Moving Beyond the Buzzwords of the Gig Economy

Liz Alton

Gig economy. Sharing economy. On-demand workforce. Contingent workers. Independent experts. It’s easy to feel bombarded by buzzwords when you wade into the hiring market.

The so-called ‘gig economy’ trend encompasses highly specialized workers—such as strategists, high-end writers, programmers, marketers and technologists—as well as transactional, part-time workers. There is significant untapped potential in the former set, and the most successful companies are rethinking the way they connect with these experts. Independent talent can allow teams to ‘flex up’ for their most important projects, acquiring expertise and bandwidth when needed. In fact, many companies are taking this principle a step further by encouraging the development of a fully ‘agile’ workforce, creating teams that operate leanly with the ability to expand their talent bench as needed.

Executives in charge of developing a hiring plan for critical initiatives know that today’s talent landscape is quickly evolving, but buzzwords often obscure the underlying trends and even the tools and techniques they can use to improve their talent strategies. To fully appreciate the new world of work, we have to dig deeper.

Signals About the Landscape

The dynamic of today’s workforce is changing — the Freelancer’s Union notes that 47 percent of millennials are currently self-employed and, by 2027, the majority of all workers will be independent. The tools needed to access these workers have also shifted dramatically in the last 5-10 years, with new technologies alleviating the burdens of hiring and managing independent talent.  On-demand workforce platforms, specifically, let enterprises hire top talent on an as-needed basis, while also providing numerous project opportunities to independent workers.

In this system of agile work, the ‘talent’—contingent workers and consultants—have the freedom to determine their own schedules and choose the projects they want to work on.

Enterprises, on the other hand, are able to use technology platforms to selectively identify and onboard experts based on their workflow and project needs, providing increased flexibility and decreasing the bottom-line. This model is creating a win-win, helping organizations save money and access skills for world-class results while promoting the satisfaction of top workers.

Organizations often begin by hiring on a contingent basis to cover a few specific needs. However, many come to realize that the flexibility to quickly scale their head count solves numerous problems. It’s not necessary to hire a full-time employee when you only have a one-time or even periodic project need.

Working closely with carefully selected experts also enables you to attract world-class skills that are embedded with your own team, rather than dealing with set groups or consulting firms. It’s easier to bring “doers” on board with just the right experience, rather than outsourcing to a firm and getting questionable results. Contingent workers pay off: organizations using independent talent platforms increase productivity by 9 percent, according to McKinsey.

Five Steps to Create Your On-Demand Strategy

1. Identify your needs and skills gaps.

Based on your anticipated projects and workload for the year ahead, determine the skill sets and unique strengths you need to acquire. What will you need in terms of market knowledge, technical capabilities, or strategic expertise? Remember that agile workforce solutions  provide you with a flexible way to patch your company’s skills gaps and staff projects without adding unnecessary headcount, so be specific in what you are looking for.

2. Build the business case.

On-demand talent is the direction the workforce is headed, and companies that adapt now will have a competitive advantage. Accenture found that 79 percent of executives agree that work is shifting from roles to project-based, and a recent Catalant survey found that 84 percent of executives believe great talent, new ideas and enhanced capabilities sit outside enterprise walls. Planning a long-term strategy that lets you take advantage of this now, while ensuring that there’s a clear internal business case and stakeholder buy-in, will set you up for future success.

3. Explore different models of outsourcing.

Many organizations default to hiring large, brand-name consulting firms. These relationships can be expensive, and often provide a 30,000-foot strategic view rather than hands-on execution. Organizations have a range of options for connecting with independent experts, from using platforms to partnering with consultants. Experiment with different models to find out what works best for your needs and delivers the results and ROI that’s right for your business.

4. Work with an established technology partner.

Ad hoc contingent workforce management can quickly get overwhelming. Streamline your process by working with an established on-demand technology partner that maintains a diverse stable of vetted talent. From there, it’s easy to post ads, evaluate proposals and candidates, and manage the logistics of projects and payments from a single interface.

5. Shift toward a long-term vision of a blended workforce.

As you plan your hiring strategy for 12 months, 24 months and beyond, on-demand experts will be an important part of the picture. Ultimately, the availability of experienced, independent specialists that want to work with you on a project-by-project basis will enable leaders to be more strategic about full-time hires and more agile when it comes to project-based hires. Determine what a blended workforce looks like for your organization now, so you can begin to capture the benefits.

Organizations have options for growing their teams and deciding when to make a full-time hire, work with an organizational partner or leverage the flexibility and other benefits of a contingent workforce. Turn independent workers into a competitive advantage by exploring the options that are right for your business now, and develop a long-term talent strategy that helps you hire individuals with specialized skills, save money and remain on the cutting-edge. Whatever term you choose to use to refer to this new workforce, the so-called ‘gig economy’ has something to offer.


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