White-Collar Gig Economy is here- is HR fraternity ready?

Gig Economy
Can we exercise the openness towards having “gig” employees for higher tasks- Digital manager for 4 days a week and Marketing Head for another ? or HR Head for 3 days a week and L&D Head for another ?.

White-Collar Gig Economy is here- is HR fraternity ready?

The term gig economy has been used since 2009, ever since New Yorker editor Tina Brown coined it in 2009. There is a frenzy for every other HR conference or books being about how will gig economy impact, what are the changes that one needs to embrace. The recent pandemic situation has pushed us all to rethink several paradigms of how we operate as a workforce, the economic impact, and fundamentally how we safeguard businesses.

With the current external scenario changing and every other day news of friends/connects losing their jobs- led me thinking, is this the time when what perhaps has been said till now about knowledge worker jobs indeed making an entry in the “gig economy”. Brown did predict in 2009 about the impact of the gig economy on the white-collar workforce, almost 11 years later it still hadn’t made as many inroads primarily because of multiple reasons well-articulated in the HBR article – Will the Pandemic Push Knowledge Work into the Gig Economy?, The article sheds light on how the pandemic may push the creation of the generation of knowledge workers and their introduction into the gig economy.

What is The Business Need It Serves?

My logic here is simple- anything which contributes positively to the bottom line gets a business leader’s buy-in. In the present case, if the idea is to make my fixed costs variable, there is some merit in considering it albeit with all precautions and risks included. The idea is to get the best talent at not a fixed cost- with clear accountability and deliverables. At a principle level may need getting used to, however, the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages over a period.  A lot of globals and some Indian MNC’s are already on their way of exploring this model, and perhaps the current situation may bring some openness to explore this some more. With this change as a fraternity -are we prepared for it? My feeling is we are not.  And let me elaborate this

The Mindset

The mindset as a fraternity has been mostly limited to looking at gig workers for repetitive tasks- the cabs, delivery mechanisms, the IT technical piece, and perhaps a few short-term assignments. While these jobs help make the people costs variable, imagine having an HR Head who manages to also head HR for a company and help design a reorganization framework for another?  Out of curiosity, I registered on a few of the popular freelance/gig spaces to evaluate the kind of assignments and most were again similar. Most assignments focused on low complexity tasks, perhaps repetitive and most often for folks in early or mid-career. HBR highlights the difference in jobs with value consumption and value creation, some jobs may have both together and may not necessarily be considered short term, however, if one breaks up for example – quoting HBR here –

“ But for many tasks, there is — or can be — a gap between creation and consumption of value.  For example, auditing a firm (value creation) and sharing the results with the board (value consumption) can happen at distinct points in time”.

Are we ready to cull out the jobs which can limit to value creation and the implementation or operationalize piece being done by the rest of the teams? Hence the first change is in the mindset.  Just like how the pandemic has pushed us to redefine many things about ways of working, perhaps this will push us too to evaluate our mindset. Can we exercise the openness towards having “ gig” employees for higher tasks- Digital manager for 4 days a week and Marketing Head for another ? or HR Head for 3 days a week and L&D Head for another ?.

What this need also changes in the way we word the employment contracts, which need to be specific and sharper. Clear timelines, workdays, period, etc. may need to be specified.

How We Hire – It is Not about the No of Years but Exposure and Experience

Over the years as an HR professional, I feel our approach of how we review a candidate and profile has not changed much. While the world of assessments and selection process has changed and we have sharpened our lens of what we are looking for, I urge my fellow professionals to look beyond the “ should have worked for X no of years “ lens. Korn Ferry in its research on Potential in its article – 7 signposts of leadership potential peak of the importance of Exposure and Experience both. It goes on to highlight 10 signature experiences that build significant experience and elevate the overall richness in a person’s profile. There is value in managerial experience at every leadership transition band which helps the person develop certain competencies, however, the thinking of X no of years in an organization without looking at what a person has done in that time seems shortsighted and warrants a change.

Let’s look at this case – Imagine this – a young individual- has spent 1 year in an organization and managed a large project assignment where he has led the entire project start to finish. Compare this to another individual- 4 years in the same company – has managed to have achievements in his role., In a gig knowledge economy, there is merit in gaining both the experience (staying in the role, the managerial experience, and decision making) and the exposure piece to challenging/enriching assignments.

This changes the way Talent managers/ Talent acquisition professionals/ hiring partners change their approach towards prospective talent.

Performance and Talent Management – Sharper Accountabilities and Clear Deliverable

For a gig economy to take shape, we need clearer sharper objectives and deliverables. Accountabilities need to be clearly outlined, and further reinforced through the various reward measures. In this case performance management frequency, governance can be determined depending on the role/managerial level/complexity of the task and what is the exact nature of the knowledge gig worker’s responsibilities.

The trend of knowledge of gig workers has a huge impact on talent management. With the whole shift in looking at talent marketplace- opens a plethora of opportunities for the internal staff and pushes them to be responsible for their own learning. One needs to think, and plan where do you want to take your career and therefore what are skillsets – experiences, necessary, and what kind of assignments will take you there. It also will push organizations to be far more agile, because no longer can I assume that a person will stay committed to an organization- one must work for it.

Not every organization invests in career planning or offers opportunities to move across roles or invests in talent management in true sense. Imagine it being like a 20-20 auction and one managing to get the best players on board. Some of the tech giants already work in a way where the transition workforce planning is something which is a critical task in talent management/talent acquisition where core team may be internal and one may get the best talent as freelancers or gig employees.

Managerial Mindset and Culture – Inclusion of a Different Kind

Picture this – CTO by the day and chef by the 2nd half- why not? Now this calls for a very different managerial maturity, awareness, and sharper way of managing performance, coaching as well as managerial behavior. There are other factors of supporting the mobility of staff across the different assignments, the engagement levels as well as making the workforce overall a very agile one with a deep understanding of business. Given complexities in this, perhaps it makes sense to decide what percentage of roles/bands should one have a “liquid workforce”. The cultural assimilation of these employees may also pose an interesting challenge for OD professionals and managers.

Liquid workforce/Gig Knowledge workers/ is already here to stay, with a significant percentage of employees in organizations. The current situation may perhaps expedite the pace of change and call for us as a fraternity to adapt to these changes.

*Bibliography: HBR, Financial Times, Eden McCollum, and Economic Times


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