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Pandemic forces reckoning between gig economy and employers

Written by Colin Brennan, President, Global Solutions and Services, Alight Solutions

As the world plunged headlong into a global pandemic, employers were forced to make difficult choices about their workforce — and quickly. While some organizations were able to swiftly transition to remote work and new service models, others weren’t as fortunate which, in many cases, led to furloughs and layoffs. Given the growing number of highly skilled, displaced workers who are turning to ‘gigs’ as they await indicators of economic improvement, organizations must strategically plan for their newfound access to talent they could not otherwise hire in a full-time capacity.

Gig work is hardly a new phenomenon, though, as the economy has been reorganizing itself around freelancers and independent contractors for many years. Pre-pandemic, roughly 48 million Americans were working temporary or flexible jobs, and 40% of Millennials identified as gig workers, according to PYMNTS. But while gig work is often portrayed as rideshare and delivery services, the gig economy also encompasses web designers, copywriters, software developers, management consultants — essentially most jobs that can be performed on an on-demand basis.

This talent model won’t fall by the wayside when we emerge from the economic downturn. Gig workers give organizations the flexibility to scale their workforce up and down based on the demand for goods and services and the skillsets that are needed to deliver them. The post-pandemic world will usher in a dramatic redistribution of talent and complexities, and organizations should leverage the gig workforce and adapt their infrastructure accordingly.

Gig work is now a critical organizational capability in order to access the best talent available and maintain competitive advantages. To enable this strategy, organizations must evolve their approaches to pay and talent while implementing the right systems to meet the needs of a contemporary, agile workforce.


Rethink talent management

The number of people ‘gigging’ as their primary means of earning of living is likely to remain high for the foreseeable future. This poses a challenge for organizations looking to attract top talent when workers want or need to continue with their more flexible lifestyles.

A change like this can be costly and complicated if not managed well. Traditionally, HR systems are not made to effectively manage gig workers — especially when it comes to rapid onboarding and offboarding. As gig workers play an increasingly important role in their operations, organizations need nimble processes that run in a paperless fashion during the application or recruitment process; leverage mobile as a channel to bring people into the organization and keep them engaged; and help make data-driven decisions around skillsets.

Cloud-based HR systems can unify organizations’ people-related data and processes. By providing a broader view of the workforce, organizations can strategically allocate resources, hire the right people at the right times, start programs that nurture talent and, ultimately, elevate the employee experience.


Diversify payment methods

Historically, organizations have run independent contractors through accounts payable systems that aren’t conducive to project-based work. Now, the power has shifted to gig workers who can be more discerning when accepting assignments. In this digital age where information, goods and services are accessible from mobile devices and transactions are seamless, people expect the same level of convenience when it comes to payments. That’s why it’s critical for organizations using the gig model to ensure quick and stress-free methods of payment for those workers, on their channel of choice.

While traditional workers typically receive compensation on a pre-determined basis, most gig workers are paid upon completion of a project. Consequently, organizations are increasingly encountering the expectation of immediate — or near-immediate — pay from all segments of the workforce. With 74% of workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a report by the American Payroll Association, organizations are reevaluating their payroll strategies, which clearly no longer work for many people. 

Fortunately, we now have the technology to pay gig workers quickly and easily. Organizations can calculate compensation as time-related data is collected, allowing for more frequent payments that go directly to workers’ digital wallets, much like Apple Pay or Alipay. Alight’s DailyPay on-demand payroll service, for example, allows workers to transfer accrued but unpaid wages to any bank account or pay card in advance of their next paycheck. A growing number of organizations have already shifted to an on-demand pay model, which gives workers access to their earned wages on a next- or same-day basis.


Tailor experiences to talent

As the gig economy continues to grow, organizations will find themselves in a heated competition for both traditional and gig workers. Employers must work hard to ensure they can acquire and retain top talent with not only strong compensation and benefits, but also flexible pace, hours and location. These key factors create environments where people want to work.

The future of the extended workforce is about speed and agility, where successful organizations are equally adept at matching and deploying talent that is needed today with forecasting skillsets that will be needed down the line. Viewing gig workers as a key part of strategic workforce planning and modernizing internal systems to accommodate workers’ expectations for more flexible arrangements will enable organizations to optimize their talent strategy in a volatile and complex world.

Originally published by Forbes on July 23, 2020.

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