When I visited the United States, I wondered: Where would HGTV be without mobile workers and the gig economy? Episodes of Beachfront Bargain Hunters, Caribbean Life and the rest of the channel’s globe-trotting, house-hunting shows often feature untethered digital nomads who have the freedom to work from nearly anywhere. And if predictions hold true on the growth of the virtual workforce, program executives can plan on expanding their lineup.
In 2017, Intuit, the owner of TurboTax and QuickBooks, estimated that 34 percent of the workforce participated in the “gig economy.” By 2020, it figures it’ll be 43 percent. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mary Meeker agrees. In her most recent forecast of tech industry trends, Meeker says freelance work is growing three times faster than the growth of the total workforce.
The driving force behind that growth is simple, and it isn’t necessarily financial, Meeker says. It’s flexibility. Whether today’s workers are running conference calls from an oceanside condo in Bridgetown, Barbados, or writing code in a remote cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, a growing number are attracted to the ability to have a career that doesn’t center around a traditional workplace. These workers prefer to be judged by their results, not by their attendance.
This means companies will need to adjust their thinking and their actions so as to appeal to gig economy workers, says Marc Wilkinson, DXC Technology’s chief technology officer for Workplace and Mobility.
In his paper, “The Real Impact of Mobile Technologies on a Digital Workplace” Wilkinson says that first, companies must understand that a profound shift in the balance of power has happened between employers and employees. The shift in workstyles and workplaces that began with the “bring-your-own-device” movement has become broader and deeper. Jobs are more granular, role-oriented tasks that can be filled by many people, which makes organizational charts look more like webs than pyramids. Get comfortable with it, Wilkinson says. Flexible organizational design helps people understand the impact of their work, how their skills fit into the organization and what they can contribute to be rewarded.
Similarly, companies need to reorient their thinking about the way systems are created, making user-centered design less the exception and more the rule. Technology and culture change will drive a different set of interaction models. For example, verbal- and gesture-based mechanisms enable people to be productive in new ways, acting as both a force multiplier and a remote work enabler. There’d be no need, for example, to schedule a field engineer for every group of linemen sent to fix utilities in the field. A single engineer could manage multiple crews from a single location at the office, at home or anywhere, inspecting power lines or pipelines via drones and looking over a crew member’s shoulder via remote cameras.
Finally, Meeker’s research shows that flexible workers are in greater demand than ever, which means companies will need to get smarter about the way they search for and recruit gig economy workers. Data on work patterns, needs and desires fed into specially designed algorithms will help companies to find where the right potential employees live, what they want to do and how they want to be rewarded.