Unless you’ve been stuck in suspended animation for the last three years, you’ve no doubt been inundated with information — and opinions — about the gig economy.
Most of the public discussion has been around the implications it has for workers: how they get paid, how they’re treated, and the impact on benefits and protections compared to traditional employment arrangements.
For those of us in the business of workforce planning, the gig economy is one component — and probably the biggest — of what can be termed as a ‘liquid talent’ approach.
What is liquid talent? It’s about understanding what skills you have today, what skills you’re going to need in the future, and then creating a workforce plan that helps fill those gaps in the most effective and efficient way possible — the same way a liquid squeezes into every crack and crevice.
Oftentimes, those needs are short-term. Maybe you’re deploying a new enterprise software system and you need skills and experience that your IT department doesn’t have. Or you need to hire 100 more people to work in your warehouse during holiday season.
The ecosystem of gig marketplaces is ever-growing. We’re all familiar with the big names like Freelancer.com, Upwork and Guru.com. But the offerings are increasingly task- and industry-specific: Topcoder is a leading contractor for IT professionals; Tongal highlights creative workers like writers and directors; and Kkooee, an Australian newcomer, focuses on contracting professional engineers and architects.
So what are some of the implications for HR leaders and TA teams? And how can they mitigate some of the challenges?
It’s not just HR’s responsibility
Managing a liquid talent strategy requires bringing together parts of your organization that may not have worked so closely in the past. HR must work with procurement teams from a contracting perspective, and to ensure that assignments don’t just go to the cheapest bidder, but the one who delivers quality work at an acceptable price. You’ll need to collaborate with back office functions like IT, finance and legal to set up the infrastructure and processes necessary to manage this blended workforce and make it as effective as it can be. Additionally, risk management will need to be involved to implement a governance system that protects intellectual property. Finally, you’ll need to work closely with the lines of business to understand their anticipated talent needs. This also means staying close to line managers in order to ensure that they’re acting in compliance with internal governance practices, and external regulations around things like health and safety, and wages.
Engage in serious workforce planning
It’s going to require organizations to take a serious look at their strategic workforce planning capabilities. Companies will need to assess what skills they have now, what they’ll need in the future, and what category of worker (or mix of categories) is best-suited to those needs.
TA strategies will need to be tweaked
Gig workers — like permanent candidates — will assess opportunities based on compensation, how interesting the work is, and what a company’s reputation is. But, they’ll also take into consideration the flexibility that an opportunity affords them. Appealing to their independent nature must be part of any attraction strategy. Once on board, these temporary employees must be engaged in meaningful ways. Some may become permanent employees down the road, so it’s important to make them feel like a vital part of the organization. Include them in internal communications and events; make them eligible for recognition awards and other things that make your organization ‘sticky’.
Metrics must come into play
You’re also going to want to build in a performance measurement system, both at the macro level — looking at gig workers as a category — and at the individual contractor level. That will help you understand what’s working well, or not, and will help you identify which contractors you want to continue working with.
Brand perception is still key
You need to make sure that your employer brand is perceived the same way across your entire employee population. If you get a reputation for treating gig workers differently or worse than your permanent staff, that reputation will feed into your brand as an employer and you’ll have difficulty attracting high quality contractors as that reputation spreads. Remember, contractors write reviews on Glassdoor too!
It’s all about finding the right fit
Finally, you need to strike the right balance between appealing to their independent nature, and the fact that in, all likelihood they’re going to be working as part of a team made up of permanent workers and other contractors. So, it’s not just about finding the right skills, it’s about finding the right fit—and that’s why effective up-front assessments are so important.
Like any disruptor, the rise of the gig economy is posing a challenge to the status quo. But with a well thought-out strategy in place, it’s an excellent opportunity for HR and talent acquisition teams to lead their organization on the journey to creating a more efficient and effectiveness workforce.