Gig Economy Provides New Options to “Liquid Workforce”

The following article is a guest post by Alex Kass, a digital workforce expert who works at Accenture Technology Labs.

The emergence of self-service online labor markets, including Upwork, 99Designs, TaskRabbit, Uber, and dozens more, has facilitated the rise of the gig economy; these crowdsourcing platforms make it easier for companies to contract with independent workers for short-term projects.  The ‘gigs’ found on these markets can provide workers, including those having difficulty finding traditional employment, with income, and the opportunity to build skill and experience. Freelancers on these markets can work when and where they are able – from home, from a library computer station, or from a laptop at a coffee shop. They also have the opportunity to try out various kinds or work, and may find that employers on the markets are more likely to ‘take a chance’ on unproven talent for a single assignment, given them a chance to build a digital reputation.

In other words, online talent markets can be a good on-ramp to the labor market.  However, being an independent gig worker has downsides, most notably lack of benefits, training, and job security.  Therefore, while some workers find that remaining independent meets their needs indefinitely, others will eventually look to a more traditional, stable employment relationship.  But making that transition can be hard: Hiring managers may not know what to make of gig-worker’s experience and reputations, and may not see the full range of skills the manager needs in the role they have open.  The chasm between gig work and traditional job roles can still be a wide one.

New workforce model, new opportunities for workers

Liquid Workforce Inline

Fortunately, we see a valuable middle ground beginning to open up, which sits between independent gig work and traditional job roles, and could mean an easier transition for those interested in moving on to long-term employment.  This new wrinkle – the internal gig economy – is part of a broader “Liquid Workforce” trend that Accenture has identified as a key change in the way large enterprises get work done: By leveraging digital technologies, including internal online labor markets, large enterprises can re-imagine how their workforce is organized – transitioning from the traditional organizational hierarchy to a model that looks more like an internal gig economy populated by employees.   Internal labor markets allow employees to move more fluidly between assignments across the enterprise.  And the combination of internal and external labor markets provides companies with options that can create the right combination of agility, continuity and security. Accenture has been experimenting with our own internal labor markets for a couple of years now, with increasing participation and many thousands of hours or work brokered through its internal gig economy during initial pilots.

While the gig economy is still in early days, and the use of internal labor markets is even newer, it seems increasingly clear that future of work is likely to include a blend of long-term employees moving fluidly between projects brokered through internal (private) platforms, combined with gig economy labor accessed through external (public) platforms.  We see this as good news for independent gig workers looking to transition to a longer-term employment relationship, since their experience as a gig worker is like to be increasingly relevant as an employee.

Taking the next steps

Both enterprises and job seekers can take some concrete next steps to get the most out of this growing trend:

  • Job seekers should embrace the gig economy, perhaps first as independent gig workers, with longer-term aspirations clear in their minds. If the goal is an eventual transition to a longer-term relationship with an employer, then pick gigs that build skills and reputation needed – even if others that pay more in the short term.
  • Enterprises should take a strategic look at how the build a liquid workforce, and what role both internal and external labor markets can play in helping them realize that strategic vision. Then then they should begin aggressive experimentation with these new ways of getting work done.