More and more, workers are breaking free of the 9-to-5 paradigm and striking out on their own as independent contractors, freelancers and digital nomads. As much as 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in some type of gig work, and even before the pandemic, the gig economy was growing triple the rate of the overall national workforce.
Although a large percentage of business leaders expect gig workers to make up a larger share of their workforce in the near future, the reality is few have figured out how to effectively engage them. A recent global survey of nearly 2,000 independent workers and business leaders showed that only 10% of gig workers feel highly valued by their clients, and half feel undervalued. Additionally, many of these workers receive no support and are rarely recognized or rewarded for their contributions, says Dr. Rochelle Haynes, founder and CEO of Crowd Potential Consulting Group and co-author of the study.
The relationship between businesses and gig workers must evolve if businesses want to continue attracting top talent and maintain a competitive edge. In addition to highlighting the problems gig workers encounter, Dr. Haynes’s research also provided clarity on how businesses can better engage these workers and tap into their value:
Design a comprehensive onboarding process for gig workers.
Just as you would onboard a full-time employee, it’s important to onboard gig workers. The process should include giving them access to the digital tools, company resources and information they need to succeed. “One of the things we heard from digital nomads was that they’ve had jobs get delayed because they couldn’t get in touch with a person in the organization,” Dr. Haynes says.
You should also educate your gig workers on your culture and values—especially if they’re going to be interacting with clients or customers. “A lot of gig employees said they often didn’t understand the values of the organization but were just given a job to do,” Dr. Haynes says.
Create a work environment that embraces all types of workers.
Many gig workers choose to be independent because they crave flexibility. Companies must learn to offer an environment that aligns with how gig workers wish to be productive. Some independent workers might prefer to come into the office a few days a week, for instance, while others would prefer to work strictly from home or from a café or coworking space.
Dr. Haynes, who helps companies and gigsters work better together, suggests putting mechanisms in place to make sure gig workers’ needs are being met – perhaps by offering a coworking membership or setting up hot desks at the office so gig workers can easily drop in. The most important thing, however, is to offer flexibility, as not all gig workers will have the same preferences.
Figure out what thrills your gig workers.
It’s long been accepted that employees who don’t feel appreciated are a flight risk. Yet companies fail to apply this same wisdom to their gig workers, even though it would be a smart strategy to try to build a long-lasting relationship with gig workers who add value to the organization. If you find someone who’s great at what they do, wouldn’t you want them to stick around?
“A lot of gig workers complained that they weren’t appreciated and recognized for what they do in the same way full-time workers were,” Dr. Haynes says, adding that companies need to learn how to adequately recognize the contributions of everyone.
That said, what appeals to the full-time worker may not equally thrill independent contractors. Dr. Haynes suggests access to a training program, membership to a coworking space, or referrals after the job is completed. The easiest way to find out? Ask your gig workers what would make them feel appreciated, and then do it.
Provide gig workers with some security.
While some gig workers are happy to hop from job to job with no safety net, many others would appreciate some security, Dr. Haynes says. Considering that the biggest risks gig workers face are late payments and unreliable cash flow, companies should offer reliable payment and clear, mutually agreed-upon contracts.
Gig workers would also appreciate having clear, realistic objectives, Dr. Haynes says. “A lot of nomads said the job that they’re hired to do doesn’t reflect the work they end up doing,” she notes, sharing an example of a marketing manager who was hired to build a social media strategy but actually ended up doing virtual assistant work.
Finally, when a gig worker completes a contract, have a conversation with them about whether they’d be willing to work for you again. Although you may not have work immediately available, let them know you’ll add them to a directory of contractors and be in touch should the need for their services arise.
Gig workers are here to stay, and businesses must learn how to incorporate them into the fabric of their workforce. By taking time to onboard your gig workers, setting them up for success, allowing them the flexibility to get work done in the way they prefer, recognizing their contributions and providing them with some security, you’ll tap into a resource that will help your business continue to succeed as the work world evolves into the 2020s.