“Gigs,” or freelance or contract jobs, are becoming more popular and more talked about. In 2016, EY research found that 18 percent of the workforce at mid-market companies was contingent, and that number was projected to hit 20 percent by 2020. At large companies, those numbers were 16 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
2018 research by Gallup identified two types of gig workers: independent gig workers (e.g., online platform workers, independent contractors) and contingent gig workers (i.e., temporary and on-call workers). “Independent gig workers who can truly be their own boss enjoy the often-touted benefits of gig work more frequently – flexibility and freedom,” according to the report. “Meanwhile, contingent gig workers experience their workplace like regular employees do, just without the benefits of a traditional job – benefits, pay and security.”
Special Training Needs
Twenty-six percent of contractors who responded to a 2016 LinkedIn survey said “career growth and advancement” was a leading reason they left their last job. As Lori Williams, co-CEO of Gigster, says, providing training to gig workers “raises the bar of the overall gig workforce.”
Syed Irfan Ajmal, growth marketing manager at Ridester, a ride-sharing platform, says training for gig workers should include both live in-person training or live video training as well as pre-recorded videos and written materials. Williams says that soft skills are especially important for gig workers, so in addition to looking for soft skills when interviewing potential contractors, training on soft skills may be a worthwhile investment. Similarly, Ajmal says that many gig workers “are techies at their core,” and it’s important to teach them skills such as communication and “how taking breaks improves productivity.”
Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, says there are several ways gig workers are unique learners. First, time to competency is even more important than it is for regular full-time employees, because they tend to stay in their jobs for shorter time periods (2018 JPMorgan Chase research found that “most participants in the Online Platform Economy are active in just a few months out of the year”). In addition, “gig workers are often remote, transient, busy and need information to be available to them anywhere, anytime they have a short bit of downtime.” Because of this remote, “downtime” nature of learning, training must be fun and engaging. Finally, because gig workers often do not work on site, they need remote and flexible learning opportunities.
Axonify’s microlearning platform was recently selected by Grab, a ride-sharing platform in southeast Asia, to onboard, train and assess its drivers remotely on mobile devices instead of on site. Public-facing gig workers like Grab drivers, says Leaman, are “a representation of how [a company] treats its customers.” As a result, “poorly trained gig workers are at a higher risk of tarnishing your brand.”
A common question about training gig workers, Leaman says, is, “Is it even worth it?” After all, they probably won’t be with your company long. “Our data shows that it absolutely is worth it,” she responds. “Customer loyalty and satisfaction, overall company brand, and learner satisfaction,” each of which is boosted by training, “all have significant financial impact to the bottom line.”
Performance Management for Gig Workers
“Practice rigorous performance management and feedback for freelancers,” writes Jon Younger, author of “Agile Talent,” in a Forbes article. “The best companies for freelancers set rigorous but achievable results, assess performance regularly, act when contribution is not up to high standards, and recognize freelance high performance.”
Younger and the Gallup researchers recommend providing training to managers on how to manage gig workers and freelancers. “Freelancers choose independent work because they seek a collegial relationship with the organization, rather than the often heavy handed subordinate relationship of untrained and junior project leads,” writes Younger, who also cites a Toptal survey in which a majority of executives said “‘how to work with freelancers’ training for managers was essential and lacking.”
That training should include helping managers communicate mission and values “quickly and concisely,” according to Gallup, and Williams adds that it’s important for organizations to help gig workers understand their culture, tools and processes. Managers should make gig workers feel that they are important members of the organization, “not just mere resources.”
Ajmal says that the most important development an organization can give its gig workers is “clear and constructive feedback, provided regularly.” Williams agrees, saying, “Feedback is a powerful mechanism for ongoing ‘training’ for gig workers,” as is “providing ways gig workers can ask for help and be supported at various points during the gig.”
The bottom line? “Give contractors the same respect you show your full-time workers,” writes Alyssa Merwin, senior director of sales and head of search and staffing for North America at LinkedIn. Support them through learning opportunities, and give them feedback and performance support. By doing so, your organization can reap the benefits of a blended workforce of engaged full-time and contract employees.