By Ian Morley
The rapidly expanding gig economy is not merely
a response to changing economic conditions.
By whatever name you call it: the gig economy, shared economy, or contingent economy, the same shift that has led to the growth of on-demand services like Uber and Airbnb is increasingly impacting the global workforce.
“Gig” workers are those who work on a contingent basis: meaning consulting, freelance or temporary. Their number has risen dramatically in the past decade. The increase ramped up around 2007 during the global economic downturn, and by many accounts, gig workers now represent a third of the workforce.
According to Peter Miscovich, Managing Director, Strategy + Innovation, JLL Consulting in New York, by 2020 gig workers will comprise half the workforce, and as much as 80% by 2030.
JLL in support of the Accenture Tech Vision has defined what they term the “Liquid Workforce” that promises to significantly impact CRE strategy.
In the very near future, says Miscovich, enterprise “Liquid Workforce” platforms will be based upon the emerging “Hollywood Model” of working where agile and “liquid” knowledge workers will be intelligently organized via the Internet on a project basis much like Hollywood movies are made today. The future Liquid Workforce will be organized via crowdsourced “uber-like” cloud based work platforms providing greater workforce and workplace efficiency.
The rise of the Liquid Workforce and the gig economy makes one thing clear: the nature of work is changing, and corporate workplaces must be prepared to support that change.
The gig economy: why it’s gaining ground
The rapidly expanding gig economy is not merely a response to changing economic conditions. Here are just a few of the reasons that workers are choosing to work on a contingent basis, and companies are choosing to hire more contingent workers:
Benefits of the gig economy for workers:
- Working on projects for multiple companies simultaneously can help to grow skillsets and expose workers to more opportunities
- More independence and freedom to choose when and where to work
- Less risk of job and income loss with multiple employers
- In some fields, gig workers can earn more while working less than FTE counterparts
Benefits of the gig economy for corporations:
- Ability to hire experts for services not needed on a regular basis
- Agility in scaling their workforce up and down quickly to meet business demand
- Reduced cost of providing healthcare and other benefits
- Lower space costs
Supporting the gig economy: 5 challenges for companies and for CRE
The changing nature of work and the gig economy pose new challenges for corporations, especially for planning and managing corporate real estate. That’s because today CRE groups are expected to do much more than provide every worker with a desk and maintain the space. They must create the environment that supports and contributes to meeting company goals.
1. Retaining corporate culture and worker engagement
How can you build and retain the desired corporate culture when 30 to 50 percent of your workforce are not employees? Working on a contingent basis may impact worker attitudes, especially relating to their commitment to the long term needs of the company.
Addressing this concern starts with demonstrating a commitment to all workers, whether employees or gig workers. It’s important to realize that in the gig economy, people who move on to work elsewhere may return in new roles later on. Consultants may come back as long-term employees, and employees who leave may return as contractors. Or even as customers. When all workers are supported, they are more likely to be committed to company goals and even act as ambassadors after they move on.
CRE can go a long way toward supporting this mindset, by providing environments that encourage all workers in the gig economy to feel like part of the team.
2. Supporting worker mobility
It’s no secret that corporate employees are increasingly mobile, often by choice. People are working from home, in coffee shops and on the road as suits their responsibilities, schedule and lifestyle. Contingent workers may not have a choice in the matter, since they may not have a permanent desk to work at.
CRE can support gig economy workers by providing technology that helps them stay connected and efficient (such as wayfinding technology). Even better, moving toward shared, agile work spaces (that accommodate more people with less space) can make it possible and even desirable for contingent workers to spend more time in the office. Agile workspaces also serve to accommodate a greater range of daily fluctuation in worker attendance, without spending more on space.
3. Supporting the rapid pace of business change
One of the advantages of the gig economy for corporations is the ability to scale the workforce up and down as needed to respond to changing business goals. For example, companies can quickly assemble a new team to meet a business need by using contingent workers that are hired on a project basis. It’s also easier to move gig workers with a particular skillset between business teams for short-term work.
CRE groups must be poised to respond to the rapidly changing structure of business teams in the gig economy. That means being ready to move and rearrange office spaces at the drop of a hat. It means implementing technology that makes it faster and easier to manage churn. Another strategy is creating spaces with mobile and adjustable furniture that can transform to meet the changing needs of the team.
4. Enabling collaboration
Just about everyone agrees that more collaboration is what’s needed in the modern workplace. That’s because teamwork generates more and better ideas, driving the innovation needed to be competitive in the global economy. Increasing collaboration in the gig economy can be even more challenging, when teams are constantly in flux and people don’t know each other as well.
To encourage more impromptu collaboration within and between teams, CRE groups must provide appropriate collaborative spaces. That means understanding the spaces people need: is it more 10 person conference rooms or breakout spaces for 2 or 3? It’s also essential to provide perks and features that make people want to come into the office, such as gyms and coffee lounges. CRE must provide the office design and technology that helps people get more work done, like quiet phone booths, smart whiteboards, and comfortable team huddle areas.
5. Contributing strategy and analytics for the workplace of the future
To effectively support the growing gig economy, CRE professionals will need to grow well beyond their traditional roles. It’s now essential that CRE work closely with business units and contribute a voice to the company’s strategic vision.
Understanding how people use space (and want to use space), as well as developing appropriate workplace strategies that align with company goals, requires the ability to measure and analyze. For example, creating agile workspaces is a key strategy for optimizing the use of workspace and meeting all the challenges described here. However, implementing that strategy requires detailed and timely data about how space is used and who is using it.
Utilization technologies provide the means to track that data, and the right workplace management system provides the context and the ability to glean intelligence for decision making.
There’s no question that the gig economy brings added complexity to the tasks of managing corporate real estate. New skills and strategies are needed, and all of these depend on being able to deliver reliable and flexible business intelligence.
Here’s how CoreNet summed up their recent report on the future of CRE: “… providing metrics and analytics will be the next frontier of managing a company’s greatest resource – its people … whoever can provide useful tools to measure progress in these areas will certainly earn a seat at the leadership table.”