In a world of finite resources, companies not only compete for market share but also top talent. As Learning and Development (L&D) makers, we compete for talented employees, their effort, and time.
But managers and HR departments tend to operate from a perspective of fear, convinced that employees can only complete work if they’re supervised in an office. Most companies still adhere to a traditional labor structure of employing full-time workers, hoping to find the best talent within driving distance of an office. It makes sense to insist that employees all work next to each other on a factory assembly line. But, as knowledge workers, we now have email, Slack, Dropbox or Google Drive, and Skype that have collapsed virtual separation. We complain that we don’t have enough time or can’t find the right talent within realistic travel of the office, and yet we’re not taking advantage of how technology continues to shrink the virtual space separating us.
Technology has made communication and collaboration across space and time virtually effortless and with it, we’ve entered what many are calling the Gig Economy. Gig economy is the buzzword referring to a work environment that supports short-term contracts, often with individuals working virtually together regardless of physical location. This new paradigm is optimized for knowledge work, like L&D. Practitioners, leaders, and vendors should consider how they can best leverage this new take on employer/employee relationships, labor structures, geographic proximity, and employment options to capitalize on a global pool of talent.
Until recently, I worked from my home office, managing a small team of full-time Instructional Designers and technology administrators located in 5 different US states and contractors in India. I’ve since changed jobs and now commute most days of the week into an office. A few weeks ago, my former boss, who often tried to convince me to move to the California bay area so we could work in the same office, asked if I now saw the value of physically working next to my team as we caught up over dinner. The answer was still a resounding "no". I struggle to fill open positions with qualified employees limited to the comparatively small pool of candidates who live within a reasonable driving distance from the office. Unfortunately, the culture at this new company still only supports in-house employees. I still argued that large, full-time teams collocated at expensive office space is a relic of the past. (Over the years I’ve worked with many highly talented L&D professionals that would make an all-star team, if only we all lived within an hour’s drive of each other.)
Senior leadership in many companies are still afraid of the changing gig economy labor model. Here’s an example. At one California-based company, the upper leadership teams didn’t consider virtual employees a viable option. But they were missing the obvious. While most employees worked out of large central offices, they spent a significant amount of time collaborating virtually with coworkers in offices elsewhere across the United States. For example, an HR professional in the California bay area office might consult with a customer-facing manager in New Jersey. Or a project team for one division might consist of employees in offices located in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Nevada. They were ignoring the fact that they were already a virtual workforce occupying expensive office space.
L&D teams that don’t embrace the gig economy will quickly fall behind in upcoming years. They’re faced with 1 of 3 (or a mixture) major problems:
In each case, the current (and outdated) way of approaching labor slows innovation and productivity such that new knowledge work companies who have embraced the gig economy work environment will overtake and out-compete those who don’t.
The following are reasons to consider an alternative labor structure in the gig economy.
Below is a list of items any L&D group should be aware of when attempting to leverage a remote workforce at least partially made up of contractors:
When employing a virtual mix of full-time and contract L&D professionals,
L&D departments need to consider the business realities of their cost structures and ability to react to customer needs. There is a perception that contract workers cost more than salaried employees—and that is often true when comparing potential hourly rates. But it doesn’t consider the fact that you’re paying strictly for labor, not insurance, benefits, upskilling, or downtime.
Blanding, M. (2018, January 31). American Idle: Workers Spend Too Much Time Waiting for Something to Do. Retrieved from Harvard Business School: https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/american-idle-employees-are-wasting-way-too-much-time
Dubner, S. J. (2018, February 6). What Can Uber Teach Us About the Gender Pay Gap? Retrieved from Freakonomics Podcast: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/what-can-uber-teach-us-about-the-gender-pay-gap/