The gig economy that arose in the wake of the 2008 real estate crash is alive and well more than 10 years later. Most people know about driving for Uber or Lyft, delivering restaurant orders for Door Dash, and selling handmade items on Etsy. Freelance writers abound.
But the gig economy is much wider and more diverse than driving, freelance writing, and selling crafts. People are gigging as social media managers, writers and editors and photographers, and white collar workers such as consultants because of new technologies that make it easier than ever to reach consumers directly and economically.
McKinsey Global Institute’s report Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy, found that up to 30 percent of working-age people are in the gig economy doing independent work. That number is expected to increase to 43 percent by 2020. Other research is saying the number of gig workers will triple by 2021.
Gigging by Choice, Chance, or Necessity
There’s not just one kind of gig worker in today’s work world. They work gigs full-time, part-time, or on the side with traditional jobs. It’s an avenue for extra income and independence, and gig workers are happier if it’s their choice. Many professionals are choosing freelance/remote/contract work to pursue passions and escape the 9-to-5. The dark side of the gig economy is that many gig workers can’t find jobs or better pay and are gigging because they don’t have a lot of other options. Additionally, there aren’t a lot of protections for freelancers, and working independently leaves gig workers vulnerable to financial loss from clients, taxes, and benefits like health insurance and employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Even side gigs like earning some extra income in spare time driving for Uber mean that gig workers have to learn about paying taxes on self-employment income, making sure they have the proper insurance coverage for driving for pay, and providing for their personal safety when dealing with customers contacted virtually. Other gig work requires contracts which create a whole new learning curve for someone who is used to working for an employer in a traditional employment relationship.
If your company is using gig workers, or a “1099” workforce for intermittent, seasonal, or special project work, you may want to consider coaching gig workers in some of these pain-point areas for support and motivation. The Society for Human Resource Management, SHRM, recommends taking care to on-board gig workers with welcome communications, a culture mentor or guide, and an organized, work-ready workspace.
Coaching Remote Workers
If your gig workers don’t come in to the office every day but work remotely, they still have coaching needs and you’ll have more challenging coaching issues. One very important coaching issue with remote workers is communication. Without face-to-face communication, you have to take more care that remote communications like email, text, voicemail, and phone calls are timely, clear, and appropriate to the tasks that need to be accomplished.
When you need to share important information quickly, phone calls are better than a long, rambling email or text. Texts should be restricted to short bursts of information that need to get to the recipient fast. Video and email are best for information that has information that needs to be retained but is more lengthy than a simple exchange.
Another important aspect of coaching remote workers is making them feel welcome and included in your company culture. Whether your company allows workers to work from home a few days a week or has a significant remote workforce, it’s important to build teamwork and culture into their experience. Forbes Human Resources Council recommends providing things like technology for virtual co-working so remote workers can work together and avoid isolation, hosting connected social events and meetings, and actively mentoring and coaching remote employees. Having a process for coaching remote workers is important to attracting and retaining them.
The principles and benefits of coaching, such as performer-led accountability, increased problem-solving, high employee engagement and productivity, are very necessary and beneficial for "gig workers." With the growing size of the gig economy in today's workplace, the contrast between traditional employees and independent contractors may create challenges for employers. Motivating and engaging traditional employees alongside independent contractors with more freedom, flexibility, and possibly opportunity can make welcoming and including them in the company overall difficult. Department or team meetings, performance reviews, and company norms such as dress code can make it hard to create a uniform, overall culture that includes everyone and encourages successful teamwork.
Collaboration software and understanding what’s needed to manage remote workers help create a productive and enjoyable work experience for non-traditional and traditional employees alike. While remote workers still need structure and guidance, they require a different approach when it comes to performance reviews, discipline, and management, according to Dana Wilkie, writing for SHRM. Wilkie talked to professionals like Michael Pilnick, executive vice president of global HR at First Advantage Bank, about the challenges of creating positive productive work experiences for remote workers.
Pilnick says remote workers require less managerial guidance than traditional employees, and aren’t really subject to regular discipline because of the contractual nature of their work. Marc Solow of HR shared services at Deloitte says that coaching gig workers is usually centered on the task or project for the duration of the contract, rather than overall employee development or succession grooming. Because of that, PeopleScience editor-in-chief Jeff Kreisler suggests providing remote workers with as much autonomy as possible, encouraging networking with other remote workers both inside and outside of the organization to support their interests and engagement.
A Fine Line
While there are many different reasons for people and employers to participate in the gig economy, it’s especially important for employers to stay aware of the status of contract workers. Independent contractor status means employers must demonstrate that they do not control and direct the performance of work, or dictate the ways independent contractors accomplish the work they are contracted to do. Treating gig workers the same as traditional employees may trigger employer responsibilities to provide benefits and assume employment tax liabilities. At the same time, employers must remember that contract workers represent their companies to clients and the public, and make their work experience as enjoyable and beneficial as possible.