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Engaging Employees in the Gig Economy

With the rise of Uber, Airbnb and other digital interfaces for independent work, there has been a lot of conversation in recent years about the ‘gig economy’ and how it is changing work as we know it. Many new employment opportunities aren’t inclusive of traditional payroll structures, benefits, or shared work environments.

A recent McKinsey study found between 20 percent and 30 percent of the workforce is made up of independent employees. While the gig economy has led to controversial predictions coinciding with the future of automation, McKinsey found independent work was enabling greater participation in the workforce for people who have been traditionally locked out — retirees, caregivers, and students, for example.

Separately, IBM found that independent workers are typically more engaged, autonomous, and collaborative. HR professionals have many concerns with the explosion of flexible work, not the least of which is how to engage independent workers who work part-time, on flexible schedules, and/or remotely as a part of the new economy.

3 Considerations for HR to Motivate and Engage Independent Workers

  • The culture connection: One of the greatest challenges facing HR as they embark in engaging nontraditional employees is how to incorporate independent workers into the organization’s culture. Take time to make independent employees feel like part of the team by inviting them to company events (travel expenses may be incurred for long-distance employees to engage with their coworkers at annual, biannual or quarterly events) and by leveraging internal communication tools like chat programs, intranet, or social engagement platforms. Consider the requests and recommendations of independent and traditional employees alike in incorporating remote or flexible workers into the organization’s culture.
  • Focus on communication and collaboration: Clear, consistent communication is always a challenge. In the gig economy, it can be even more so. After all, with many workers not sharing a workspace or traditional schedules, the sheer number of opportunities to communicate effectively can be drastically reduced. Leaders can set autonomous, independent workers up for success by establishing clear expectations and goals through the content of communication as well as incorporating video conferencing or online collaboration tools for the means of communication. Face-to-face communication is invaluable and can be difficult to find, but visibility can be replicated through online productivity suites and video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts, Skype, Jitsi Bridge, and more. Tools like Google Docs, OpenOffice, and others allow for seamless, real-time collaboration on projects.
  • Recognizing contributions: Even autonomous employees want recognition for their work. Especially without frequent and regular face-time with their coworkers, freelancers, contractors and other independent employees want to know how their work matters to the organization. Include the work of independent employees on internal updates and keep them in the loop on the results of their contributions.

The world of work is changing and engaging the gig economy is one large obstacle facing HR today, but along with obstacles come opportunities. According to IBM, independent workers are more engaged, autonomous and collaborative and motivating them to be part of the team through communication, recognition, and inclusion in the company culture provides an opportunity for leaders today.

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