Blog Post

The Gig Economy is Coming: Here Are 3 Strategies for Managers

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.

We've entered a new wave of work that has nothing to do with robots. The gig economy is here.

In recent years, "gigging" has moved beyond the realm of Uber, TaskRabbit and their ilk, quickly permeating every industry. And, by some reports, more than 50% of the workforce will be freelance within the next decade.

I'm not sure the number will be so drastic, but I am certain that the gig economy will change how work gets done. In particular, it will change the manager's role: Rather than consistent teams of full-time employees, the gig economy will require managers to oversee a much more diverse and shifting talent pool. But according to a survey from Deloitte, only 16% of respondents say they are ready to manage a wider variety of worker types. To lead successful teams of gig and full-time employees, managers will need to hone their skills in both task management and people management.

The People Management Balancing Act

One of my first brushes with gig economy-style management was about 10 years ago when I was in a management role at a previous company. I'd hired a technical writer to help get an important project over the finish line. The writer came very highly recommended — and her work was wonderful. But she struggled to communicate, she wasn't very cooperative and my team didn't enjoy working with her. As a manager, I had a decision to make: Was it more important for my team to feel heard and valued, or was it more important for me to get the project done well?

In that situation, it made sense to finish the project (this gig worker had an expertise that my team lacked). I made sure to let my team know I was aware of the challenges they were experiencing. And at the end of the project, my team was understanding. They acknowledged the work was great and understood why we invested in her — but they said they'd rather not work with her again.

I look back on this experience a lot when thinking about how management will look in the gig economy. While it might not seem like it, the presence of one person, gig worker or not, is going to impact the environment at work. And even if the person is only contracted for a few months, they are still going to have to become part of the organization. For managers, that means rethinking how you approach management in two important ways.

Invest In Onboarding, Offboarding And Reboarding

I think one of the biggest mistakes I made with the gig worker years ago is I didn't spend enough time onboarding and offboarding her. I didn't dedicate time to set expectations about how she should communicate and collaborate with my existing team, and we didn't debrief before she left.

It may seem counterintuitive to implement these processes for someone joining the company temporarily, but remember, gig workers will likely join team meetings and assimilate into the organization (even if for a limited time).

By some estimates, it can take new employees eight months to a year to be fully productive after they're hired. In that time, many gig workers will have moved onto their next project, so implementing onboarding and offboarding programs that introduce new employees to the company culture, the project and the team they'll be working with will go a long way in smoothing out the work that's being done.

And remember that gig workers could work for you again in the future. Managers can work with existing or future contract workers to set up a useful reboarding process, helping the returning contractor get caught up on important developments in the team and the company so that they can reassimilate quickly.

Combine People And Project Management

Gig workers and full-timers are two very different types of employees, so the management of each group is sure to be different as well. For the most part, managing these groups and the differences between them is about setting realistic expectations with everyone — and sticking to them. Personally, I make it a rule to treat everyone I manage fairly: I define fair as giving everyone what they need to be successful.

Another major component of management in the gig economy is keeping everyone honest about deadlines. A 2013 Harvard Business Review piece said the dirty little secret (registration required) of project management is that "everyone knows the schedule is a joke." In the gig economy, the schedule is a joke no more: Project deadlines must be firm because gig workers' availability is firm. Many managers today are accustomed to setting annual goals, but in the gig economy, you'll be responsible for establishing more specific, incremental goals to keep the projects within scope and on schedule. And in the event a project does have to go over? Come to an agreement with your gig workers and full-time employees ahead of time about how to execute beyond a deadline. That way, everyone on the team will know how to move forward.

For managers, implementing onboarding, offboarding and reboarding processes, as well as balancing people and project management is crucial — it will not only help you and your team stay productive, but also ensure you remain competitive for top gig talent. A recent Deloitte study reported most companies plan to "dramatically increase their dependence on contract, freelance and gig workers" in the coming years. So, whether or not the gig economy hits with the full force that experts predict, preparing to manage a new type of team will make sure you and your company are ready for whatever comes next.

Photo: Creative Commons

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