Gig Workers and How to Find Belonging (a three-minute read)

December 6, 2019    Ann Clarke   

More and more firms are taking advantage of the growing gig economy – which allows businesses to access the best and often specialist talent on a temporary basis and without the fixed cost overheads of making people employees.

Now a multi-million pound economy comprising 4.7 million[1] workers within the UK – it’s clear that greater work/life balance, flexible working and the ability to choose the projects and companies they work with, have great appeal.

However, with an increasingly diverse, transient and often remote workforce, how can employers be sure to get the very best out of gig workers and make them feel part of their teams? And, how can they be made to feel truly invested in a company and its projects – whether it’s for just a week or 18 months?

The concept of belonging matters so much because it is linked with performance.  Not only does belonging generate greater positivity and sociability within a workforce – it also helps workers feel they can be their true selves without fear of repercussions, which in turn makes them more engaged, productive and loyal.  For gig workers, the need for belonging is particularly important, as short term projects require them to be especially transient – frequently changing projects, working style, locations and colleagues.

Here we have outlined five key considerations that can help employers tackle this issue and maintain highly engaged, productive, and happy teams that include engaged, productive and happy gig-workers.

  1. Articulate

Employers are typically excellent at articulating their brand values, corporate mission and objectives during the traditional recruitment process, however few gig workers experience this. This means they don’t receive the same ‘sell’ when they join the business and it can deny them the sense of purpose and wider context they need about why their input and skills matter.   This can be remedied by ensuring that workplace design and organisational culture re-state the brand values and corporate mission through its use of colour, graphics, layout, facilities and desired behaviours.  Gig workers may not be with you for long – but they have the potential to be powerful brand ambassadors out in the market, if you communicate your vision and make them feel part of your business.

  1. Consult

It may sound obvious, cliched even, but ask your employees and gig workers what they need to thrive. It might reveal that your technical infrastructure causes frustration for gig workers, that they struggle to get to know key people quickly, or that there’s not enough collaboration or free desk space for employees and project workers to use when they’re in the office.

Within this process it’s also useful to consider how important gig workers are to your business – is your workforce dependent on them? Do you need more of them? And what can you do to make your business appeal? All of this information can be used to re-shape the experience you offer.  People have an intrinsic need to belong – openly asking them what they need is an important first step in achieving that goal.

  1. Design

The need for inclusion in the workplace is widely recognised and it’s particularly important in an agile age – when both employees and gig workers are working from a number of different location and often outside the traditional 9-5 hours. As such,  the workplace needs to be able to flex and adapt as workforce numbers do the same, always ensuring there’s always space for everyone and every kind of task – from quiet reflection to sociability and relaxation, collaboration and project work, video conferencing and private study.   Social and circulation spaces are particularly important for gig workers – giving them the ability to get to know their colleagues, forge links, feel they belong and ensure effective working relationships. 

  1. Digital

If people don’t have the right digital tools they won’t be as productive as they could be. It’s a simple as that. Although this applies as much to traditional employees as it does gig workers – the digital experience really must be seamless to ensure that you are helping your specialist contractors to be productive. Support can vary from offering 10-minute set up chats between your IT department and gig-workers, through to more seismic technology reviews to ensure there is the required  interoperability, permissions and security access for temporary workers. 

  1. Consistency

Gig workers, just like members of your mobile workforce,  may  visit a number of your offices through the duration of a project so it’s important there are consistent operating protocols and an on-brand welcome and experience across all sites. In much the same way that big employers ‘onboard’ employees, the same consideration should be given to gig workers to ensure they can be productive on day one. This should include information about the company’s mission and values, the behaviours expected of employees and details of who to use the workplace including technical support.

The modern jobs market is changing and the gig economy shows no signs of slowing.

For employers keen to harness the skills, expertise and flexibility gig workers offer, they must first recognise them as an important part of the talent pool.    These businesses will know the value of creating workplaces where belonging is intuitive and where diverse, feature-rich, choice-led, tech-enabled and on-brand work experiences are the order of the day.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/28/gig-economy-in-britain-doubles-accounting-for-47-million-workers

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