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At first, many HR professionals were wary of trends like the gig economy and rise of remote work. People considered them to be dangerous disruptors that could deconstruct how, when and where we work and shake up the traditional structures and hierarchies that once defined workplaces. 

But these initial ideas are changing. Both trends have proven beneficial and opportunistic for companies today. And according to Joni Daniels, a former HR executive and current HR consultant, they’re having a particularly positive effect on HR departments. 

The gig economy has created a new pool of expertise to pull from, making outsourcing talent and resources an easy and accessible option. Navigating the world of contract-based workers is a task for HR and, according to Daniels, has brought new importance and purpose to the department. 

“In the gig economy, HR acts as an internal consultant that utilizes specialists to better serve a company’s needs, and can be used to create more effective employee programs, too,” Daniels says.

Similarly, the rise of remote workers has given HR departments another new opportunity: making sure all employees feel like they’re part of a larger organization, despite their location. But according to Daniels, most aren’t doing enough to engage these employees.

Here are some of the emerging trends in HR that Daniels has noticed as a result of remote and gig-based work:

HR is Now an Internal Consultant and Partner

Because HR is involved with nearly every aspect of an organization, it has always been difficult to provide for every employee’s needs. 

“HR departments handle everything from human capital and resources to employee development and recruitment,” says Daniels. “And truth is, most organizations don't have all of those resources to manage all this internally.” 

But thanks to the gig economy, this is no longer the case. By outsourcing tasks like training, recruiting, big data and branding to contract-based specialists, HR can act as an “internal consultant or partner” that utilizes specialists to better serve the needs of a company and it’s employees. 

“HR is no longer the internal, one-stop shop for employee needs—it’s a clearinghouse for finding other resources to supplement the department’s initiatives,” explains Daniels. 

For example, Daniels predicts we will continue to see HR departments hire more contract-based career coaches.

“Managers are employees’ mentors and coaches who also give out their promotions,” says Daniels. “But these relationships can feel pressured and, if communication styles or personalities don’t align well, aren’t always effective.” 

Career coaches don’t replace the manager-to-employee relationship but bolster it: They help both parties work through mental roadblocks, develop personal growth strategies and act as a resource for skills training and staff development programs. 

Navigating the Gig Economy with HR 

Contract-based workers provide a wealth of resources at an affordable price. Companies are no longer forced to hire a full-time PR manager for a one-off crisis or a graphic designer for a couple fleeting projects—today, HR departments can seek out gig workers, temporarily hire them and effectively manage these working relationships.

“There’s more availability for what’s needed than ever before,” Daniels says. “You can find someone who recruits, another who deals with outplacement or someone who specializes in big data.” 

Taking Care of Remote Workers 

Today, nearly 4.7 million American employees don’t work in a physical office space—they work remotely. This increasingly popular workforce trend has grown by 159% over the past 12 years and, similar to the gig economy, it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. 

As the number of remote workers in the U.S. grows, HR should prepare. The department can play a significant role in establishing remote workers’ presence within their organizations, but in many cases is still doing little to help engage them, says Daniels.  

To begin, Daniels suggests supplying managers with learning and development programs that focus on communication skills and facilitating effective conversations with remote team members. Technology can also help boost inclusivity: Ensure that all team meetings and check-ins are done on video conferences and encourage managers to make calls to remote workers more than they message them. 

"As we continue the shift towards a more remote and gig-based workforce, I think HR can have a stronger voice helping managers make those employees feel more included,” she says.