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President, HP Canada.

A seismic shift is under way that is fundamentally transforming how we work in the expanding gig economy. Chances are you know people who are on-demand or freelance workers. A far cry from the “temps“ of the past, they range from light industrial workers to highly skilled IT experts, marketing specialists to engineers, accountants to HR professionals and even retired executives returning to the work force on a consulting basis. They’re called by many names – contingent, consultant, contractual, part-time and/or virtual workers – but they all fit a new reality, and tech-enabled, untethered millennials are leading the way.

Automation and “thinking machines“ are eliminating human error and time-consuming tasks, further accelerating the rise of more fluid and dynamic engagements and redefining what current and potential employees are looking for in an employer.

How can today’s leaders successfully attract, retain and effectively manage a work force in today’s gig economy? Here’s my advice.

Embrace the agile work force

Before considering the benefits that come with employing freelance workers, many employers continue to look at it from an outdated point of view. With the introduction of Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017) in Ontario, there were significant changes that affected contract employees, which in turn protects the growing number of on-demand workers at a very pivotal time for the Canadian small-business landscape. Many employers have been skeptical of opening the floodgates on gigs. On-demand and contract workers allow an organization to quickly scale up or down to fulfill short or longer-term contracts, improve performance and fill skills gaps or adjust to changes in work volume. The business gains agility to meet and respond to changing customer demands and provides access to a broader range of talent and expertise, spurring innovation.

Some companies use the idea of the gig economy to provide opportunities for employees to choose assignments in different areas, to offer career development and increase retention. However, there isn’t a measurable trade-off in loyalty and commitment. In truth, non-traditional workers make up 20-30 per cent of the work force in Canada, and nearly 80 per cent of temporary/freelance workers say they are just as loyal as they would be if they were employed full-time.

If your business isn’t already feeling pressure to adapt, it’s only a matter of time; sixty-two per cent of workers believe that employers should be more open to flexible work arrangements. A full 85 per cent of employers expect their organization to become committed to building an agile work force by 2025. Leaders who open their business up to the idea of accepting on-demand workers will have first pick at the new wave of millennial and Gen Z talent who will deliver untapped insights and add depth to new business ideas.

Expand your talent pool

Upwork, a freelance website formed to “create a world of work without limits” began when the tech lead of a Silicon Valley startup realized his friend in Athens would be perfect for a web project. A variable work force allows employers to engage specialized talent and expand the talent pool to include local, global and remote/virtual workers. A positive first step toward this updated business model can be as simple as including remote work options into your business. If done right, the sense of freedom and flexibility that comes along with an untethered workstation can lead to hiring better talent faster and keeping them longer.

Flexibility seems to be a common theme when searching for attractive incentives in this gig economy. In fact, in a recent State of Remote Work 2017 survey, it was found that 65 per cent of workers would like the option to work remotely at least once a month. This trend also enables small companies to better compete with large organizations by hiring specifically for what they need and with greater efficiencies.

Another variable work-force benefit is increased speed as long approvals processes are eliminated: Companies hire 33-per cent faster than companies without geographical limitations to hiring and they can find the most skilled and experienced candidates faster. Remote work is also a great option to ease long-distance candidates into a new role –without the commitment and cost of moving.

As it turns out, companies that support remote work have a 25-per-cent higher retention rate than companies that don’t. They even have slightly higher levels of investment in their work and on average perform equally to onsite employees. Since 51 per cent of remote employees reported that working remotely improved work/life balance, it’s possible that the better engagement in remote workers comes from the clearer boundaries and work habits required to successfully work remotely.

Re-examine your assumptions

What motivates full-time employees isn’t always the same for non-traditional workers. Contract work allows people opportunities to explore, test and define what interests and entices them. Especially for millennials and Gen Zers, options, flexibility and new experiences matter and they are happy to live in a constantly fluid mix of their business and personal worlds. They’re thirsty for security, career advancement, mentorship, flexibility and, of course, money.

Similarly, people who are more established in their careers are also looking for more flexible arrangements – schedules that let them care for children or aging parents, or opportunities to excel at specific talents and areas of expertise while enjoying greater freedom. The top three reasons that employees choose non-traditional work? Greater flexibility, more control over career progression and choice of projects.

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