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Reimagining the professional gig economy

Updated: Feb 17

There is little doubt that 2020 has leaders rethinking their approach to organisation and workforce design.

Future-ready leaders are becoming increasingly strategic in how they utilise on-demand talent, particularly in areas that have not traditionally had a contingent workforce or have had a high cost model. Organisations will no longer be a static group of employees but an agile mix of core and on-demand capabilities. The professional gig economy has arrived, folks!

Quick lingo check: ‘On-demand talent’, also known as freelancers, corporate escapees or independent consultants, is a term that refers to knowledge workers who work in a gig capacity. These gigs usually involve delivering an agreed outcome, over an agreed period of time, at an agreed cost. Where this connection between business leaders and on-demand talent is facilitated over a platform, such as Werkling, it’s referred to as the professional gig economy, knowledge economy or shared talent market.

In October 2020, Werkling interviewed 20 senior Australian leaders to explore how they are leaning into the professional gig economy and how they expect to engage with on-demand talent in a post-COVID world. When asked if their use of on-demand talent is likely to change, 90% of the leaders interviewed reported that they are now more likely to include on-demand talent in their organisation design and workforce plans.

This research has identified many different contexts where leaders use on-demand talent. Werkling has captured five scenarios that demonstrate the most common opportunities to engage on-demand talent.

1. Scale up to deliver an outcome

Werkling are seeing more internal teams with an intentionally lean design. They use on-demand talent to deliver components of work during peak delivery periods. Leaders are curating On-Demand Talent Panels that allows them to resource up and resource down according to priorities, avoiding the cost burden of large internal teams, big consulting agencies and commission-based recruiters.

An example: A large, national organisation has a small internal Learning and Leadership team that is focused on the design of learning, culture and leadership programs. The team uses a panel of hand-picked, geographically dispersed on-demand facilitators who have been engaged to deliver a leadership program across Australia.

The need to scale-up to deliver an outcome is not always a part of a deliberate resourcing plan. Sometimes, new business priorities pop up and, despite ruthless prioritisation, teams are stretched to their max and additional, short-term resources are needed.

An example: A Communications team in an ASX50 company uses on-demand copywriters during an unexpected peak in workflow caused by a change to government policy that had industry implications.

2. Bring in a different capability

Startups and small business can rarely carry the cost of non-revenue generating roles at a senior level and don’t necessarily have a need for functional expertise on a daily basis. However, they do need this strategic capability at times.

An example: A health tech startup doesn’t have strategic marketing or brand capability. The founders realise that they’d struggle to compete with corporate salaries and don’t need someone at that level all the time. Werkling matches the startup to a senior marketing consultant who they engage to develop their go-to-market strategy. As a part of the retainer engagement, the on-demand consultant works one day a week but is available over four days to provide as-needed advice to their internal, part-time Marketing Coordinator who is focused on execution.

The need to bring in different capability sets also plays out in larger organisations. It may be that there is a capability need that is better served by external talent or is a niche capability that is only needed for a short period of time. In many change programs, more experienced talent is required for the build or design phase, and a different capability set is required for the execution and transition to BAU.

An example: A corporate strategy team brings in an AI expert to advise on the organisation’s five year plan. This is not a capability that they have in the organisation and a part of the engagement is to scope out what the internal capability needs to look like over the coming five years.

3. Fill an interim vacancy

When hard-to-fill roles are vacant, the preferred candidate has a lengthy notice period, or a team member goes on unexpected leave, on-demand talent is a short-term solution to deliver on immediate business needs. It is an even more appealing solution when leaders have established, ongoing relationships with a panel of trusted, high caliber on-demand talent who already have a depth of business knowledge, are available immediately and can hit ground running.

An example: The Head of Change had top talent leave her team due to an internal opportunity. Due to their regional location and the need to occasionally be on site, it was taking some time to find a new IT Change Manager and the work was piling up. She used trusted on-demand talent to step into the role three days a week for a six week period to help her through this tricky period while she sourced the right permanent talent.

4. Enable flexibility

Organisations need to get so much better at designing sustainable solutions for workplace flexibility, especially part time roles. So often part time is a matter of ‘five days crammed into three’ or the person being shoved off to the side in a less challenging ‘special projects’ role. No one wants that.

On-demand talent can be a cost-neutral, outcome-enabling solution to help internal talent work part-time.

An example: A Community Engagement Manager wants to work four days a week, not his current five days a week. He and his manager work through a process to redesign his role and have reallocated a few pieces of work to other team members with capacity. His leader then gives him an ‘on-demand talent budget’ that is equivalent of 20% of his salary (that is the cost saving of the day he will not work each week). The Community Engagement Manager uses this budget to bring in on-demand talent, as needed, to facilitate community engagement sessions on his non-work day.

5. Build internal capability

Bringing in on-demand talent to partner with internal talent on key projects can not only be used to deliver enhanced outcomes but to uplift the team’s capability through on-the-job learning.

An example: A small People and Culture team wants to review their organisation’s induction process and knows that previous attempts have missed the mark. They engage an experience designer who works on-demand to lead the four week project and increase the team’s design thinking capability in the process.

The perfect storm for the professional gig economy is upon us. On one side of the market we have more talent pursuing the flexibility and freedom that comes with a gig career. On the other side of the market we have organisations seeking an increasingly dynamic workforce design and cost effective, commission-free access to talent.

So where to start? Werkling has created a quick diagnostic that can help you to identify how the professional gig economy might influence your organisation design and workforce plans.

Click here to book a free, friendly and fabulous diagnostic meeting with one of Werkling’s organisation design consultants.