More and more professional firms are using gig working. Lucie Mitchell and Mandy Garner report.
Gig working has featured heavily in the news, but mostly it relates to companies such as Uber, Deliveroo and the like. Yet more and more professional firms are using gig workers – independent workers brought in to work on time-limited projects or at peak times for business.
As a result, there is now a growing gig economy full of highly-skilled independent workers. At the same time, more organisations are relying on professional freelancers and consultants, who can offer flexibility, value and expertise, without the business committing to the cost of hiring full-time employees.
In fact, a report by Odgers Connect estimates that 20% of all consultancy work in 2016 was supplied by independent workers, valued at around £2 billion.
The last few years have seen professional services firms such as PwC, Deloitte and Linklaters challenge the status quo and launch their own gig-style networks, to access that much-needed talent on a project basis.
PwC implemented its Flexible Talent Network (FTN) to enable the firm to access a talent pool of people who weren’t looking for traditional working patterns.
“We decided to launch the FTN as we realised we were missing out on top talent in the market,” explains Helen Hopkin, head of workforce strategy at PwC UK. “We wanted to challenge the stereotype the firm has for traditional working practices and are keen to demonstrate our open and inclusive approach to flexibility – and tap into a more diverse group of talented people.”
The network enables the firm to only deploy resources as and when required. Independent professionals can register their interest for general flexible opportunities at the firm on a recurring basis; support the firm during busy audit season; or apply for their senior internship programme.
“Once an individual has registered their interests, we will assess their skills to see if they’re a match for the opportunities we have available,” says Hopkin. “We have to really understand our requirements as a business, as well as those of our clients, to determine the skills and expertise that are required in order to make an appropriate match.”
Deloitte launched its Associate Programme in 2013, in response to the changing workplace. The programme matches talent to demand.
“In the gig economy, there is a whole world of talent out there that Deloitte wants to access, which is why we created our Associate Programme,” remarks Nigel Hinson, head of associate resourcing at Deloitte UK. “There are some skillsets, whether it is down to the gig economy or our in-house talent, which we would want to access on a project-by-project basis.”
The firm has a number of ways to build up its contingent labour pool. “We try to use Deloitte alumni wherever possible, so we link with our alumni programme.
We have informal referral schemes as well as a team of direct recruiters, who go to market and recruit for live requirements,” comments Hinson. “We also understand the pipeline so we can have talent ready.”
Hinson says the main benefits of the programme for the firm are flexibility, sourcing inclusive talent, as well as accessing diverse and niche skills.
Some organisations may think they need to pay more to hire independent professionals due in part to the specialist skills they can offer. However, Steven R Power, global president of workforce management solution Deputy, says this isn’t always the case.
“Part of the value realisation is providing these workers with flexibility around when, where and how they work. Often they will trade this off against their cost of employment.
For some specialised roles the costs may be higher. However, the company has the benefit of securing someone quickly and not having a fixed-cost overhead; instead, they can leverage the resource on demand and as required.”
With more workers shunning traditional working patterns and seeking more flexibility, Julia Kermode, chief executive of The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association, warns that organisations with an employee-centric focus will be at a competitive disadvantage to those who embrace “the potential of an already significant workforce who do not seek to be permanently employed by any one organisation”.
The move towards greater gig working is also bringing a focus on the quality of work offered and how to ensure gig workers have a voice and are treated fairly.
Albert Cañigueral is a multimedia engineer and Spanish Language Connector of OuiShare, an open global community of entrepreneurs, designers, makers, researchers and citizens working to accelerate the shift toward a more collaborative economy.
He is researching the way gig workers are developing their own support networks, including on employment rights, welfare issues, technical support, pensions and career development.
He says gig workers tend to be more organised where they are physically present in the same space, for instance, a co-working space. That makes it easier for them to join forces to press for improved labour conditions.
For that and other reasons, he sees the demand for co-working spaces likely to increase.
In terms of enforcing labour rights, Albert says that, while some more remote gig workers see each other as competition, others are organising locally or regionally through Facebook or whatsapp groups.
Research from the Oxford Internet Institute suggests it is better to focus efforts to improve the quality of work and to tackle rights issues for international gig workers by focusing on national laws where the demand for work is coming from rather than where the people commissioning individual pieces of work are located.
Some platforms offer some form of regulation, for instance, guaranteeing payment or minimum rates of pay. Freelancers platform Malt, for example, guarantees payment within 48 hours of delivering work.
Ultimately, however, Albert thinks more transnational regulations will be needed, given the nature of gig work is often international.
He says individual workers are weak when it comes to fighting for their rights and he feels there will be more and more organisations offering support and more and more policies at a local level to promote co-working spaces.
He says he expects to see more niche co-working spaces, for instance, co-working spaces that attract gig workers working in arts and design.
He also anticipates more collective action on areas like long-term savings, well being and pensions, with governments having an interest in this. He cites the French site WeMind which covers health, housing and insurance.
Reputation and data protection will also become increasingly important as gig workers need to be able to transfer their reputation from one platform to another rather than start from scratch every time.
At the moment some platforms don’t allow people to export their reputation or any microcredentials they may earn on the site as they seek to develop their skills.
Albert anticipates that the work being done on individual rights and well being issues for gig workers will eventually be joined up with organisations offering more comprehensive protection to gig workers.
“Labour has become unbundled in the gig economy so workers’ different needs need to be addressed individually, but they could rebundle again,” he says.