Atypical Plasticity Of Work

“Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”

“I was born under unusual circumstances, on 11th November, 1918, the last day of World War I," says the background voice while the screen shows a shocked doctor holding a shrivelled baby boy in his hand. The doctor describes this strange little creature, "He has all the deterioration, the infirmities, not of a new born, but of a man well in his 80s on the way to his grave." And so begins The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards. A man, like any of us, who is unable to stop time. As the viewer follows this unusual story, set in New Orleans, from the end of World War I in 1918 going into the 21st century, it gives a unique lens into how our choices shape us and our future: to do and undo are rare opportunities that shape our lives. It is a grand tale of a not-so-ordinary man and the people and places he discovers along the way, the loves he finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time. As the Journey unfolds, one of Button's line, "Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss," becomes the parables of success and happiness.

The millennials and the Gen Z could not agree more with this. Gen Z is here to make the right choices at the right time, and maximise on all possible opportunities. Savvy and practical, the skills and attitudes acquired by them in their brief life span are impacting the present and the future of work. Responding to a recent survey by Ernst & Young, only 15% chose financial security over job satisfaction. Furthermore, 50% of these respondents cited flexibility as a key priority when looking for an employer, and 73% cited a good work-life balance as the biggest measure of success. The respondents also said that the most important trait for a good boss is respect for work hours.

As the use of technology becomes ubiquitous, the traditional form of employment is also undergoing a massive change. Terms like 'Uberisation' of the workforce are gaining currency. An atypical workforce, also called Shared Economy, open talent, freelancers, on demand economy, or the Gig economy represents the new paradigm of work. Atypical work refers to employment relationships that do not conform to the standard or 'typical' model of full time, regular, open-ended employment with a single employer over a long-time span. Gig economy is characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

A Global Contingent Workforce Study by Ernst & Young revealed that 20 percent of organisations with more than 1,000 employees globally have a workforce that comprises of 30 per cent or more contingent workers. Currently, freelancing is the hottest trend in India. According to a PayPal report, India accounts for 50% of the global freelancers, and a majority of them are less than 40 years, and it has the potential to grow as a $20-30 Billion industry by 2025.

According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, 20 to 30% of the working age population in developed countries is engaged in independent work. The Gig economy has allowed organisations to engage dialogue from a 1986 teen Hollywood drama, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where a teenager faking an illness to stay off from college says, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it," which carries a profound meaning in today's VUCA world.

For Generation Z, the line between work and play has blurred. They are never offline and all they know is an always-available workplace. Given their always-on approach to life, millennials and Gen Z see no problem with blending work and life. Checking email even before they get out of bed in the morning, shopping online while at work, exchanging texts and taking conference calls with co-workers after office hours, and then catching up with office mail on a weekend is native to them. Therefore, blending multiple professions into a working week and balancing their passions while they pay their bills, is not a challenge for this agile generation. We can almost hear them say, "Why are you trying so hard to fit in, when you were born to stand out," the very lines from What A Girl Wants, the Hollywood comedy.

Types of Atypical Workers

Atypical workers cover a large and growing variety of forms of work and employment characterised by flexibility and reduced security. The forms include part-time work, casual and seasonal work, job sharing, fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work, home-based work, remote working, self-employment, and the work of unpaid spouses or family members in small family-run enterprises. Here is a quick look at each of these.

Agency workers: The term Agency worker is used to describe an individual engaged by a business to perform work for one of the employment business clients (often referred to as an end-user or hirer). Agency workers are often used to cover staff shortages owing to illness, holidays, sabbaticals, or maternity leave, in industries such as construction, in order to meet fluctuating demands.

Apprentices: An apprenticeship involves on-the-job training for the apprentice over a fixed term, during which they also undertake work for their employer.

Casual workers: They provide their labour or services in irregular or informal working arrangements under which there is no obligation to provide or accept work. The flexibility in such arrangements may suit both employer and worker, and often takes the form of one-off tasks or events or being available on an on-call basis. However, there is no obligation on the worker to accept the work. The most spoken of category are those working under a zero hour contract, wherein the employer does not guarantee to provide work and pays only for the work actually performed. Casual workers are often used in seasonal industries such as agriculture and tourism, or to meet fluctuating demand such as in the construction industry.

“About 40 percent of the people in the gig economy have more than 20 years of experience and another 38 percent have an experience ranging between 11 and 20 years.”

Consultants and self-employed contractors: Many self-employed workers are engaged on a consultancy basis. However, a person who works in a consultancy or in an advisory capacity may be an employee. Whether an individual is self-employed or is an employee will depend on the circumstances and the application of relevant case law.

Fixed-term workers: The Fixed-term employees regulations apply only to employees and not to workers. A fixed-term contract therefore refers to a contract of employment that will provide for termination on the expiry of a fixed term or the completion of a particular task.

Flexible working: The statutory right to request flexible working extends to all employees with 26 weeks of continuous service. Employers are under a duty to consider requests reasonably, and to notify employees of a final decision within a three-month decision period.

Homeworkers: There is no statutory definition of a homeworker, and unlike the traditional image of someone with little job security doing tasks on piecemeal basis, a majority of homeworkers are now managerial, professional, technical, or skilled workers. Homeworking is also more common among the self-employed.

Part-time workers: The regulations applicable to this area apply to all workers and not just employees. They do not give full-time workers the right to switch to part-time work or vice versa. However, employees in certain circumstances have the right to request flexible working including a change to their working patterns, such as their working hours.

“The gig economy is generating 56 percent employment in India and going to grow 25-30 percent per annum.”

Gig Workers: There is a strange, almost surreal backdrop to the current Gig economy - Gig workers who do not have human bosses. They work for apps and this has been in practice for a while, for e.g., delivery services, services for personal errands etc., and the market is getting richer and more complex. And the complexity is being fuelled by something called the shut-in economy. There are indications that the shut-in economy will continue to grow as the younger, tech-immersed generations age, and we continue to wall ourselves off within our urban centres, ordering, and receiving everything from our lunches to our medications.

Revolutionising employ-ment patterns In India

According to the IMF, at an estimated 30 percent, youth inactivity is highest in India as compared to other emerging and developing countries. Recent data compiled by Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy has stated that the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 per cent in February 2019. Exactly a year ago, in February 2018, the unemployment rate in India was hovering around 5.9%. In the last 12 months, the number of employed people in India has gone down to 400 million from 406 million in February 2018. Against such a backdrop, Gig economy offers the prospect of improving unemployment trends in India. With a young population geared to join the workforce every year, Indian employers are seeking to embrace the atypical workforce and hop on to the bandwagon. Here are some significant changes in the employment patterns that are making India lead in its gig economy.

Emerging job roles: With Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation invariably at the forefront of altering job roles, companies will seek freelancers for various new roles. For instance, there will be increased contracts for deep learning, analytics, blockchain architecture, SEO strategies and social media marketing. In addition, app development, finance, auditing, content writing/blogging, web development, virtual assistance, and graphic designing are expected to widen the Gig economy.

Hyper specialisation: Increased outsourcing in hyperspecialised jobs and esteemed projects of various companies has been and continues to be in existence. Even large organisations will seek hyper specialisation and niche skill sets, which are considered imperative to building a core team and potential leadership talent. Freelancers will focus on very niche skills.

Co-working in collaborative spaces

The Gig economy has led to the establishment of an entire industry called co-working, where physical facilities and shared work spaces are dedicated to house various freelancers. Independent workers seek flexibility, extroversion, and liberty while developing and marketing their personal skills at the same time. Hence, co-working hubs and spaces will observe increased collaboration with start-ups and freelancers in particular, and thereby contribute to the expansion of the gig-economy.

FlexJobs is a talent sourcing site for those seeking telecommuting, flexible schedule, part-time, and freelance jobs in the US and in other parts of the world. FlexJobs created a list of top 125 companies that almost or completely operate remotely. Some of the companies that made it to this list are AgileBits, Aha!, AppendTo and many others. When it comes to the top industries for virtual companies, the list indicates that computer/IT, HR/ recruiting, and education have the most virtual companies. A myriad of other industries such as accounting, health, law, marketing, not-for-profit, news/media, sports, travel, and others are included.

A research by Noble house, an Indian entity, has found that a large segment of about 81% has joined the Gig bandwagon in the last five years. Data from such consultants suggests that the organised segment is seeing greater interest across the metros. Delhi NCR, at 43 percent, emerged as the biggest Gig hub, followed by Mumbai at 19 percent and Bangalore at 18 percent.

The Union government has also provided support to the Gig economy. It has extended the facility of hiring workers on fixed-term employment to all sectors for improving the ease of doing business for players intending to hire people for completing specified projects, tasks, and orders. Under fixed-term employment, working conditions in terms of working hours, wages, allowances, and statutory dues of a fixed-term employee are at par with permanent workmen. Traditional workplace gender clichés continue to stay intransigent even in the Gig age as well.

With social proof, everybody wins

What would Amazon be without ratings and reviews? Social proof is a powerful psychological and social phenomenon visible everywhere. Smart business owners, marketers, and project managers build social proof into their communication and products. How does this apply to the Gig economy? As one performs a candidate search, a whole range of metrics will become apparent. Star ratings, comments, being tagged as "Top Sellers" etc., are all key ways to find the right person for our needs. Often, this cannot be easily duplicated through traditional resume, and moreover, no one has the time to make all those recommendation calls.

It pays to be flexible

Nobody wants to get into the position of being understaffed - which is money on the table. A prepared business knows better and has contingencies for such situations. Accessing the Gig economy facilitates better management to solve issues related to unexpected turnover and no shows. Apologising to customers is not the solution. Being ready to take that risk in today's unforgiving world of laser fast consumer feedback, provides the organisation with a competitive advantage. Hence, tapping into the Gig economy today seems to be an absolute necessity.

5 Challenges of the Atypical Workforce

With the increase in the usage of contingent workers, the risks and challenges have risen as well.

According to the 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, in spite of the anticipated growth in the Gig economy, only 16% organisations worldwide have an established set of policies and practices to effectively manage different types of workers. Such an enormous gap in capabilities right from hiring to employee management needs to be addressed and aligned to the company's overall strategy. It is critical to have all processes enabled digitally for remote or virtual employees.

Some of the issues that should be on the top of one's mind when working with a contingent workforce, and some recommenda-tions on addressing them have been cited below: -

Access to Information: A contingent workforce needs to have access to all the necessary information required to do their jobs. Yet, only a few of these workers have the required knowledge to search and locate information scattered across the organisation in multiple repositories, databases, and file shares. This can lead to poor business decisions being made with less than optimal information.

Solution: Organisations need to establish a single point of access to information regardless of where it resides across the enterprise, taking the guesswork out of locating and retrieving critical business information needed to do the job.

Accountability: Because of the temporary nature of a contingent workforce, it is important that organisations are able to account for the actions of these employees, even after they have moved on to other endeavours. Being able to defend business decisions and explain why those decisions are made is critical to any regulatory compliance.

Solution: Organisations need a solution that can create an audit trail of all the activities of a contingent workforce, such as capturing an employee identifier, date and time stamp, and the action taken by that employee. The tool should also create their audit record automatically, associate it with the particular piece of information that has been accessed by that employee, and maintain that audit record for a long time.

Virtual Training: Contingent employees are not equipped with the many years of training possessed by experienced full-time employees, and knowledge-ready workers may not always be present or available to provide solutions. This could result in workers indulging in guesswork about the correct policy or procedure to perform a task.

Solution: Organisations need a solution capable of storing and managing not only traditional documents, but also videos and other rich content that can be leveraged for training by a contingent workforce as needed.

Structured Work Processes: A contingent workforce may lack the detailed knowledge of internal business process and procedures possessed by experienced full-time employees. Individual tasks can fall through the cracks or processing steps can be missed, leading to less than optimal business outcomes.

Solution: Organisations need a solution that can provide structured automated workflows to ensure that critical processing steps are not missed, all relevant documentation is collected and filed appropriately, deadlines are adhered to, and that appropriate supervision or peer reviews are incorporated in the day-to-day assignments.

Need for portability: When contingent employees leave an organisation, others are often called upon to take up their assignments. If information collected during the course of employment is scattered across various systems and devices, this transition can be difficult to accomplish.

Solution: Organisations need a solution that allows discrete information to be moved quickly or reassigned to other individuals or organisations, or to be accessed in its native location via a centralised information hub. Speed, accuracy, and completeness are necessary to ensure that no delays are introduced to business transactions already in flight.

“45 percent of the human resource (HR) heads surveyed want to hire a Gig worker so that they can supplement the skills of the existing workforce, 39 percent would do this to reduce the cost, and 10 percent for filling temporary vacancies in their teams.”

Scenarios where atypical workforce is needed

Change in strategic direction: This is a regular occurrence, especially in emerging growth companies. Many companies developing a technical solution are often looking to match the solution with the best market opportunity. As a result, companies must quickly execute a new strategy. And Gig workers perform the rescue act!

Speed to market: Companies that need to accelerate a project or product to the market might not have the people power to get the job done, so they call in specialists. This is often the case in technology companies that need coders to come in on a contract basis.

Larger contracts: Large organisations often need workers to fulfil contracts. In many cases, these are massive government contracts. E.g. There are more than 45,000 contract jobs in the Government posted on Indeed.

Spikes in Customer Service: Seasonal spikes in customer service across most businesses helped in the rise of the gig economy. A flexible workforce allows organisations to be more agile and plan for spikes and lows. In fact, 70 percent of employers say Gig workers increase profitability and efficiency.

Companies do to seize the Gig economy

Converting JDs into Skills-based roles: At present, most organisations leveraging the Gig economy to scale-up their business are the Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Larger corporations have been slow to adapt to this trend, and are contemplating whether their recruitment strategy and compliance practices can accommodate short-term contractors within their existing structure, especially in terms of how Gig workers can adapt to their corporate culture and working style. With the rise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), data analytics and routine tasks are often automated to achieve higher efficiency and accuracy, allowing employees to engage in skills-based value-added tasks. Hence, instead of holding up to traditional JDs, corporations can creatively divide work into skills-based tasks, so as to simplify processes of briefings, handover processes, and management.

Addressing the work hygiene: Like employees, Gig workers also have certain basic needs when they come to work every day. They need to know what is expected of them at work. They need to understand how things are done in the company. They need to feel that their work is being appreciated and that they are contributing to organisational goals.

By studying the experiences of workers with alternative arrangements in the organisation, HR leaders are better able to evaluate their strategy and course correct. When a project is well executed through Gig workers, identifying the key behaviours and processes related to resourcing, onboarding, teamwork, and management can contribute to the success story.

Evaluating policies: Corporations should evaluate existing internal policies and candidate assessment processes to cater to permanent employees. As companies look towards engaging Gig workers, it is essential for the talent acquisition teams to revamp their approach to assessment processes and job requirements, as well as staff benefits and policies. This is equally necessary for the roles, which require Gig workers to work on-site and off-site. An effective evaluation process is required to ensure consistent and quality work, where customised assessment procedures need to be developed with the active participation of the relevant line manager.

Collaboration Across diverse teams: Organisational workgroups and the cross-functional teamwork that are necessitated by multifaceted projects are becoming even more complex with remote workers, matrixed team members, and Gig workers. Though less frequent than the traditional employees, a Gallup study found that a majority of Gig workers work in teams. In the context of diverse teams, Project management, knowledge transfer, and team communication becomes paramount for getting the work done efficiently. It takes a strong Manager to coordinate these diverse teams, set clear goals, and regularly evaluate team progress toward those objectives.

Effectively communicate employer brand: Communicating an authentic corporate brand is needed for traditional talent acquisition processes, and is even more important in a gig economy, where the foundation is built upon trust. Sceptics perceive that the impact of the Gig economy on the workforce undermines a corporation's dedication to fair treatment of employees. It is vital for corporations to communicate their brand in a true and personal manner to their permanent employees, potential candidates, or contractual staff. By focusing on the company culture and its people, companies will bring a positive experience to existing and potential employees alike.

In order to avoid a disconnect, corporations must also bring brands to life, ensuring that the corporation is relatable by giving it a distinct voice and personality. Many companies are already doing this on digital platforms, such as user-centric mobile-friendly career sites, mobile-enabled application and assessment tools, usage of video content, and employee video blogs. Such practices enhance the employer's brand and communicate brand culture.

The Gig wave is democratising the workspace in India very rapidly, E.g. Uber, Lyft, Etsy, and Airbnb. The advent of concepts such as co-working spaces, an increase in crowdsourcing platforms, efficient block-chain based payments, and steady flow of work opportunities in the market are some of the driving factors contributing towards this transformation. Hence, the future of the Gig economy in India is bright and can expect an upward swing as India is one among the top ten countries for freelancers. Task-oriented work has already gathered tremendous steam, which suggests that in the not-too-far-off future we are likely to see an economy that has rebuilt itself on hundreds of millions of small businesses, rather than hundreds of millions of 9-to-5 jobs. Then the “Gig economy” will be seen as “the economy.”

Managing the Gig workforce is a challenge and also an opportunity. While the talent pool is immense, so is the competition. It is a Gig worker's market because we are at some of the lowest unemployment rates. On the other hand, companies are fast changing to meet market demands by offering workers great, interesting work. Companies have never had a greater choice in terms of talent to meet the organisational demands. Now is the time to meet the challenge and seize the opportunity of the Gig economy. 

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