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The Gig Economy

October 10, 2018

What are the challenges and opportunities created from this ever-increasing trend?

A recent Forbes study revealed that by 2027, based on the current growth rate, freelancers are expected to become the majority workforce, due to factors such as automation, freedom and flexibility.  So, what does the growing gig economy mean for the workplace and what are the technologies that will be needed to support it?

We spoke to ASOS Chairman, Brian McBride, and communications analyst, Dave Michels, to get their thoughts on this ever-increasing trend. First, we wanted to know what would drive organisations to encourage the freelance model or to employ people full time. McBride says that “while seasonal gig work has been around for decades in retail and manufacturing, it now reflects changing customer behaviour”. “In the old days in retail, it was pretty straight forward.  You went shopping 6 days a week, between 9 and 6, and that was it. Nowadays, online shopping is 24/7, people order at 2am and they’ll want it by 10am. That’s what the customer wants, and you have to be able to deliver that.”

Whether seasonal or long term, it’s clear that every organisation will have to integrate this increasing number of gig workers into their workforce. The challenge will be to ensure they feel part of the team and that the company is able to maximise their skills, however long, while they are there. McBride’s advice is to think of the Gig worker as being one of your employees and not treat them as first and second-class citizens.

“Gig workers can vote with their feet, and if yours is an awful place to work and you’ve got poor working conditions, they’re going to go get a better job elsewhere. Gig workers are very, very portable, their skills are portable, and there’s a lot of demand for them. So, they have got a little bit of power in this equation as well.”

Fitting into company culture is one challenge, but what are the tools needed to ensure clear communication and effective collaboration? Michels believes that the two are very related: “there’s an attitude problem and there’s a technical problem where external resources are not on the same footing as internal resources. It used to be a painful experience as a remote worker. On conference calls you couldn’t see what the room were doing, couldn’t see what was on the wall, couldn’t hear half the people in the room; and when you tried to express yourself it was very difficult, so we penalised that person as a remote employee.”

That may have been the case, but technology has come a long way and continues to improve. We offer our own collaboration tool, Circuit, as an example. Circuit provides a persistent meeting room centred around a team or a particular project.  Meetings can be replayed for those new to the team, and relevant documents and resources are available for people anywhere and at any time.  Michels observes, “Absolutely, it’s gotten to the point now, where the remote participant is better off.  The person in the room may not be able to see what’s projected on the wall, where the remote person has it clearly on their screen. You may not be able to hear the speaker very well, where I can just turn my volume up”.

“I think the biggest issue is understanding when an external person is part of the team.  And a lot of organisations have made this evolutionary step, and a lot of them haven’t.”

He cites perhaps the best example of a company with gig workers in Uber and the solutions it has for them: “It’s not just a driver’s licence that makes you an Uber driver.  You have to know the company procedures, how to deal with accidents, drunken customers, all kind of situations.  They have to run their drivers through some kind of orientation.  They don’t do that by flying them all in. They do this on demand, you watch these videos.  So, the reality is that a lot more of this onboarding process and a lot more of this alignment has to be done in a more effective model for the gig and remote workers.”

This is where the right communications tools are crucial. Circuit would allow any Uber driver, in need of help from a teammate, to post into a conversation and get advice for how to handle any issue 24/7, and that could be a peer in Shanghai just starting his day, when she’s finishing her day in Brooklyn.

With more and more people choosing to be self-employed, the loss of long term job security and the increasing number of companies offering gig work, we asked if they could envisage a day when a company had no actual employees.

Our experts offer differing views.  Although McBride strongly believes in treating the employed and gig worker equally, he says we will always need “a core workforce that are invested in the long term, supported by freelance and gig workers”. Michels brings up an interesting point however, offering Hollywood and housebuilding as two examples of industries now run that way: “When a studio wants to make a movie, a whole set of employees come together and form new kinds of companies. And so, whether the gig economy is subcontractors, or individuals, isn’t necessarily the point. The point is, to create that project, that product, they come together and then they dissolve again. That’s already happening. And I expect that to continue to grow into more kinds of industries.”

The trend is indeed set to continue, and if the freelance workforce grows at the current pace it could soon make up the majority of employees.  It is clearly important that both IT and C-suite ensure these workers are integrated culturally and have the tools to collaborate and contribute effectively.

Do you think a corporation could have no full-time employees? Join the debate.

Watch the full conversation between former Amazon CEO, Brian McBride, Industry Analyst, Dave Michels, and Unify Head of Global Communications, Tim Bishop.

To find out more about Unify communication and collaboration solutions, contact us here.