A growing number of Americans are ditching full-time employment in favor of short-term projects and side jobs, where they can pursue their passions, determine their own schedules and essentially be their own bosses. Contingent workers now total 53 million, making up 34 percent of the American workforce.
With this so-called "gig economy" showing no signs of slowing, human resource pros are starting to think about how to embrace this burgeoning pool of talent – and how to keep their own full-time employees fulfilled as the appeal of a "long job" fades.
"The freelancing trend isn’t going anywhere, so HR departments need to evolve," says Sharon Steiner, vice president of Human Resources at Fiverr, an online marketplace for freelance services.
While the idea of finding talent beyond full-time employees certainly goes against the grain of traditional HR, a short-term gig doesn't necessarily translate to a lack of long-term value. By integrating freelancers into your company culture and offering your employees exposure to outside knowledge, you can strengthen your business' bottom line. Below are three key strategies to broadening your talent pool and embracing the "gig economy":
1. Go mobile
Instituting a mobile-friendly workplace is increasingly important for full-time employees, but it’s crucial when working with freelancers who are often remote or work odd hours. "You need to be where the talent is," says Steiner. "The gig marketplace is almost all digital and it’s becoming increasingly reliant on mobile. When you work with freelancers, you need to make sure your channels of communication are open."
With mobile applications maturing beyond simple administrative tasks, accomplishing real work – and even conducting full projects – is entirely possible from the palm of someone’s hand. IBM recently launched enterprise apps that bring IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities to iPhone and iPad users in the enterprise, so employees can tackle complex projects on their phones/tablets. And last month, the cover of the New Yorker was completed entirely on an iPad.
2. Recruit retirees
The gig economy is not just a community of independent Millennials – it includes professionals at every age, and Baby Boomers actually take the lead. Recruiting retirees for short-term projects is the perfect opportunity to assist in their transition while sourcing senior expertise, as recent studies show nearly two-thirds of workers ages 16 to 64 prefer a gradual transition to retirement.
"In mature industries, like energy or utility, the senior management and technical engineering folks are often heading toward retirement years, but the pipeline of young talent is not yet available," says Steve Boese, co-chair of the HR Technology Conference and host of the HR Happy Hour Show and Podcast. Employees who had a good relationship with their workplace, he adds, would likely love the opportunity to continue working for the company or industry in some capacity after they leave full-time.
3. Support side gigs
While it may seem counter-intuitive, offering your own employees "gigs" or opportunities to work on projects outside of their job (and likewise sourcing short-term talent from other companies) is another way to refresh creativity and expand your company’s skill set.
"It’s a huge value proposition to tell current or prospective employees that your ’career concept’ isn’t limited by your industry," says John Boudreau, professor and research director at USC’s Marshall School of Business and Center for Effective Organizations. "There are people who don’t work for you, but may want to work on a specific project for you. On the other hand, there are employees who want to work for you, but you can’t give them everything they need or want to learn."
A few years ago, Siemens and Walt Disney formed an alliance aligned with this theory. Expanding beyond their internal team, Siemens borrowed Walt Disney employees to help develop a marketing campaign for their new hearing aid for kids. In the same vein, companies have created programs that allow employees to work on their own side projects, such as Microsoft Garage.
No matter how you do it, finding ways to integrate short-term projects into your company can bring in high-quality expertise and offer current employees an expanded work experience. Boudreau finds the prospect of looking for talent beyond employment limitless: "What if we saw career development as boundary-less?" he asks, "And what if we saw the talent we need as existing everywhere?"