The old ways of working are not working. Established attitudes towards permanent, fixed employment are under fire. The arrival of the much-maligned gig economy, in fact, signals no less than a social, cultural, and business revolution.
In response, businesses are transforming from ‘Theory X’ ways of working – the traditional top-down manager and worker relationship – to a ‘Theory Y” organisational structure. Theory Ys are more collaborative organisations, where people are engaged with what they are doing and each employee has a real stake in the organisation rather than just being a worker bee.
Flexibility has become key and Theory Y organisations are looking much more at designing work around employees’ lifestyles, rather than the other way round. PwC has predicted a further 50% growth in mobile employees by 2020 and that looks likely to underpin the boom in remote and flexible working.
The gig economy offers numerous business benefits. Short-term flexible contracts can help plug gaps at every level in the workforce. At the top, freelance consultants can help with business strategy. There is a global marketplace for IT contractors who can support your IT resource from wherever they are in the world. Even account managers, who are core to the business, may be freelancers.
This benefits everyone. Young growing businesses need expensive, experienced people but do not necessarily need them full-time. Experienced people often have family responsibilities and no longer want full-time hours and certainly do not want a long commute. The gig economy at its best helps both these parties meet their needs together.
Offering a variety of employment opportunities, businesses can make sure that they do not lose out in the war for talent. After Brexit, when fewer people may be eligible to work in the UK, the competition for talent looks set to rise further. Businesses will have to embrace flexible working if they are to attract and retain the staff they need to survive. People who benefit from flexible working are usually among your most engaged staff. They will become brand advocates for your business.
The idea is to build in some flexibility so that the organisation can offer the opportunity to be a gig worker to those who want it while maintaining structured employment opportunities for those who prefer the more traditional forms of employment.
As long as there is compliance with employment legislation, and minimum wage, pension, tax and national insurance requirements, as with any traditional employment, businesses are free to offer employment in the shape or form that suits the prospective employees they want to target.
At the same time, it is important to get the right balance. It is no good trying to staff your business entirely with contractors – that way leads to chaos. Flexible working does not work as a short-term tool to save on costs. It will deliver the best business benefits when it is introduced to celebrate the kinds of people you want to work in your business – those people who have the experience and approach that is a great fit for your business but can’t commit to work full time or in a particular location.
The challenge for many businesses is not so much in acquiring and managing these staff. It has more to do with building a consistent organisational culture and fostering shared values among many different types of staffing structures.
Change is the only constant in today’s economy – and continuing upturns and downturns look likely. Game-changing technology comes along ever more regularly. Government is in a state of constant flux. If the business is staffed entirely by employees on long-term full-time contracts, it simply will not have the flexibility it needs to respond to market change quickly enough. Only the agile will survive.