The gig economy isn’t just for ride-sharing services and odd jobs. Smart leaders are taking advantage of it to source highly qualified knowledge workers — and, with a little preparation, you can too. Here’s how.
The first step is to learn a bit about the gig economy.
The freelance economy grew to 55 million Americans this year — 35% of the nation’s workforce. This trend doesn’t just exist among service workers. We also see it among professionals who have been trained at tops schools and firms. Why? There are a few reasons:
• Talented workers, historically employed on a full-time basis, are dropping out of the full-time labor force. This is happening across generations: baby boomers who don’t want (or can’t afford) to fully retire, Gen Xers who need flexibility to raise kids and care for aging parents, and millennials who seek more freedom and independence in their work.
• Globalization and technology have made it easier to do knowledge work from anywhere at any time. The increased use of business process outsourcing has increased leaders’ comfort level with people doing work outside the geographic and employment boundaries of the organization.
• The employment relationship has been eroding over the past 30-40 years. Organizations no longer offer security, and individuals are not as loyal as they once were. In fact, for U.S. workers, the median tenure in a job is 4.2 years.
The second step is to ask yourself: What’s in it for me?
The most immediate benefit is to shift labor costs from fixed to variable. But there are other less quantifiable and possibly even more valuable benefits:
• You can source niche skills which may not be required on a full-time or ongoing basis.
• You can adequately resource projects outside the scope of your day-to-day work. Often, these projects become an employee’s third or fourth priority. With a freelancer, you get focus.
• You can access top talent that has dropped out of the traditional labor market (see above).
• You can assess a freelancer’s skill and cultural fit before potentially bringing them on board full time. Don’t underestimate this benefit — recruiting and selection processes are notoriously ineffective, and hiring mistakes are expensive.
According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, “when it comes to meeting heightened talent needs, [leaders] must increasingly learn to integrate and leverage the part-time and contingent workforce.”
The third step is to prepare your organization to effectively use freelance labor.
There are several aspects to consider, ranging from the pragmatic (budgeting) to the emotional (organizational culture).
• Many organizations establish different financial controls for regular employees and freelance labor. This prevents easy and meaningful trade-offs and is a barrier you need to remove.
• Work with your legal department to develop an approach to managing freelancers that ensures compliance and preserves two of the key benefits of freelance labor: speed and flexibility. This means striking a commonsense balance between myriad regulations governing contract workers and how you might prefer to do it.
• Use the same good management practices with your freelance talent you do with your internal talent. Freelancers have the same engagement needs as regular employees (purposeful work, clear objectives, recognition and respect).
• Consider how you will build and maintain company culture when freelancers are moving in and out of the organization. This is best accomplished by adopting a partner mindset vs. a vendor mindset.
The final step is to access the freelance labor market.
Historically, this market has been opaque and fragmented. If you didn’t already know someone, the cost of finding, vetting and contracting with a freelancer was high. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. There are a few strategies you can use to make it easier:
• There is a quickly developing nationwide spot market for high-end talent. Intermediary organizations like Catalant, Business Talent Group, Work Market and Upwork (among others) make it significantly easier to find, vet and contract with freelance talent.
• Local markets are also becoming less opaque. Many major cities now have local intermediaries who will help you connect with top freelancers. If you’re not familiar with one in your city, ask around (most recruiters will know these firms), or try a Google search.
• Tap into company alumni. Retirees and former employees (think: that rockstar employee who left for more flexibility) can be some of the most productive freelance workers since they are familiar with your organization’s processes and culture.
That’s right, the gig economy isn’t just for rides anymore.