Have you been mulling over the possibility of changing the way you work? Everyone day dreams at some point about going out on their own, right? Well, contingent work could be just the type of work for you.
Well if that day dream has turned into more of a nagging feeling lately, maybe it is time to think more seriously about the possibility of changing the way you work to fit in with the demands of your life outside work.
“The next three years will see organisations completely rethink how they directly source, engage and manage non-permanent employees. They will establish and engage a community of workers (freelancers, alumni, retirees, experts) to whom they can make project opportunities available, resulting in a relationship somewhere between a completely unknown freelance talent and a permanent employee.” – Australian Financial Review
Many roads lead to the need for flexibility
My desire to find a new way of working came about based on a specific sequence of events. My husband and I are raising two gorgeous boys. I took a career break straight after both of our boys were born and, when I returned to the corporate world, my husband took a career break to spend invaluable time with our boys as well.
We chopped and changed in this pattern for a while, but we realised that one of us needed to find a way to work more flexibly to cater for the demands of raising a young family. Anyone with children knows that you need a village to raise families. With the early passing of both of our mums, our village has become quite small!
Whilst we feel so supported by other family members and friends, we don’t have the sort of support we can easily lean on, at short notice, to deal with all the usual illnesses, ailments, school commitments and “hiccups” life presents. This has meant that I have taken the decision to work in a more flexible context.
Now raising a family is certainly not the only reason that people seek to change the way they work – there are many reasons people choose to work more flexibly.
Digital disruption and flexibility
I have become extraordinarily passionate about exploring the ways in which people can offer their skills, experience and core competencies to companies in a more flexible way.
Digital disruption offers an unprecedented opportunity to provide services to companies, big or small, locally or on the other side of the world!
You only need to look at the number of gig economy websites appearing, like Fivver, Freelancer, Toptal, Envato Studio, Design Crowd, Expert 360, Airtasker (Australia) and Weploy (Australia), to realise that there is significant demand for people to work in more flexible way. This style of work is often described as a “contingent” way of working. Some also call it “gigging”.
Now whilst the idea of calling the shots about when and where you work sounds very glamorous, it actually requires a lot of hard work to position and market yourself.
To secure work, you need to put in some serious proactive effort to create and build your professional brand. It is important to articulate what you can do, for whom and the results you will achieve for the company you are engaged to assist.
What is contingent work or employment?
Wikipedia describes contingent employment as “casual work that is an employment relationship which is considered non-permanent. These jobs are typically part time (typically with variable hours), have limited job security, and result in payment on a piece work basis.”
Whilst many would argue that contingent work is usually not considered to be a career or part of a career, workers worldwide are challenging this viewpoint. Contingent workers are often called “freelancers, independent professionals, temporary contract workers, “temps“, independent contractors, or consultants.”
Contingent employment is on the rise globally. Whilst some people may be concerned about the lack of career opportunity this style of work offers, others find contingent work offers them the flexibility and diversity they seek.
How does gig work differ from contingent work?
According to Allegis Global Solutions, the gig economy is “broadly defined as an online marketplace for services offered by freelance or self-employed individuals, and there has been a rapid growth in this type of employment since the turn of the decade. Indeed, figures published by Upwork place the number of freelance workers across the U.S. at more than 53 million.”
So gig staffing and contingent staffing are more or less the same thing.
Are casual jobs also known as contingent jobs?
Yes. Casual workers are also part of contingent staffing solutions. Historically the majority of casual workers have been engaged in the customer service and hospitality space.
Given casual work is often categorised under the “contingent work” banner, we will see a rise in using casual staff in a range of other industry sectors in the years ahead.
What the rise of contingent work means for talented individuals
You need to take control of your professional profile building. When employers come looking for contingent workers, your profile needs to reflect your skills, experience and core competencies professionally and articulately. You may also need to set up articulate and professional profiles with relevant online marketplaces to promote your contingent/freelance services.
What the rise of contingent work means for employers
As the contingent workforce increases across Australia, the employment market is changing. This means recruitment and HR professionals must adjust their approach to attracting and managing increasingly transient talent.
Given a contingent workforce is effectively a labor pool that a company can use on-demand, focus needs to be given to how you are going to build that pool of talent.
Companies need to think about not only finding the most talented individuals available, but also identify the types of skill sets your company is likely to need in the future.
When actively sourcing and building a contingent candidate pool, companies need to identify the digital platforms that will connect them with talented individuals. That is, you need to identify where relevant talented candidates and active contingent workers “hang out” online.
LinkedIn currently offers the most popular digital platform to showcase your skills, experience and core competencies, however there are many other digital platforms to explore. The most relevant digital platforms to find talented individuals varies depending on the skill set and industry sector.
Benefits of the gig economy and contingent work for talented individuals
You can call the shots by accepting (or rejecting) when you work, the type of work you will undertake and for whom you work for.
You build a diverse range of experience
Working on different client sites (or remotely) builds a diverse experience base. It improves your ability to apply your skills and competencies in a range of contexts which is super interesting (and quite invigorating to be frank)
When life’s demands peak – you can simply stop sourcing work for a while
I recognise that this might sound somewhat indulgent. But more and more people are looking to find a balance between work and other priorities in their lives – many are willing to give up the income during those non work periods. For them it is a trade off to gain additional time to explore their passions and immerse themselves in other aspects of their lives.
If you produce exceptional services and results, clients are likely to consider you for future work as well – this is great because you already clear on your client’s expectations. Over time, repeat work reduces your business development load and improves the consistency of your pipeline of work.
You are your own boss
If running your own show is important to you, freelancing, gigging or contingency based work is a great way to achieve this. The buck stops with you.
There is a real buzz when you use your skills, experience or products to make a difference to businesses and other business professionals.
It is particularly rewarding when you are working with smaller businesses which would not normally be able to access your skill set. If you really are in the business of adding value to other businesses or individuals – the gig and contingency based work is enormously rewarding.
Benefits of the gig economy and contingent work for companies
You can control your labour costs over time more effectively. Engage contingent workers for high demand periods. We all know that overstretching permanent staff during large projects or high demand periods can be hugely detrimental to company culture. Whilst this sometimes cannot be avoided, engaging a contingent workforce spreads the work load in peak periods of demand.
HR time savings
With no obligations for contingent or gig workers, your administrative HR load is diminished.
Access to new expertise and skills on demand
Access a broad talent pool with skills and expertise already developed and ready to be applied in your specific company context.
The added benefit is that you can access niche and specialist talent that you may not be able to afford as a permanent member of staff.
Improve organisational agility
Your company can rapidly respond to changes in demand for labor. This allows your company to adapt more readily to changing market conditions as well as address peak period workloads and demand requirements.
Pitfalls of gig economy work for talented individuals
The buck stops with you!
Yes I know that I have this in both sections, but you are relying on you – for task or project delivery, for developing a pipeline of work and delivering quality work in line with your clients’ expectations.
You need to market yourself
You are accountable for your own professional branding and you need to pitch for your work frequently.
You need to adjust to different client personalities and styles
It can take some time to get used to the style of those you report to. You need to be really intuitive, adapting your work style to those you work for.
Sometimes things get lost in translation
With no prior context of a workplace or the work you are going to perform, you can sometimes head in one direction only to realise that you have missed the client brief…altogether. Upfront communication and clarifying expectations at the start of your work effort is a really important skill to develop.
You need to build your pipeline of work
Whilst you are working on current assignments – you need to have your eye on two balls! One eye needs to be focused on the work you are currently undertaking. The other needs to be looking at where your next gig is going to come from.
You may struggle a little if you are not a people person
If you take a little while to warm up socially, you will need to push beyond your stakeholder engagement comfort level. Given contingent work means you move from client site to client site, you are likely to be working with a much larger number of people over time than if you were in a 9-5 job.
Gigging and contingency work often sees you interacting with company stakeholders you don’t know…at all. And given you are working them on a short term basis, you are unlikely to have time for metaphoric ice breakers in the time frame you have to get the job done, whatever it may be.
Pitfalls of gig economy work for companies
You need to maintain a currency of legal knowledge as it pertains to contingent workers
HR teams and legal stakeholders must understand the changing global regulations as they relate to contingent workers.
Operational risk factors
As contingent workers are unlikely to be visible in company headcount, care must be taken to create a level of visibility at the executive level of the company to mitigate risk of labor costs flying “under the radar”.
Potential intellectual property and company knowledge breaches
This is especially relevant if you are engaging senior and executive level contingent workers on strategic and high level projects. Attention needs to be paid to having appropriate confidentiality agreements drawn up and signed before commencement.
Potential for misunderstandings
Whilst companies enjoy a reduced on-boarding and induction process, companies won’t realise the full benefit of contingent staff if valuable information transfer does not take place at work commencement. Time should be taken to develop a standardized process for on-boarding contingent and gig economy staff.
Gigs and contingency work is not for everyone
So, as an active contingent worker you can see that flexibility won’t have you lying in a hammock on some tropical island between work assignments. A lot of work goes into building your professional brand, delivering AND keeping an eye of your gig/contingent work pipeline.
However as outlined in this article, there are also many benefits when working as part of the gig or contingent workforce.
Tips for talented individuals considering contingent or gig economy work
Create a professional profile digital plan
You need to build digital assets that tell your professional story. Decide which digital platforms you will use to showcase your skill set, core competencies and key achievements – when prospective employers are looking for contingent workers and find you…they will like what they see.
Tidy up your LinkedIn account
When people come to your LinkedIn profile what do they see? Would you hire you based on your current content? Make a concerted effort to ensure each element of your LinkedIn profile is articulate and professional.
Consider a personal website
It is great to have a “digital home” where prospective employers can learn more about projects you have worked on. It is also a great place to demonstrate your industry expertise and knowledge.
Tips for employers trying to attract contingent staff
Consider how you will provide relevant information and system access to contingent workers. Decide on the tools you will use to make sure documentation and other relevant collateral are going to be stored. For example, you could consider using Slack, Sharepoint, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box etc.
Communication is key
Proactively determine how the contingent workforce will liaise with team members. If the worker is going to be off site, it is PARAMOUNT that you have systems and processes in place that allow team members to collaborate effectively.
If you are engaging contingent work from all corners of the world, you will need to think about time zone implications. Set guidelines for how team members will communicate, create “check ins” if required where time zones align to ensure that work effort is progressing in the direction and at a pace that is acceptable to you. If you are new to engaging contingent workers, I highly recommend “over communicating initially”.
Track contingent labour, output and review often
Decide how you are going to capture work hours and work effort produced by contingent workers. Don’t wait until the end of a financial year to get a nasty contingent workforce labour hours surprise!
Create an appropriate forum for you to sit down with other relevant stakeholders in the company to review the numbers, assess the output and adjust accordingly.
You would be surprised how many issues get lost in translation when team members make assumptions about what contingent workers will produce for the company. Consider using Slack or any similar tool to create effective communication channels.
Contingent work is not a new concept. Companies already use a range of contractors, consultants and temps as part of their human resource strategies.
The contingent workforce is on the rise globally. Whether your are an employer or a talented professional, this trend is going to impact you.
Want to consider working in a more flexible way but not sure where to start? I can help. Get in touch to see how you can prepare yourself for a more flexible work lifestyle.
Time to get more serious about your company’s contingent workforce strategy? I would love to help. Contact me to arrange an initial discussion or meeting.
Further Reading and Resources
I’d love to hear your experiences working in the gig economy. Why do you love it? Have you got any tricks for balancing work and life as a gig/contingent worker? Feel free to leave your feedback in the Comments section below.