Designing organisations for the gig economy

Future of Work insights

When people say Gig Economy, images typically spring to mind of brave Deliveroo cyclists weaving through the city traffic, but in reality the gig economy is going to have a tangible impact on the working lives of us all. Wherever your priorities and principles leave you regarding the rise of freelance, short term commission-based work, the one thing experts agree on is that the gig economy (defined here) is likely here to stay. Therefore I wanted to offer my insights on how leaders should expect their worlds to change as a result of the rise in the gig economy, whether your organisation chooses to directly engage with this model of work or not.

1. Everyone wants more freedom in their careers – give it to them before they leave to find it without you

Last year the UK Government published a paper regarding self-employment and the rise of the gig economy, which claimed that roughly 5 million people across the country are currently engaged in gig work. The figure will have only grown since then and there is no way all of those people are Uber drivers (no matter how much the heatwave is putting people off braving the Tube). The fact of the matter is that the gig economy has spread far and wide across all industries and hierarchy levels.

From lawyers and project managers to massage therapists and chefs, no matter what you do for a living, the allure being able to decide where and when you do it is a universal draw, bringing increasing numbers of people into gig work. The lesson I am taking from this is to reflect on what it says about what people want in their careers. As the priorities of our workforce moves from a career ladder to a career lattice of experiences, all of us can make changes to ensure we are offering our people a working experience that better suits them. Offering career breaks, broadening your progression considerations for high potential staff, facilitating secondments, and offering in-house or external development training, are options which most organisations could utilise, and would help to retain top talent.

2. Think about why people would want to stay working with you

If the Gig economy is a symptom of a popular which is more willing to chop and change companies and roles, it’s important to think about what would keep someone with your organisation. Ten years ago, if someone said that people would be rushing out to buy running shoes made of ocean plastic or that 7% of the British public would be completely vegan, I would have been incredulous to say the least. However the modern age of information has made us collectively keener than ever to ensure our impact on the world around us is a positive one, and this enthusiasm extends far beyond our buying habits. Speaking as someone who seems to consistently end up getting half as much rest and twice as much coffee as I probably should, time is often a lot more valuable than money. Considering how drastically this era of positive purpose has impacted our consumer habits, it stands to reasons that it is also going to increasingly impact our choices of where and how we work.

I love the Deloitte Do campaign as it drives a message which really resonates for me, about having the opportunity and attitude to take action and change things for the better. However, it’s easy for the purpose of a firm to get lost in the weeds, especially in larger organisations. If people are only getting out of bed and into the office for the paycheck, they will leave the minute a competitor wafts a better salary under their nose. The movement towards more flexible, fluid career paths puts the power in the hands of the individual, and your organisation needs a convincing argument for why they should stay.

3. Gig or otherwise, prepare your organisation for a faster turnaround of people

60% of gen Z don’t want to see themselves in the same job for more than 2 years. However, this movement towards a looser career trajectory isn’t just a millennial thing. People of all ages are moving around more in search of the right experiences. As a result, we need to think about how we design organisations which people can integrate into quickly, and ensure that knowledge is retained in the organisation after people leave.

My colleague Rob Whelan recently wrote about how organograms really don’t do the 21st century organisation any justice, and in my head I want to see organisations better orientating around tasks rather than roles. With the rise of robotics, AI and squad based delivery models, it is no longer universally the case that work is delivered through static, inter-personal structures. Knowledge management systems are going to become increasingly important in order to stand up teams made up of both human and digital collaborators and get them up to speed and delivering as soon as possible. Then ensuring everything from data management systems and the-much-neglected exit interviews are in place to ensure valuable insight isn’t lost when the team disbands.

What strikes me in looking at the above and trying to think of an appropriate summary and sign off, is that in reality none of these insights are new realities. In actual fact, I guess the gig economy is nothing hugely new (this style of work has been the norm in parts of Asia for a long time, it just feels new because the West has only really started to feel the effects more recently). This is likely one of a number of changes we are going to see as the digital native generations join the work force and bring their innate technologically minded approaches to solving problems. All the big names in the gig economy rely in some way on a smartphone in order to deliver their model. As tech continues to develop at an accelerated rate we should expect more of these sorts of sociological changes on the horizon.

I may not be looking to shred my "contract" and go off on my own any time soon, but I still think an organisational purpose, opportunities to develop and the ability to work in new and exciting ways is something that matters to me. I’d love to hear what other people are doing to embrace the gig economy whilst maintaining business as usual in your organisations? From extra bike racks in the basement for those delivering parcels on their lunch break, to a few more vegan options in the canteen, sometimes the smallest changes can end up being the most worthwhile…

FoW Insights
FoW Insights
Future of Work
Future of Work
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