Freelancing isn’t anything new and, for SMEs and growing startups, tapping into an available workforce of part-timers has always been a popular way to outsource work before a company gets big enough to sustain a larger, full-time staff. However, the digitally-enabled, dramatic shift in working patterns known as the gig economy offers something beyond a stop-gap. And, for companies like Cause4, embracing ‘sharism’ and the gig economy is a permanent solution that can support innovation and deliver quality to clients.
15% of the UK workforce is currently self-employed and many of these have chosen the flexibility offered by the gig economy. Almost two in five SMEs in London employ workers from the gig economy to service their business and, despite the media’s fixation on companies like Deliveroo and Uber, it's professionals, creatives, skilled manual, and admin workers that make up 80% of the gig economy. Most of this trade in manpower isn’t happening via apps like Uber and Taskrabbit - instead, people are making use of LinkedIn, Facebook groups, sector-specific blogs, personal recommendations, referrals and agencies to find the flexible positions they need.
The attraction of flexibility
A small business can afford to be flexible. With a team of people that you know personally, you can offer remote-working and irregular hours in ways that large conglomerates simply can’t.
Big businesses with international workforces need to run on more traditional structures, and fill up desks with individuals who are comfortable with a clear career ladder to climb. That still appeals to some professionals – but a growing number want more.
Many of us are, or will be, parents and carers needing a work/life balance that is more than just a vague promise to not be contacted while on holiday. The majority of jobs are still full-time, yet in a survey, seven out of ten working mums in London said they’d prefer more flexible hours, but didn’t dare ask their bosses. The strain of a daily commute can affect people’s wellbeing, and the pressures of managing home life responsibilities during the ‘off-hours’ can prove impossible.
This isn’t good for the individuals, but it’s also not helping the productivity of the team. An SME that is comfortable to judge a gigging freelancer by their output rather than their hours will prove an enticing company to work for. And the flexibility works both ways - during quiet times, when the work available doesn’t justify the expense of additional staff, the company can shrink back down to what’s needed to break even.
Treating gig workers as partners
For SMEs whose growth depends on flexibility, gig workers, contractors, and temporary workers are vital. It’s in the best interest of the company to treat them as indispensable and part of the extended ‘family’. That can mean ensuring your gig workers are kept up to date with your group communications, learning and development programs, and social activities. You want to build a great relationship with a gig worker. Being open and honest as well as supportive is key, and a good reference or referral when possible is always welcomed.
The gig-friendly office
This year, Cause4 moved into a Mindspace shared office in the heart of the City of London. For us, it was more than an office move - it was the realization of how we want to operate, how our team feels most productive, and where we get our inspiration.
The traditional startup, initiated across a kitchen table, grew up to get a place of its own - an office with the company name on the door, and an address in an impressive neighbourhood that looked good on the branded letterhead. We’re not the first business to recognize that the bricks and mortar office has become outdated.
We decided to rent space in a shared environment. This gives us access to great facilities which are someone else’s responsibility to maintain, as well as a buzzy atmosphere with close neighbours in a variety of other small or mid-sized businesses. We can expand if we need to or benefit from large meeting rooms or attractive social spaces without having to commit to a high-priced monthly rent. That’s a ‘gigging’ office.
Gathering inspiration from the gig
At Cause4, we like to draw in innovative ideas from other industries that can be reworked for our purposes. To do that, we need to be connected to the wider world. Working with people that also engage with other businesses helps revitalize our ideas. It can open our eyes to the inventiveness of other industries and can also warn us of cautionary tales. A gig worker who spends a few days with our company brings with them a wealth of current knowledge learned on other jobs.
Gig economy workers run their own businesses
Getting gigs is like job-hunting on a smaller scale, and the best gigging professionals do their research, find leads, sign up with agencies, email former employers, send CVs to HR departments and pitch themselves and their skills. We can help them by recognizing that they need to be profitable and have a level of security. Figuring out the best way of working together is vital, whether that’s through a contract with certain hours, or a project with pre-agreed deliverables.
Technology has revolutionized freelance employment opportunities, enabling people to explore and experiment with different working models both as individuals and as businesses. As an SME or startup, we can benefit from this fluid workforce, keeping costs at a manageable level while engaging with some of our most imaginative, well-connected individuals.
About the Author
Michelle Wright is founder and CEO of Cause4, an organisation providing services to support the growth of charities and social enterprises. Cause4 works across the charity, arts, sports and educational sectors in three main areas: strategy and fundraising, philanthropy and enterprise development.