Making gigs work: The many ways to engage and retain independent professionals

People want three things from their work—meaning, belonging and feeling valued

The demand for gig workers is increasing. A recent report by human resource consultants Noble House says 70 per cent companies in India have used gig workers at least once for major organizational issues in 2018.

It’s easy to figure out what full-time employees need to do their best work due to pre-existing working relationships and regular interactions. However, when it comes to independent professionals, organizations cannot use the same cookie-cutter engagement approach. What compounds the problem is that there is no single definition of the “gig worker".

"The gig workers are not a homogenous cohort", says Shalini Rawla, founder-CEO of Key, a consumer intelligence firm. Their research reveals four types of gig mindsets, the Millennial Giggers, the Ex(perienced) Corporates, the Skilled Craftsmen and the Multi-tasking Moneysavers. Regardless, the primary motivation of any independent professional is to be recognized for their skill/talent. Companies that treat them not as a gig worker but as an internal stakeholder in key projects can go a long way in extracting the maximum value out of them.

Thriving in the freelance future

According to the Boston Consulting Group, tapping the talent and capabilities of freelancers will impose a learning curve on corporations. Organizations will need to rethink not only how they hire the talent but also make concerted efforts to integrate this talent in their current organization structure and importantly treat them on a par with their current full-time employees.

Mercer Consulting advocates a three-pronged approach to engaging independent professionals.

According to them, organizations should turn to the work that psychologists have been doing for the past 50 years in the area of industrial and organizational psychology. The research shows that people want three things from the work they do—meaning and structure, belonging and camaraderie, and feeling important, valued and respected for the work they do.

Just as firms spend time and effort in ensuring that employees understand and buy into the organization’s mission and vision, gig workers would have better appreciation for the work they do if they undergo some form of orientation. This narrative around the firm’s goals, values and game plan will add meaning, context and often a sense of belonging. Sanjay Lakhotia, co-founder of Noble House, reiterates that companies need to transfer relevant information about the company, culture, values for any assignment to the gig workers to ensure the deliverable fits in with the company’s requirement.

Structure, that is, where the individual will be placed in the hierarchy, should be clearly spelt out. Similarly, transparency around rewards and compensation will be the glue that binds an experienced and capable freelancer to your firm. The sense of community and belonging is often the missing link. Giving gig workers a way to participate in the collective can help build a stronger sense of commitment and engagement.

Ongoing feedback, regular check-ins and putting mechanisms in place to ensure work is on track and in line with mutual expectations also help.

Things to remember

Before getting gig workers on-board, clearly articulate their role and the purpose of integrating them to gain internal support from full-time workers. Have a well-articulated talent sourcing strategy. Are you tapping into existing platforms and networks or building your own? Philips, for instance, is among the few companies that have created their own solution. Its platform, Philips Talent Pool, allows the company to address the dual challenge of maintaining a pool of freelancers familiar with the company and vetting the quality of their work. Several consulting firms are following suit where full time consultants work alongside blended employees to deliver a key project.

It will take some creative solutions to motivate gig workers as they place a higher value on flexibility, freedom and ease of doing work. Truly integrating temporary workers so that they perform efficiently requires the willingness to create more adaptable workflows and processes.

Ruchira Chaudhary is an independent strategy professional, an executive coach and adjunct faculty.

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