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How your business can tap into the rise of the gig economy

The gig economy is still an unknown concept to many New Zealand companies, and yet the number of people engaging in it continues to rise. Master's candidate at Tech Futures Lab and people and culture director at Simpson Grierson Paula Williams explores what the rise of flexibility in working and the gig economy means for businesses, and how they can be curious, make way for the skills and motivations of the gig worker and have a plan. 

We are living in a world that is laden with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity or more trendily known as, VUCA. How do leaders shape their organisation to be responsive and stay relevant? It can be a huge challenge to know where to start in keeping up with technology, innovation and the rapidly changing workforces with differing generational diversity needs. 

Given the significant digital tools that we now have at our fingertips, greater than anything we have seen before, the workforce is increasingly global and mobile. Work can be done from anywhere around the globe, enabling jobs and locations to be decoupled. As part of my Master of Technological Futures,  I have become even more interested about what the future career will look like and have recently completed a future of jobs study here in New Zealand that indicated only 28 percent of organisations have a future of work strategy.

This study also highlighted that as technology continues to grow exponentially, together with the changing workforce generations, we are rapidly moving away from the traditional ‘job for life’ into a future of ‘multiple gigs for my skills’.  Also referred to as a portfolio career, skilled professionals are choosing greater flexibility by taking on multiple ‘gigs’ for a number of organisations, at the same time. 

The gig economy concept is only just starting to be understood in New Zealand and participants in the survey indicated that this is likely to include volunteering and personal ventures to provide a more fulfilling and richer life for themselves and their families.  The survey data also supported the increased tendency for businesses to hire independent contractors, freelancers and short-term workers as they believe there is there is greater access to an expanded talent pool, getting a job done by the best skill and keeping annual labour costs down. Other benefits identified in the survey included gig workers bringing better creativity and innovation as well as identification that this way of working is likely preferred by newer generations.

The Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum, claims that nearly 50 percent of companies also expect that automation will lead to some reduction in their full-time workforce by 2022, based on the job profiles of their employee base today. However, 38 percent of businesses surveyed expect to extend their workforce to new productivity-enhancing roles, and more than a quarter expect automation to lead to the creation of new roles in their enterprise. In addition, businesses are set to expand their use of contractors highlighting their intention to engage workers in a more flexible manner.

If we aren’t already, what are the top three things we can be doing now to help us embrace all of this?   

  1. Understand and embrace the different generations

    The global workforce and work is significantly changing. If predictions are correct, over 65 percent of the global workforce will be millennials or gen z (those born early 1980’s through to 2000’s) by 2020 – that is next year. These generations are still interested in a career but much more on their terms through purpose, flexibility and contributing towards social good. These generations are extremely tech savvy and many have grown up entirely on the internet with a pay and rate as you go mentality. They want to be measured through their delivery outcomes rather than how many working hours they sit at their desk each week.  

    The experienced worker is no longer all retiring at 65, they are fit, healthy and want to continue working longer, but not full time and they will choose where to contribute their valuable skills. Flexibility here will be a significant factor in their decision making and for organisations to retain their skills in some capacity.

  1. Be curious and consider the possibilities as technology continues to grow exponentially

    Does your place of work reflect that it is 2019 when it comes to technology or are you still operating with Prince, in 1999 with a commodore 64?!  What about your own mindset? We already live in a technology-based world that is AI enabled, virtual/augmented reality is a reality, drones, internet of things are becoming more everyday through our own very smart devices... at work do you provide your people access to these tools and technologies?

    If by 2020, more than half the entire workforce are digital natives, they won’t want to be led by digital dinosaurs. Today’s leaders need to embrace technology as it will be our employees and client’s expectation, especially as all of this requires different leadership, a growth mindset, willingness and a place to play and fail to enabling learning. Understandably, for some this will be a very daunting notion, however there are many tools out there to support, enable and educate such as the Digital Suitcase. This is a video-based online course that is easy to understand, jargon free, and features highly knowledgeable hosts who walk you through new or difficult concepts. Topics include Blockchain, 3D Printing, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and Augmented Reality. It is an example of a platform that empowers us with the skills, knowledge and confidence to stay ahead in an ever-evolving world.

  1. Have a plan for the rise of flexibility and the gig economy

    How are you approaching flexibility with your current employees?  Preparation for the rise of both flexibility and the portfolio career will need to be factored into culture strategies as they work alongside those who want to continue full time employment.  Most organisations focus on the customer experience, in more recent times, the employee experience but less on the contractor experience, this is an opportunity.    For example, through my survey, it was highlighted that employers perceive that contractors/gig workers are less engaged or interested in the strategy or culture of the organisation, whereas gig workers highlighted that the more they can understand the more effective and efficient they are.   Interestingly, those working as gig workers claimed that for the gig model to be even more successful here in New Zealand, employers need to have more of a growth mindset and develop trust, yet organisations state mindset and trust are the two biggest challenges facing organisations. 

There are also downsides to the gig economy to consider when these individuals aren’t employees such as: the lack of benefits, super and tax implications, exploitation of some workers with lower rates of pay, restraints of trade, lack of training and often financial institutions such as banks not recognising annual salaries for loans or mortgages.We are seeing companies such as Hnry, take a lead in some of these challenges for the gig worker when it comes to deducting and paying taxes and compliances (e.g. income Tax, ACC, GST, Student Loan, Kiwi Saver etc) also in a language that banks understand. 

In summary, regardless of where you are on the growth spectrum, there is always the opportunity to understand the potential of new technologies and how this will drive and create, as well as disrupt jobs, and to improve the quality and productivity of the existing work of employees.This of course will continue to evolve and change as quickly as we learn so my challenge to everyone is to keep on learning and fuel that growth mindset!

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  • Paula is people and culture director at Simpson Grierson and currently a Master’s candidate at Tech Futures Lab.

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