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Rocking with the gig economy

With many people now opting to work freelance, companies must ensure their short-term employees are valued in the same way as permanent staff

Technology enables us to work from home or on the move. Photograph:iStock

Technology enables us to work from home or on the move. Photograph:iStock

 

The gig economy is a buzzword that’s been going around work circles, but what does it mean for a company and its workforce? It’s got nothing to do with rock concerts, but the gig economy can hit the right note with some people. It’s where people work in a succession of various short-term contracts instead of having a single full-time position. This can sound like a precarious way to earn a living, but in a rapidly changing work environment the gig economy can actually be mutually beneficial for both the worker and the company who has contracted them to do a specific job.

“The gig economy is now a future trend, it’s the reality,” says Cathal Divilly of Great Place to Work. “This is the way work is going, and workplaces need to manage that. For many people, the gig economy really works, because it gives them flexibility. A nine-to-five job won’t suit everyone – more and more people prefer to tailor their working hours around their own lives, and have control over their working week. They want a better work-life balance and don’t want to be tied in to a full-time situation.”

The gig economy is being driven by changes in the way we work – and changes in the types of jobs we do. While companies will always need core staff, bringing in freelancers to do particular projects or carry out one-off jobs that require specific skills can be more efficient and cost-effective – and the freelancer can win out too. The remuneration can be high, and they could have a recurring arrangement with the company that guarantees them work down the line.

Technology is enabling us to work more autonomously – smartphones, laptops, apps and the cloud are facilitating more efficient freelance work.

“A lot of work can now be done outside the office,” says Divilly. “You don’t actually have to be physically in an office to get the job done – you can work from home or on the move, and this is another reason why the gig economy works for a lot of people.”

But how does a company ensure it’s a great place to work, even for short-term staff operating in the gig economy?

Value and trust

It’s about value and trust, says Divilly. You value your freelancers the same way you value your full-time staff and you bring them into the circle of trust so they get the buy-in to your company’s goals and visions, and will see the company as more than just a passing source of income.

“You have to have good standards and practices, because people look at a company before they work for it – they want to know if this company will meet with their standards and will it be up to scratch. They check with other employees and on social media to see what people are saying about the company, and they look at the company’s standing in the wider business community. If you are on the list of one of the great places to work, it will help you attract the best employees, whether it’s as a full-time staff member or someone you contract out work to.”

It’s not just millennials who are increasingly using the gig economy. It’s also working for older people who may be coming back into the workforce after bringing up children, or who don’t want to do full-time hours anymore. They also want the flexibility of working in the gig economy, and employers may value them because they bring a lot of experience and wisdom to their roles.

“But, remember, the gig economy isn’t for everybody,” says Divilly. “It suits some temperaments, the type of people who are self-motivated and like having the freedom to work autonomously. But others will prefer the certainty of having a permanent position. I think in the future companies will have the best of both worlds – they’ll have a good team of permanent staff members, but also a good group of freelancers to enhance the workforce. And a company that can balance both sides and keep everyone engaged will truly be a great place to work.”