April 28, 2017

Flex Appeal: A Revolution in the Workplace?


By 2020, over 30% of the workforce will be freelance, outsourced support or flexible workers. If that’s the new normal, how do organizations create a meaningful employee experience for all those that interact with their brand?  

AI, blockchain technology and robotic automation are driving a seismic shift in how the world operates. Coupled with the ever-changing economic and geopolitical landscape, this digitally-led revolution is reshaping our lives, and the workplace, as we know it.

Never before have so many diverse groups worked together in one organization. Freelancers, independent contractors and outsourced functions work alongside part- and full-time employees to deliver a business’ brand promise. A recent study by EY estimates that by 2020, 25% of organizations expect 30% or more of their workforce to be contingent and in the US alone, Upwork and the Freelance Union estimate that 55 million people, already work within the freelance economy.

The use of temporary workers is hardly a new phenomenon. But there is no doubt that technology has facilitated the boom. The exponential growth of businesses like Lyft, Airbnb and TaskRabbit, which are built on this new paradigm, also puts a new spotlight on the gig economy.

As some of these organizations come under intense scrutiny, red flags have been raised as to whether the flexibility offered by gig work has come at the cost of the employee experience and workers’ security and protection.

At the same time, companies are witnessing a parallel movement among their full-time employees, who are increasingly calling for a more flexible workplace.  As the lines between private and work lives blur, people are looking for increased autonomy and want to dictate how, where and when they work.

This shift and the call for flexibility, either as a freelancer or a full-time employee, creates a huge challenge. Companies that want to succeed have to think carefully about how they align, motivate and reward the full spectrum of their workforce –from the full-time team member, to the two-day, remote freelancer. A customer doesn’t differentiate between a permanent and a contract employee, so companies cannot afford to discriminate either.

The big question is: how should companies be responding to the changing nature of work and marry the needs and motivations of these very diverse audiences?

A golden ticket doesn’t exist. But to succeed in this new environment this is what you need to be considering:

Spend time engaging everyone that impacts your customer experience

Don’t silo your contract workers from the rest of the organization. Treating them solely as a resource, rather than an integral part of the team, won’t create a rewarding experience for them or your customers. They are a valuable asset and will help you innovate and grow. Invest in them, listen to their feedback, and work out what motivates them. They are often interacting directly with your customers and your brand experience is in their hands.

Use your brand purpose to align your people

Whether they are full-time or temporary workers, engage all of your people with your purpose, core values and the reason your company exists.

Hire the right people

You cannot tell someone what their values are. Hire people that exhibit the right behaviors for your culture and share your beliefs as an organization. Ensuring all your people share your sense of purpose, or are committed to delivering it at the very least, will streamline your business by delivering a unified experience for customers and will be worth the upfront investment.

Strong leadership

Motivating diverse audiences and embracing a more flexible and agile style of working calls for a different style of leadership. The age-old command and control style is out of date. People want leaders who have a collaborative approach, encourage input and can be trusted to act with integrity.

Empower your people

For companies to truly embrace a culture that is fit for the future, your people need to feel trusted and empowered to act independently in the best interest of the company.  Make all audiences part of the decision-making process. Listen to their contributions. Demonstrate that you’re acting on their feedback.

As technology continues to change the workplace at breakneck speed, fostering authentic human relationships and aligning all people that represent the brand around your purpose, will be more important than ever for companies who want to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Today, people’s decision making is governed by emotion. Create a sense of belonging, even for those that are only with the company fleetingly. By making people feel valued, you will create true brand advocates and a working environment where people can thrive.