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Embrace the Gig Workforce and What’s most important when leading it

The gig economy is here! It’s a thing. A big thing…

In my 38 years plus as a corporate warrior I lead remote and part time organizations of over 11,000 and 5000 people. I also started several organizations from scratch and gig and remote workforces were critical to getting the work done.

For many years I was part of the debate on remote or a gig workforce and it was polarizing. Old school leaders were strongly against it. They wanted to be able to walk out of their offices and immediately see, talk, and disrupt their teams immediately. They wanted their teams close by and frankly in sight. I heard a thousand times that these leaders wanted to “be able to see if they are working”. “ If I can’t see them they might not be working”. Just shoot me. It was rough sailing in those years because leaders were afraid of change and things that were different. Maybe they still are?

I was always on the opposite side of the argument. I wanted the best talent possible and many times the best talent would not relocate to our home offices in Kansas City Missouri. I heard the old school leaders say things like “I had to relocate 6 times” “it’s a sign of commitment” and many other related comments. Basically they expected the new workforce to behave exactly the way they did. Well the jury is in on the gig workforce. It’s a thing. A big thing and if you want to grow and have the best talent possible you need to figure this out quickly.

There are many reasons to consider a gig or remote workforce. I will not attempt to list them all but they certainly include factors like, getting the best talent, hiring the best skills for a short period of time, not investing in a full time workforce with all the associated costs, being nimble and quick if you need to scale up fast and reallocate resources and using it as a test for a bigger projects.

The mistakes I see and discuss with others are in 2 area and you need to get over them quickly if you want to embrace this growing and powerful network. #1 I just mentioned. It’s a thing with great depths of talent and skills that can help. People are not developing a career the way most of us did when we started a long time ago. People are not just automatically relocating to the next city when the phone rings. I got those calls and it was implied that if you did not move then you were not committed to growth. You know the rest of the story, right? You move and you stay on the “list”. You don’t move and you move off the list. Those days are behind us.

The second mistakes I see are people who want the perfect system to manage and measure the teams. They want the top shelf technology system. It’s not hard to sit in a room and dream of everything want in a system. You can hear the arguments. “This is our chance to get everything we want” “We can do this and this and this and this and this…………

All of that adds significant costs and complexity. Adding complexity requires more people to manage it, change it, repair it and keep it going.

Stop the madness and just make sure it does the basic things you require. Do not over think it. Make it simple.

If you can pull yourself out of the technology discussion the two skills you must master are communication and metrics.

You must have best practice communication skills. You must be crystal clear on what you expect from a gig workforce. This group did not grow up in your organizational culture and you should not assume they can figure it out without help and direction. You have to be really clear on what you expect, when you expect it, how they should work (solo or collaboratively) and who they work with. This is a big training commitment. The great new is that there are so many methods to do this work today that gives you great options to choose from.

After they are on board, your regular, predictable communication is critical. This might be a weekly email, and a weekly phone call, and a team communication at the end of the week. There are many choices on how to communicate but it must be done on a regular and consistent basis.

The second skill you must master is giving them measureable, quantifiable metrics. This might be revenue, sales call per day, store visits per day, pieces moved by day, etc. But you have to give them metrics that everyone understands and agrees on. It sounds simple but without leadership commitment to this it will swirl out of control. You will have people asking the gig workforce for support on other projects that are not in the scope of why you hired them. It seems like because they are a part of the remote of gig workforce they have unlimited capacity or unlimited skills. If the leader does not have the discipline to set the right metrics and manage the work going to this workforce you will have a low performing, over paid, hard to motivate remote workforce. Then the old school leaders will say, “I told you”

The gig workforce is a high quality management tool that can solve many of your issues. Stay focused on what you ant them to do and how you will measure it and don’t get caught up in a perfect technology solution and you will be pleased with the results.

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