By Olivier Meier, Mercer
Many of the future expatriates you will manage may not even be employed by your company. Organizations will increasingly not just have to build (train) or buy (hire) talent, they will need to learn how to effectively borrow talent.
On paper, the gig economy model, in which workers take on temporary work to perform specific tasks or projects, looks like a win-win for the company and for the employees. From a company perspective the gig model offers more flexibility, reduced fixed costs, and the capacity to react much faster to market changes. It is also an opportunity to tap into a new international talent pool (experts who might not wish to join the company on a permanent long-term contract) and access expertise on demand.
The capacity to attract and retain this new type of flexible and mobile talent will become more important for companies and will force HR and mobility managers to review their policies, compensation models, and processes. Highly qualified internationally mobile gig workers can be in high demand. Attracting them and retaining them for future gigs can be a difficult and costly exercise.
Furthermore, companies should avoid creating a gap between in-house employees and gig workers. This will require new talent strategies to integrate the newcomers and avoid demotivating in-house employees.
Who Are the Mobile Gig Workers?
The term “gig worker” covers very different types of employees. One group includes highly skilled and mobile professionals willing to market themselves globally. Other types are managers with extensive international experience, consultants, designers, and IT professionals, among others. These constitute an increasing portion of the gig economy and the future expatriate workforce. At a more local level, and at the opposite end of the skill spectrum, the gig economy is about temporary workers trying to boost their incomes with part-time work or who are simply unable to find full-time employment.
Gig workers may have different contractual models: freelancers and contractors who remain independent from the company or workers employed by the company for a short duration.
How Do Gig Workers Fit in the Mobile Talent Ecosystem?
The objective is not to look at the company’s extended ecosystem as a onetime exercise to fill one specific position but rather to curate this ecosystem on an on-going basis to ensure a continuous flow of talent to meet the business needs.
Sample Components of a Mobile Talent Ecosystem
Internal and external ecosystem (building and buying talent)
- Home country talent (traditional assignees, business travels and commuters, virtual mobility).
- Host country talent (locally hired foreigners, returnees, providing international experience to local talent).
- Third country talent (moving jobs to people).
Extended ecosystem (borrowing talent and expanding the talent pool)
- Talent exchange (with suppliers and clients)
- Co-opetition (working with competitors/peer companies)
- Unlocking diversity (increasing participation of women, older employees and minorities)
- Freelancers/gig workers/contractors (talent on demand)
- Crowdsourcing expertise
- Bringing back talent to work (trailing spouses, former employees, older workers)
In a global mobility context, several profiles are particularly relevant:
- Locally hired foreigners: they can be hired as employees but also as gig workers. One of the advantages of this solution is to take the relocation out of the equation. Furthermore, locally hired foreign gig workers might have more experience in the host location and a better local network than traditional expatriates.
- Virtual workers: many gig workers are virtual workers. They might be working from a third location that is not the HQ of the company and the host location that will benefits from the skills of the gig workers.
- Expatriate gig workers: There might be scenarios when the gig workers are actually relocating to work on a project for a limited duration. Companies have to decide if they support the moves itself or just pay for the overall service and let gig workers address the relocation issues. The organization of these relocation raise a host of process and compliance questions that are not always covered in traditional mobility policy for employees.
- Trailing Spouses and re-joiners: trailing spouse and more generally people who had to do a pause in their career and are now looking for opportunity to work temporarily or prepare to rejoin more actively the workforce are good candidates for gigs and represent an important additional talent pool for multinational companies.
- Older workers: we sometimes think that gig working is the prerogative of the millennials and the Z generation. In reality many highly skilled older workers close to or past retirement age perform might be interested to perform occasional gigs – an opportunity to do a last assignment and monetize their long experience.
Managing the Ebb and Flow of External Gig Workers
The Platform Approach
Companies need the capacity to efficiently identify hire and re-hired gig workers with skills in high demand. Matching offer and demand on a timely basis requires new technology and processes. Some company rely on external platforms – vendors who have developed specific technology to connect companies with gig workers. For highly skilled and international mobile talent, companies might have to rely partly on their own resources and rethink how they manage their international talent pools. The selection of international assignees should be integrated in this platform approach to match talent to decide if the most suitable candidate is actually an in-house expatriate, a local employee or someone external to the company. Mobility teams need to be involve in the process to examine the implications in terms of costs (comparing packages) as well as practical employment and compliance issues
Employer Branding for Gig Workers
The capacity to attract and retain gig workers boils down to what matters to them: building their employability (acquiring skills and experience) and capacity to win future gigs. Companies need to integrate this dimensions in their employer branding. What promises can be made in terms of lifestyle, work-life balance and experience? To what extent, working with the company could allow gig working to expand their skills and industry knowledge? Is there a possibility to perform more project with the company in the future?
Incentivize top talent to perform recurring gigs for the company with the objective to position it as an employer of choice for gig workers should be part of the strategy.
Adapting Current Practices
Adapting Remuneration Packages
In a gig economy, organizations are increasingly paying for skills rather than for jobs as such. This implies understanding the relevance of the skills of potential candidates and their experience (skill depth). Furthermore, remuneration of gig workers is affected by the duration of the tasks performed, the business requirements (and urgency), and the global competitive environment (skill supply).
Remuneration options to consider include various forms of lump-sum payments to reflect the preference of gig workers for cash amount over benefits in kind. The per diem approach commonly used for short-term assignment can be tailored for gig workers on project assignments. If benefits are provided, the question of portability (i.e. transferability) of these benefits will be essential for gig workers.
It is important to stress that gig workers are not necessarily better armed to deal with personal financial issues than in-house employee. Many people embark on the gig working path for the lifestyle but are not always anticipating the potential consequences in terms of pension, healthcare and other financial matters impacting their long-term savings.
Reconsidering Career Incentives
The sum of all gigs doesn’t always constitute a career. HR teams are not equipped to follow the careers and evaluate the performance of this new category of professionals. One of the main goals of gig workers is not to be promoted within the organization but to increase their employability and capacity to win additional gigs.
Compliance and Liability: the Risks of Venturing into Gray Areas
The concept of a gig worker is not always well-defined and encompasses different realities that means that company risks operating in gray areas. Legal definitions and contractual agreements vary by country. If the contractual obligations have not been clearly defined or if the local employment law is subject to interpretation (due to rapid changes and new questions brought up by the gig economy), companies could find themselves facing legal complications. Do not automatically assume that gig workers are independent from the company or the company has no liability and duty of care towards them when they are operating hardship locations. Gig workers need to be included in the company’s risk management planning.
Avoiding a Fragmented Workforce
Companies need to avoid having a fragmented workforce with employees on one side and the gig workers on the other side. A series of issues need to be addressed – most of them require finding the right balance between relying on the flexibility offered by the gig workers and the necessity to maintain the company’s own culture and talent pool.
Ensuring engagement: how to motivate a gig worker to go the extra mile, convey the official messages, and uphold the values of the company? This might require new forms of fast onboarding as well as strategies to foster long-term relationship with highly skilled gig workers. A company can have a good reputation overall but be perceived more negatively by international gig workers if it doesn’t manage them well.
Adapting to flash organizations: there will increasingly be a premium on processes allowing to assemble, disassemble and reform project teams including in-house employees and gig workers at a fast pace. The term “flash organizations” is sometimes used to describe this new phenomenon. In many cases, Agile management techniques are more suitable than traditional project management approaches to manage these flash organizations.
Curating the in-house talent pool: replacing developmental moves with project-based assignments done by gig workers and a generally greater reliance on gig workers, as opposed to building up the internal workforce, could lead to a less skilled talent pool in the long run. Relying on gig workers should lead decrease the efforts to train the internal workforce at a time when new technological requirements require fast upskilling of companies’ own talent.
Building bridges: Different stages of a career and personal situation could lead to different aspirations and requirements. Many of the gig workers who are enjoying their current lifestyle might be tempted to rejoin the in-house workforce at some point for personal and financial reasons. At the same time many in-house workers could be tempted by short-term gig to widen their horizons, and gather new skills and experiences. Having points of contacts within HR and the mobility team addressing these frequent changes and more generally understand the specific requirements of gig workers will help managing the increasingly volatile future workforce.