking shorter term contracts but skills development is still just as important – if not more so. While the nature of individuals who operate in the gig economy may vary from the more traditional employee profile, they still want to grow professionally. After all, their skills are their selling point.

And given that there will be high demand for top-class professionals, demonstrating your company’s commitment to staff development – regardless of the form their employment takes – will make your business a more attractive place to work.      

This issue is particularly important for organisations that operate in an industry which has an inherent skills shortage - IT, technology and engineering, to name a few. In these instances, ensuring the future workforce - contingent or not – has the requisite skills is quite simply a business imperative.       

If the pace of change continues to snowball and the gig economy becomes a hard and fast reality, businesses need to be ready to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and take control of an uncertain and diverse workforce.

By preparing now, organisations can get ahead of the curve to ensure they don’t just survive, but thrive in the future world of work.       

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