The gig economy employs millions of people in India. As per reports, India constitutes about 40% of the freelance jobs offered globally, with 15 million skilled professionals fuelling the ever-so-increasing demand of contract-based jobs or the freelance industry. North Carolina-based procurement intelligence firm Beroe, Inc, states the global market for temporary labor is currently valued at $463.1 Bn and is expected to increase until 2020, with major revenue growth in places like China, Italy, France, Sweden, and India.
However is it the best model for a country struggling with realizing the full potential of its demographic dividend? What are the common challenges faced by employers in hiring and engaging gig workers? What can organizations do to engage and upskill them?
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Saurabh Deep Singla, Senior VP and Chief Human Resources Officer, Ecom Express, a leading end-to-end technology-enabled logistics solutions provider to the ecommerce industry, talks about the rise of the gig economy in India and how companies can face the challenges of hiring and engaging gig workers.
The rise of the gig economy is a global phenomenon. How has its progress been in India and its current state in India?
The world of business is dramatically dynamic, and with it comes the requirement of a dynamic workforce. Today companies must be sufficiently agile and allocate resources effectively and efficiently in a cost-effective manner. This requires new and innovative solutions and that is what we believe the gig economy can offer.
Gig Economy is a solution or we can say a giving of this VUCA world. And when we talk about India, it’s always been there. The majority of the informal workforce has been freelancing in each of the urban and rural workforce. However, with the evolution of the digital age and the organizations becoming boundary-less, it has accelerated.
When it comes to ecommerce delivery platforms, the gig workforce help employers especially SMEs or startups manage labor costs and respond to the peaks and troughs in demand that come with seasonal trends. Meanwhile, access to virtual portals and other technology advancements have made it possible for the gig workforce to gain access to job opportunities in ways that weren’t previously possible.
Today many people are freelancing or have more than one source of income or working a part-time gig, which clearly showcases the growth and demand for this sector. For sure, the gig economy still needs structuring but is booming.
What is the one big difference you have seen in the gig economy of today-then vs now?
If we talk about the gig economy in the context of then vs now, the fundamental difference is that formerly it was not recognized as opposed to today where it is a sector in itself. The predominant contributors of it are the millennials, with Gen Z following up on this trend because of the flexibility, career mobility, hyper-connectivity and job satisfaction offered by it.
Earlier being a gig worker had a lot of risk factors attached to it; now the level of transparency in all transactions and the awareness and information available has made this sector very visible.
Technology obviously has played a major role in the improvement of this sector as a whole, along with better connectivity to distant parts of the world. For example, a decade earlier, we cannot even imagine a mother of two sitting at her home taking care of her kids and side by side working for the top-notch clients across the globe.
This amalgamation of visibility and technology has made gig economy a win-win scenario for organizations as well as individuals.
What do you think are some core points organizations should focus on while engaging gig workers?
To move towards the gig economy and to draw in this flexible or shared workforce we need flexible strategies. The customary strategy isn't going to work this time. Start with changing the job description to make it more skill/ competency-based. Hire them for time-bound, outcome-based work. At Ecom Express, even when we hire delivery partners (part-time) we only focus on their skills and not just on education or intent to work for long term which we usually consider while hiring permanent employees.
Sketch out a crisp on-boarding plan for gig workers as this will add meaning and context to their work and they would be aligned with the company’s values and goals. Also, let them know how their work is going to make an impact.
Gig workers are hired mostly for a brief period so the outcome that we expect from them ought to be extremely clear and exact. Ongoing feedback, regular check-ins and putting a mechanism in place to ensure work is on track and in line with mutual expectations will help. Don’t forget to miss the touch element like monthly video/ face-to-face meetings as human interaction provides a sense of cohesion.
Likewise, having a shorter payment cycle and incremental slab based payouts drives better productivity and engagement.
Lastly, providing training not only to the gig-workers but also to the manager who will manage the gig-workers is important. Attrition is very high in gig workforce and the reason they stay is for meaningful work, feeling valued for the work they do, getting recognized for their performance and a sense of belonging with the current employer. The manager can play a big role in it.
Remember that gig workers are not too different from full-time workforce but these are millennials and they are not going to work in strict boundaries.
What are some of the challenges you have seen when it comes to hiring gig workers? How have you gone about resolving them?
The major challenge in hiring gig workers is the organization itself. The management expects long commitment from gig workers while they have an inclination towards flexibility. The organization needs to perceive that they're not staying for long, and are only employed for the skilled services that don't seem to be required on a regular basis.
The second challenge we tend to face is selecting the right talent and at the right time. Are they considering us as a potential employer? To avoid this disconnect, we try and bring Employer Brand to life and trust among gig workers.
To make an organization compelling to gig workers, give it a personality and try to inculcate a sense of brand association or a voice.
Make it alive for them, so that it feels more human and less of a “faceless corporation.” Focus on growing employee advocacy programs. Share personal employee stories, video content into communications to further personalize and add authenticity to brand in the eyes of these candidates.
The challenge in our industry is we are dependent on projections of volumes which can go wrong and are variable at various points of time. So our biggest challenge was how we go to a variable model to unlock the potential of every single person in the country who has a bike and a smartphone and is ready to work.
Hence we have been trying to hire people who want to work but as per their needs. This is where the gig economy has helped us variablize our talent requirements. The challenges that came in our way was how do you find them, how do you train them and trust them with the shipment and cash. To crack the trust code, we asked our local delivery center head to look for people in their locality and get the resident check done for these guys. For seamless communication, we got them on a mobile app as the rest of the workforce. Lastly, in order to train them, we used the mobile app only rather than getting them into classrooms.
How can organizations devise a fair benefits plan for the gig workers? What should they focus on to keep them engaged? What are some of the initiatives taken by Ecom Express towards that?
The ideal benefits plan may be a combination of tangible and intangible benefits. For tangible benefits, a good incentive plan for hitting key milestones and contributing to overall team goals can help achieve consistent work that will benefit the overall performance. A multi-level refer and earn program can also be a good strategy to engage the current workforce along with creating a talent pool of gig workers.
Intangible benefits can be as simple as paying on time. It helps in creating a huge difference when gig workers get paid on time.
At Ecom Express, we do weekly pay-outs to keep them engaged and motivated. It has direct impact on their performance as well. Similarly, including them in the company’s social events, training and engagement activities is also very helpful in engaging and creating a sense-of-belonging in them. The mantra is you have to engage them daily or as per their need, give them a consistent opportunity of earning, continue to feed them information on the best practices of the company, show them what more are you doing, and keep talking to them through the app.
Organizations normally fail to do enough when it comes to skilling gig workers. How do you think organizations should approach skilling to make a real difference to gig workers?
Skilling gig workers is important, even when they are not going to stay for long. Because, for that short period of time, they will be interacting with your customers, representing your company brand, and interacting with your full-time employees. And all these things can be boosted by proper training, which will have a significant financial impact on the bottom line.
As the gig economy depends upon its flexibility and ease of doing work, so all the training programs must be of short time and be available to them anywhere, anytime. Creating a 24*7 app-based learning platform act as a key differentiator.
In Ecom Express, we have created the basic training videos which are a must to watch before entering into the delivery workforce. They cover everything from basic etiquettes to greeting the customers to traffic rules guidelines.
In addition, there must be a complete training program for the managers who are going to manage them to ensure proper skilling, on-time feedback and mentoring. Remember, providing training not only impacts the performance but also helps them to upskill themselves. Investing in this scalable workforce will have a great impact on their productivity and of course your business results.
Treat them with respect and provide focused benefits, and it will have ripple effects on your ability to retain and attract this variable workforce.
What do you think are the trends as far as the future of the gig economy is concerned?
My belief is at some point in time, I might not need to hire as many highly specialized full-time roles being employed full time in a company. And a lot of roles where it’s about new ideas or skillset which may not be available with one person alone. There is a recent instance where a company who was struggling to find a content specialist for the website because of the limited budget they had suddenly hit a goldmine when they got open to the gig workforce. Guess what, they engaged a bright marketing student from South Africa to work for them on projects and cost was reduced to 70% of their budget.
The gig economy has just started, so the future is going to take shape into various layers. Of course, leadership roles will not come easy but they may be on the radar as well in the future.
Data sciences, analytics, sales, marketing and a lot of functions related to advisory roles have potential to move into the gig economy.
By 2025, it will be a major chunk of the economy, though it may be limited to new-age companies. Unless we get students from colleges and Engineering/MBA schools to think of Gig as a safe career choice, it may not take shape as much as we want it to. Ultimately, it has to emerge like an industry, there has to be an industry body setting norms, only then it can reach its full potential.