Here is a fable that you may have heard. In a faraway land, on a sunny Monday morning, Varun wakes up to the view of a curtain slowly rising on the east-side window, soft Hindustani music picking up-tempo in one corner, the timer of a coffee machine going off with a soft tick; a smart device on the bedside starts to give out the latest buzz in the business world. Pausing for a few seconds, Varun smiles and casually asks the device to scan for freelance projects starting in the next four weeks with companies in a certain part of the town. Beaming with a smile about something interesting that he hears, he records a voice note to be posted to his manager once he is back from the gym. By now, if you think that something about this is implausible, then you are right, the “in a faraway land” part is imaginary!
In an era where digital technology is taking over many facets of our personal and professional lives, workforce dynamics are also rapidly shifting. Like any other significant change, this, also, is likely to go through a phase of turmoil before settling down to a new paradigm. Companies that are gearing up to embrace the new and adapt their approach and actions are likely to see through, while it is curtains down for those caught in a time warp.
Mind bog-gigging growth
In India, organizations have been employing part-time, freelance, temporary, and contract workers for a long while. The outsourcing and freelancing segment has been growing steadily and has become more and more visible in recent times. As per industry estimates, India could have up to 20 million 'freelance consultants' amounting to $20-30 billion in market size by 2025.
There is much excitement ahead as the numbers kept growing, and many of the best and brightest turn to ‘gigging’ as primary employment. Plus, they come in all shapes and sizes, ages, experiences, and backgrounds, complete with a different set of needs and lifestyles, ambitions, and aspirations. So, there is going to be no demand-supply gap in availability and variety of talent available for the full spectrum of jobs that organizations wish to hire gig workers for.
Understanding new-age ‘giggers’
Outsourcing and freelancing as a concept has been around for such a long time, so, what is unique about the gig economy? The gig economy is not confined to a specific domain or geography and, independent workers delivering their work digitally through tech platforms can be found in any corner of the country. Those in IT and digital industry are accustomed to taking on such part-time or short-term assignments.
As work and life become more integrated than ever, the new age ‘giggers’ are looking for a flexible schedule, variety in projects personalized to their style, freedom of work location, opportunity to balance multiple career options, and customize their earning avenues. ‘Giggers’ are progressively popular because they help to unravel a significant point of persistently unfilled positions. Firms that contract independent workers can expand their talent pool and locate skills that aren't accessible in their neighborhood market. Hiring freelancers has also proved to help with short-term projects and scale staffing up or down depending on business cycles.
Strategically engaging in the gig economy
In the gig era, the fundamental composition of the workforce is changing, and a holistic shift is needed in managing, engaging, and motivating the workforce. All the old paradigms viz. organization structures, policies and procedures, office location, work hours and time-in requirements, leave and absence, boss-subordinate relationships, loyalty, are getting challenged. The onus of learning & development, job rotation, role enrichment, and enlargement, is also possibly shifting from the employer to the worker.
However, in this arrangement, the joint emotional bank balance is the collateral damage. Organizations need to create a customized strategy for acquiring and managing talent in the gig economy. Assigning meaningful roles aligned to passion, as well as personal preferences, is more likely to move the much-revered productivity and efficiency metrics. For HR practitioners who recognize the significance of “the right fit” and accessible talent that can address their business needs, are ready to take the leap. The challenge, however, lies in making the ‘experience’ appealing for the gigger to ensure ‘repeat purchase’ and build a meaningful ‘long term’ association. L&D teams need to actively co-manage the professional development and learning cycles. Similarly, compensation and benefit teams need to re-work their structures for mutual benefit. Most importantly, leadership teams need to invest time and effort in building a culture of co-existence and mutual respect between traditional and gig workers, besides tweaking the organizational policy framework to accommodate all the segments.
How to get the right balance
Full-time employment will remain in vogue for a long time since a predictable and consistent paycheck is unlikely to go out of fashion anytime soon. Similarly, jobs that require collaboration, consultation, facetime with clients, and a high degree of specialization will remain in the traditional fold. In the long run, each industry will settle for its unique gig talent mix. The inroads made by technology, with AI and ML (bots for the layman), will have a significant influence on pushing some jobs out of the traditional and into the gig domain. Ultimately, is gigging a fad or a genuine alternative to traditional employment? No crystal gazing this one - only time will tell!