By Allan Martinson, Founder and CEO of Xolo
Amid all the discussions about remote and office work during Covid and beyond, is another, less discussed type of hybrid work trend – the new breed of solo workers: white collar ‘gig economy’ professionals. Those people, who, through choice or circumstance have moved into a more mobile way of working.
And, it can’t be ignored, as employers and employees shape the future of work. Reports and surveys tell us that employees generally don’t want to return to the office more than a couple of days a week at most. Companies have downsized or completely dispensed with large, expensive offices in cities, reflecting diminished need.
The business talent challenge post-Covid
However, few companies want to downsize their talent in the way they’ve cut down on square feet of space. Employers who laid off skilled staff to help stay afloat during the downturn, now have a skills gap that needs to be filled as business operations resume. Clients need services from experienced specialists; prospects need to be converted into new business thanks to skilled solutions architects; new products require innovative minds to drive them forward; and go-to-market campaigns require communications, marketing, and digital pros to get the brand known.
But, advertising, recruiting, hiring, and onboarding a full cadre of staff can be slow and costly, not to mention the financial commitment of paid annual leave, sick leave and employee pension contributions, especially with ongoing cash pressures post-lockdown.
Instead, businesses and talent are looking to less expensive and quicker route-to-work answers, by tapping into the remote, solo-worker white collar market and the new software platforms that make finding, starting, and managing jobs, contractors and admin faster and cheaper.
Tapping into the white collar solo worker
A new survey report by Upwork of 6,001 people between June and July last year, found that 24% more people decided to enter the gig economy than in pre-Covid times. Those who said they started freelancing during the pandemic were more likely to be a mix of younger age ranges, men, caregivers, higher levels of education, and from cities.
The top two occupations new solo workers entered into were computer engineering and business operations.
Another survey commissioned towards the end of 2020, by a software company supporting businesses and freelancers, found a significant increase in the hiring of contractor IT analysts, data engineers, IT/tech project managers, and marketing managers. Clearly, businesses have pivoted their hiring and are tapping into the flourishing skills market.
Created or accelerated by business?
Although commentary and surveys are highlighting this shift of white collar workers into the contractor/solo worker world, it’s a trend that has been accelerated by Covid, not invented by it.
A case in point comes from global management consultancy, EY. In 2017, Jeff Wong, Global Chief Innovation Officer at EY recognised on-demand workers as a key part of EY’s strategy.
Again, research carried out back in 2017 found that business executives planned to leverage contractors as a competitive advantage, citing an increase in agility as the primary benefit, for both specialist and leadership roles.
The issue was zoomed-in on by global management consultancy, McKinsey, in their Future of work Report in 2020. “Many firms across industries are competing for well-educated and digitally fluent professionals. While Europe has a number of well-known hotbeds of tech innovation, the higher associated costs and competition for hiring could lead some firms to opt for remote work or expand in less obvious regions.
“To acquire scarce talent, companies need to invest in recruiting and develop creative ways of identifying unconventional candidates. In some cases, firms may simply opt to make an acquisition to gain capabilities overnight. Others may engage freelancers and temporary contractors on a project basis,” says the McKinsey report.
Businesses need tools
And it’s not just the experience, skills, and creativity that need to be sought. Companies are repositioning their spending on tools and equipment to make it easy for employees to work from anywhere. In one survey, 65% of European IT decision-makers now have access to increased IT budgets this year, both to accommodate more widespread remote and hybrid working, and to support business continuity. 70% indicated cloud platforms as more valuable.
For businesses, it means managing hiring, invoice payments, expenses, document management, and communications on a bigger scale as more look to solo workers. Now, it’s all about clicking the mouse button and scrolling through easy-to-use platforms that operate on a flexible basis.
Covid has shifted and accelerated our world-of-world thinking and technology adoption. The challenge now is to make sure businesses have the people and tools to help it grow, and the mindset to anticipate what comes next.