In the modern workplace the established attitudes towards permanent, fixed employment are under fire as the idea of a one job career becomes less appealing.
The arrival and growing popularity of the gig economy, a source of much controversy, is a signal to the social, cultural and business revolution being experienced both in the UK and beyond.
This new model represents more closely the wants and needs of modern workers, providing a collaborative environment where people are encouraged to be more engaged with what they are doing, and with each employee having a real stake in the organisation and its success.
Key to the success of theory Y organisations is the emphasis on flexibility and designing work days with a better work-life balance. Technology has played a big part in this cultural change, with mobile devices and connected technology making it more efficient for workers to do their jobs remotely from any location.
And this trend is not a flash in the pan, with research by PwC predicting a further 50% growth in mobile working by 2020, further underpinning the boom in remote and flexible working.
Business benefits of the gig economy
While it is much maligned in some circles, the gig economy does in fact offer numerous benefits to businesses. Many companies – especially smaller businesses – may not be able to offer full-time positions and the short-term, flexible contracts that the gig economy is built on can help fill those skills and needs without the long-term costs.
This rings true at every level of the business.
The gig economy is the mainstreaming of a more entrepreneurial attitude to work that has been missing from the UK economy for some time.
At the top level, freelance consultants can be brought in to help with business strategy, particularly helpful in the IT industry, with contractors able to support digital processes from anywhere in the world.
Benefits to the employee
While businesses can benefit from the gig economy due to its short-term contract nature, experienced or older workers who may want to remain in the jobs market but can no longer commit to long-term or full-time contracts can also benefit.
These employees can continue to work without commitment, being able to work as and when they want. And the more experienced and skilled workers can be pickier about the projects or businesses they work on.
By offering these more flexible employment opportunities, businesses are less likely to lose out when it comes to recruiting the best talent, while ensuring they are not being passed over by those workers who simply don’t want a long-term commitment.
A boost after Brexit
The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created immense uncertainty as to what this will mean for immigration and the size of the country’s workforce. What is clear is that the competition for the best talent will likely rise even further and businesses will have to embrace a more modern attitude to work if they are to remain competitive.
This includes embracing flexible working.
People who benefit from flexible working are usually among the most engaged staff and could become brand advocates for businesses that employ best practices in this area.
The ideal scenario for any business is to have some flexibility built in – which can be used to attract those workers committed to the gig economy – while also establishing some form of structure with full-time employees who prefer the more traditional structure.
It is also worth noting that the gig economy is not the unregulated free-for-all it has recently been portrayed as. As long as there is compliance with employment legislation, with minimum wage and tax and insurance requirements being met, businesses are free to offer employment in any form they want.
Only the agile will survive.
In a sense, the gig economy is the mainstreaming of a more entrepreneurial attitude to work that has been missing from the UK economy for some time. And employees who wish to embrace this new way of working should be afforded the opportunity to do so.
It is important, of course, to find the right balance. No business can become successful if it is built entirely on the back of contract workers – and in that sense, the gig economy does have its limitations.
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 working 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. And the government is in a state of constant flux.
If your 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.
About Richard Dennys
Richard Dennys has more than 20 years’ experience of starting, growing and selling digital businesses. He’s an expert at driving international growth and maximising shareholder value through the optimisation of sales, marketing and digital functions. He has recently been appointed CEO of Webgains Group, taking responsibility for the strategic and operational management of the company across all its operating locations in the US, UK and mainland Europe. He has a deep interest in ‘disruptive’ technologies, particularly their use and efficiency in personal learning and development.
He previously held senior management positions across Europe for the BBC, Qype, Nokia, Moonfruit and UK Government-backed TechCity UK. He was on the senior management team of Qype.com during its sale to Yelp.com in 2012. He is a Fellow of the UK Chartered Institute of Marketing.