COVID-19 Is Challenging the Idea of Work

Photo credit: iStockphoto/dorian2013

Scrolling down the tweets under hashtag #IWorkedSick, it becomes clear that instances of COVID-19 will escalate if there isn’t a collective, coordinated effort that engages the entire machinery of governments and societies.

Companies that continue to only prioritize the bottom line, at the risk of jeopardizing employee well-being and happiness/satisfaction, promote a culture that is counter-productive to profitability in the long run.

A study conducted by the Social Market Foundation found that happy employees are up to 20% more productive. It has an even bigger impact on sales, where happy salespeople raise sales by 37%.

Alternative way of working

Tomas O’Farrell, cofounder of Workana, believes the gig economy could offer a satisfactory, if not better, alternative to the confines of nine-to-five employment.

The gig economy refers to a labor market characterized by contract or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. Workana is an online platform that connects freelancers to businesses looking to recruit skilled talent.

Freelance platforms like Workana, Freelancer, Fiverr and Upwork generally cater to ‘skilled’ individuals while the other side of the gig economy the likes of Grab, Uber, Deliveroo, to name a few, cater to relatively ‘unskilled’ types of employment.

Pointing out how the rise of remote working and the gig economy drastically changed workforce dynamics, O’Farrell adds that the new generation of workers prioritize “flexible work hours, better work-life balance and being able to do work that appealed as opposed to following a traditional career path.”

While it would seem that technology-oriented millennials hopping from one project to another would hold this worldview, O’Farrell offers a surprising titbit - the average age of freelancers on his platform was “closer to 40”.

The competitive advantage of gig workers

“The challenge for businesses now is finding and retaining talent,” says O’Farrell. “To remain desirable and stay competitive, businesses will need to embrace the gig economy.”

Believing that freelancers offer the solution to talent gaps that businesses face, O’Farrell points out that “freelancers can begin working on a job as early as in 36 hours.”

Other advantages for SMEs (small medium enterprises) include no long-term financial commitments, no training time or costs and access to the best global talent. O’Farrell contends that when hiring on platforms like Workana, employers are not limited to choosing talent within a city or state but from a pool of globally competing talent.

A Korn Ferry study predicts that by 2030 there will be a global human talent shortage of over 85 million people. Including a country-by-country analysis, it found out that surprisingly the biggest issue isn’t that robots will replace humans in jobs, but that there aren’t enough skilled humans to take those jobs.

But just how skilled can freelancers on Workana and other similar platforms be?

It turns out that freelancers can run the gamut of total newbies to extremely skilled professionals. From platforms like Fiverr which can offer services from individuals who seem to have comparatively little experience to Toptal, which claims to offer only the top 3% of world class talent, prices vary according to varying levels of experience. Market demand appears to fix and adjust benchmark fees accordingly. Online marketplace tools aid businesses to fine tune their hires.

Sizing up gig challenges

The gig economy trend is not without its challenges.

For freelancers, common complaints include the lack of benefits and income stability. Freelance platforms hope to mitigate these complaints by offering tutorials that equip platform users with soft skills like sales, personal finance management and healthcare advice.

One common complaint by freelancers is that of “two levels of employees,” where permanent workers are seen to receive preferential treatment in terms of company benefits. But permanent employees also have a similar complaint.

“Freelancers come in and out as they please and they don’t necessarily have to adopt our company or office culture,” says Alicia Pang, a permanent staff member of a medium-sized graphic design company in Singapore.

Paul Phillips, global head of talent acquisition at Avanade notes, “Key components of our entire workforce support cycle must be rethought for gig workers, from recruitment and performance management to training and development, employee retention and more.”

Founded as a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture, Avanade provides global IT consulting services focused on the Microsoft platform.

Speaking on the evolving role of HR in a gig economy, Phillips observes that, “In the end, I don’t think we have a choice about whether to embrace a gig approach to HR… It is one of those new fads that has quickly become a reality.”

In keeping with the rapidly developing digital world and the trend toward more dynamic businesses, deploying a gig workforce option will often make sense, namely lower labor costs, and flexible staffing that can scale as needed.

“It’s a mandate in order to stay agile,” adds Phillips.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/dorian2013