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Managing workers in the gig economy

Strategies for working with and engaging your contingent workforce


Because many organizations may be reluctant to take on more workers on a full-time basis, Talent Canada columnist Brian Kreissl believes this will accelerate the movement towards a 'gig economy.' (jarnoverdonk/Adobe Stock)

The COVID-19 crisis is likely accelerating certain trends in the workplace.

These include more remote working, accelerated delivery of online learning, enhanced e-commerce and online service delivery, greater automation and fewer in-person touchpoints.

I also believe the pandemic will result in even more focus on contingent workers as organizations grapple with issues surrounding skills shortages, financial difficulties and reduced headcount as a result of lower volumes of business and closures of many premises.

This is likely to result in employers hiring more consultants, freelancers, independent contractors, fixed-term employees and part-time workers.

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Because many organizations will understandably be reluctant to take on more workers on a full-time basis, I believe this will accelerate the movement towards more of a “gig economy.”

It is also likely that more contingent help will be required to help organizations adjust to new realities and ways of doing business. This is particularly true where they currently lack the skills in-house to manage the transformation.

Pros, cons of the ‘gig economy’

Some commentators have lamented the loss of job security, benefits, pensions and a regular paycheque — as well as lower pay — as we move to a workforce characterized by more contingent labour.

The truth is that most people would probably prefer a full-time permanent job with a steady income and benefits rather than having to cobble together a living through the completion of multiple short-term tasks and temporary projects.

However, others have highlighted the increased flexibility and greater opportunity for skill acquisition and development, career advancement and financial freedom provided to gig workers.

Self-employment or part-time employment on a remote basis can help workers manage other responsibilities such as family obligations, academic pursuits, voluntary activities, hobbies and other interests.

It can also help those who already work full-time and are looking to supplement their income, as well as so-called “slashers” who pursue more than one career simultaneously (also known as portfolio careers).

Aside from the debate surrounding the merits of the gig economy, organizations are likely to face certain realities surrounding the management of temporary and contingent workers.

While most organizations will likely retain a core of full-time workers, they are likely to be turning increasingly to a contingent workforce to complete tasks. That workforce will need to be managed carefully.

Preserving organizational culture and fostering inclusion

One of the challenges in managing a contingent workforce is attempting to preserve an organization’s culture and values while attempting to foster inclusion and shared goals and a sense of camaraderie.

While it is a good idea to try to make gig workers feel welcome and like they are part of the organization, from a legal perspective, doing so could jeopardize their classification as independent contractors and lead a court or tribunal to find they should have been classified as employees.

For that reason, it is probably not a great idea to include them in organizational charts, provide them with job titles, assign a cubicle to them in the office or provide benefits or perks normally associated with full-time indefinite (“permanent”) employment.

But there are other ways you can make them feel part of the team.

According to accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, this should focus on effective onboarding, creating connections with the team and providing effective feedback to contingent workers.

An onboarding program for contingent workers should be highly structured and repeatable, yet customized to the role in question as much as possible.

Employers also need to set expectations, provide context and offer opportunities to connect with and get to know their team members. Feedback should be contextual, include both positive and constructive elements and be provided to them during key milestones.

Many of the principles of managing remote employees can also be extended to contingent workers. This includes managing for results rather than direct day-to-day supervision and using technology to foster collaboration and meetings.

It is also a good idea to maintain regular contact and focus on the social side of work as well as learning and development opportunities.

While it is important to recognize the key differences between contingent and permanent employees and some of the rationale for workers entering into such relationships in the first place, in many ways it is helpful to treat gig workers as being part of the team.

Brian Kreissl is a product development manager with Thomson Reuters in Toronto. He looks after HR, payroll, OH&S, records retention and Triform. He can be reached at brian.kreissl@thomsonreuters.com or (416) 609-5886. For more information, visit https://store.thomsonreuters.ca/en-ca/home.