India ranks second in the global freelance workforce after the United States. The temporary workforce in India is around 15 million and most of these gig workers are millennials. While we were well on the path of digitization, the lockdowns across the world have pushed us further toward leveraging technology to manage resources and operations remotely.
Before COVID19 made it non-negotiable, many organizations and managers cringed at the thought of employing gig workers or even employees who wished to work remotely. This was due to a number of factors that made monitoring and amalgamating an ‘invisible’ workforce difficult.
In this article, we will try and explore the mindset of gig and remote workers, look at what they value and consequently understand what organizations could do to seamlessly integrate them with their office-going workforce. After all, experts are unanimously in agreement about the fact that the future workplace is going to be a hybrid one. In that, we will see a hopefully harmonious yet fluid mobility of employees between home and a physical office. While a large part of the workforce will still be remote, we will see many people shuttle to office for a couple of days or more.
What is this hybrid reality going to entail? Better work-life balance for employees as they get more used to working from home, better use of office time as managers make the most of their team member’s limited time at office and perhaps a good mix of digital and in-person collaboration amongst teams.
Managers have to grow into this new future of work and equip themselves to deal with a more decentralized model that is a mix of freelance and remote workforce. Integrating these various kinds of workers will be the key to optimal performance and organizational resilience.
In order to understand how to integrate the gig workforce, it is important to see what matters to these kinds of workers.
The exploitation of gig workers has remained a concern even before this kind of work got its due spotlight. While organizations have turned to the gig workforce to reduce operational costs, taxes and boost productivity, they have tended to stress out and overwork this invisible workforce while negotiating really low rate-contracts, pressurizing with deadlines, and in many instances not honoring the contracts. So one of the things most valued by the gig and contingent workforce is fair pay and work conditions
A person who chooses to be independent and work on his or her own terms might not necessarily value security too much, right? That’s not true. Historically, gig workers have not been entitled to security benefits like employee pensions and health insurance. But those times are a’ changin. Awareness and protests by the workers and increased reliance on their services have forced both governments and organizations to not just take notice but also innovate their structures to include atleast basic benefits and rights.
Unlike employees on a payroll, gig workers have fewer opportunities to learn and upskill while taking benefit of the curated programs that a formal workplace offers. But that doesn’t mean that they do not want to develop their skillsets. Learning is a great tool to not just increase the calibre of the workforce but also engage them meaningfully. Organizations must cast a wider net of their learning & development initiatives in order to create opportunities for their gig workforce to upgrade their knowledge and competencies.
While financial fairness, security and upskilling maybe some of the things that gig workers desire, these are not the only things needed to make this arrangement successful. For organizations that are considering employing large numbers of gig workers, it is alsoimportant that just like payroll employees, they attract the right kind of talent, build trust and engage them purposefully. So from the organization’s point of view, here are a few things that need to be implemented in order to integrate the workers with an alternative work arrangement.
While this holds true for any hiring you do in the organization, it has become even more relevant in the case of contractual or gig workers. Gig workers are usually hired for specialized roles and specific projects. While interviewing them, it is important to assess their talent so that managers don’t have to waste time in understanding the freelancer’s scope.
A relationship based on trust is one that is not just more reliable but more aligned with your goals. While gig workers’ time with the team and the organization at large might be ephemeral, managers will find definite benefits in beginning with a relationship based on trust. What are the ways to build trust in a short term relationship? Transparent communication, frequent connects and setting clear expectations would be great starting points to build trust. Besides that, it will greatly help if the contingent workforce is given an opportunity to build trust with the regular employees and vice versa.
As Dale Carnegie famously said, ‘when dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion’. The success of a remote relationship begins with trust and flourishes with effective communication. When gig workers are expected to work with regular team members for tasks and projects, it is important to provide them many opportunities to connect and communicate. This exchange of communication can help to enhance productivity and of course, build a rapport. It is a manager’s job to ensure that information is flowing freely and is not being hoarded at any point.
In order to be accountable, it is important that clear expectations are set from the word go. Managers of gig workers must elucidate to their team what success looks like so that the remote workforce has a clear idea of what is expected. If working together over specific projects, it is important the regular employees understand why and how the gig workforce is going to pitch in towards the project’s success.
Integrating the gig workforce in a traditional or even a remote set up can seem like an uphill climb because of the nature of already established equations and relationships. A gig worker cannot have the same rapport with team members as two regular people who see each other every day. It is also important to note that bringing in a new but short-term colleague in a team could catch many people off guard. To tackle these real-world challenges, a manager has to strike the delicate balance with communication, collaboration and inclusivity.
Aligning the gig workers with the same true north as their regular counterparts would help steer the team’s efforts in one direction. That goal post should be the organization’s vision and objectives. When gig workers are not just acquainted but can sample the culture of the organization through their manager and colleagues, it creates a sense of belonging and shared sense of purpose.
The time for integrating the contractual workforce with the culture of the organization has arrived and promises many benefits. While it might seem like a task that is not cut out for the light-hearted, if done correctly it could reap higher productivity for the organization and more meaningful employment opportunities in the economy. How has your organization done when it comes to integrating the gig workforce?