Getting ready for the Gig Economy

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 15, 2018

A workforce transformation is under way, one that will change the way companies find and deploy talent   -  vichie81/shutterstock.com

As more and more people choose to skip the daily grind, smart companies look to a Liquid Workforce strategy as a competitive advantage

Chitra Narayanan The workplace scenario that Unmesh Pawar maps out for 2020 is somewhat other-worldly. By that year, says Pawar, global managing director, human resources, Products operating group at Accenture Consulting, “organisations will have to figure out a way to engage with bots, with humans and with a huge freelance workforce.” Barely four years from now, he points out, 43 per cent of the US workforce, or 60 million people, will be “liquid”, or freelance. That’s up from just 15.5 million (29 per cent) in 2015.

A dramatic workforce transformation is under way, one that will change the way companies find and deploy talent. The conventional recruiting methods won’t work in the ‘freelance economy’. And traditional engagement strategies will cut no ice with a freelance workforce.

The casual look

In India, too, an ‘Uberisation’ of the workforce is happening, with more and more people opting out of the daily grind and choosing to be ‘fluid’. According to the India Skills report from HR solutions company People Strong, “the number of workers hired as freelancers or contract workers has risen from 20 per cent to 25 per cent in the contingent workforce in the past two years.” The report points to the rise of the Gig Economy or Flex Economy. “More are opting for a flexible style of work, one that lets them remain in control of their time and allows them to work when and how they want.”

Singapore-based Gyan Nagpal, talent management coach and author of Talent Economics, which profiles the workforces of 45 countries, says employers need to think beyond full-time employees and tap into the Open Talent Economy. “In modern business, the art and science of management shouldn’t be about overseeing an ever-shrinking base of internal resources. Instead, it is about curating capability or contribution across a network of sources,” he says. Some really smart people who can create immense value for companies are sitting outside the four walls of their offices today, he says.

This is why Accenture believes a liquid workforce strategy can become a competitive advantage for companies. Within 10 years, we will see a new Global 2000 company with no full-time employees outside of the C-suite, notes Accenture Technology Vision 2016.

Pawar says Accenture has been getting ready for tomorrow’s world. “We have a platform with 100,000 people on it to get ready for the Liquid Workforce,” he explains.

So how do companies connect with freelancers? Borrow ideas from the movie industry, suggests Accenture in its Liquid Workforce report. That means managing projects using the on-demand hiring workforce model.

Pawar notes that technology offers solutions. A host of online freelancer marketplaces have come up, connecting independent professionals with companies. On freelancer.com 20 million users log in every day. Upwork (formerly Elance-o-desk), another digital labour marketplace, has a long list of freelancers available to work for companies at short notice.

Even LinkedIn is in on the act, with ProFinder, a tool for freelancers, which is being used by more than 50,000 LinkedIn-approved freelancers under 140 service categories.

Finding talent is only one part of it. HR will need to let go of bureaucratic procedures. “Employers need to be ready... to provide... flexibility to their workforce,” notes the India Skill report.

Many have set in motion transformative exercises in-house aimed at working with fewer resources. Injecting digital capability into the organisational DNA is the first step. Even behemoths like 124-year-old GE have transformed their internal processes. In 2014, GE put in place a programme aimed at making its workforce nimbler.

Organisations are also preparing for a future where many roles will vanish, where internal resources will be few.

Labour pangs

While companies need to transform and come up with strategies to cope, even the government will need to put in place a new labour relations framework. The rise of platform models like Uber and Airbnb has given rise to anxiety. Sangeet Pal Choudary, founder and CEO of Platform Thinking Labs, says unionisation of workers on platforms that use on-demand talent will be difficult.

However, a recent ruling by a UK employment court noted that Uber drivers are not “self-employed” and should be paid a living wage, holiday pay and so on. This could force a rethink of business models based on the Gig Economy.

Choudary says platforms like Airbnb and Uber are bringing a new dimension to people management since the roles of marketing and HR collide here. “In a platform model, what you thought of as marketing is now HR management,” he says. Airbnb is nurturing the hosts of homes and educating them on how to serve guests: these are extensions of HR management, not of marketing.

As furious debates on the Gig Economy rage, Rituparna Chakraborty, President, Indian Staffing Federation, an apex body of the flexi-staffing industry, offers a different perspective. She acknowledges that a Gig Economy of sorts is taking shape in India, but adds that it will take a while to make an impact here. In India, where there is a huge informal work economy, 50 per cent of self-employment is premised on self-exploitation, she says. The larger workforce issue that needs to be addressed is workforce formalisation.

Published on November 23, 2016

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