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How to grow your company in times of gig economy and digital nomadism – TechTalks

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By Lukasz Karwacki

gig economy remote worker
Image credit: Depositphotos

Companies face many challenges in their mission to grow. One of them relates to recruitment, or more precisely, to the cultural changes that impact the needs and preferences of talents.

Let’s make one thing clear:

To grow your company, you need top talent. And you need those people to stay with the company for more than just a few months.

Otherwise, there simply won’t be enough time for them to get in sync with the company goals and culture, move along the learning curve, and start being truly productive.

The trouble is, sourcing skilled employees is harder than ever. And even if you manage to find and hire talents, keeping them on board is really difficult.

Problem: Getting talent on board

Most companies (including mine) deal with one or more of these problems:

1. Recruitment difficulties:

  • A general shortage of talent – the demand for skilled workers is growing, but the number of these workers isn’t growing equally fast. That forces companies to explore outsourcing opportunities (which can be incredibly beneficial, but present another set of challenges).
  • Employees are more demanding than ever – enterprises and well-funded startups compete for the most talented workers. In this environment, highly-skilled workers can be picky, and that makes sourcing them even more difficult.
  • Lack of skill on the market – if you run a tech company, you probably realize that technology is evolving so quickly that no school or university can effectively prepare juniors for the reality of the job market in the tech industry which experiences an increasing pace of innovation.

2. The Gig-economy mindset:

Some employees prioritize independence and flexibility over loyalty and long-term commitment. Some even believe that one should be changing the workplace every few months to get diversified experience. As you can imagine, it’s more difficult to inspire these workers to commit, contribute to common objectives, and add value to the company sustainably over a period of time. But trust me, you can accomplish that with the right approach (more on that below).

3. Digital nomadism

Digital transformation and workforce globalization made remote work a new standard and a popular preference among workers:

  • 76% of workers prefer to do important tasks in places other than the office,
  • 82% of them claim they would be more loyal to their current employer if they offered flexible working arrangements,
  • the trend is particularly strong among Gen Y/Z workers – 69% of millennials will trade other work benefits for flexible workspace options.

Remote work presents companies with another share of challenges: efficient communication and collaboration, building bonds between team members, and building a company culture that lasts.

Here’s what all founders need to acknowledge

You won’t change the market

These new workforce trends will only become stronger with time. So you better spend time thinking about how to adjust to and leverage these trends. Business success comes to those who have an open mind and are willing to adapt their operations to new circumstances.

Human nature doesn’t change from generation to generation

We’re still the same creatures with the same behaviors, needs, and desires. What changes is the world around us. It’s important to remember that temporary hype and speculative bubbles can easily lead us astray; they distort our perceptions of the world, especially when we talk about the needs of Gen Y/Z workers. They essentially have the same needs as other generations, just want to fulfill them in new ways.

The world is increasingly polarized

Even though the barriers of entry in certain sectors seem to be decreasing (one only needs a laptop to work in IT!), the growing sophistication and complexity of the challenges we face as organizations require more effort and higher operational efficiency.

It’s much easier to start a company than it used to be in the past. But it’s much more challenging to grow a business and maintain a substantial competitive advantage.

So we better get used to these challenges and think of new strategies to counter them. Here’s how.

How to grow your company despite these challenges

teamwork

Here are three strategies that helped me to grow my company. During the last two years, Sunscrapers grew from 15 to 32 people.

1. Improve your recruitment tactics:

  • Articulate and showcase your company’s mission, vision, and values. It’s not only money that counts here. Especially for Gen Y/Z workers, the purpose and values they can identify themselves with are particularly important. For example, one of our values is “never stopping learning and self-improving” and we translate that into reality by offering our workers “growth budgets” they can spend on books, courses, or conference participation.
  • Find your employer differentiator; something that makes you different from other employers in your field. It’s like a Unique Selling Proposition, only formulated for your employer brand, not your product or service. It can be company culture, your approach to doing businesses, your unique processes or activities.
  • Adjust your processes, so they become more employee-oriented. Be responsive and deliver on your promises. If you say that you’ll get in touch with candidates within three business days, do that. Show how their future role is embedded within the company mission.
  • Provide value at every recruitment stage. For example, develop a method for speedy application processing. Acknowledge that you’ve received an application and thank the candidate for reaching out. Provide meaningful feedback.
  • Learn how to differentiate between talkers and doers when recruiting for critical roles in your team (which basically means every role). The culture of social media inspires people to look good, causing them to sometimes exaggerate when talking about their skills.

2. Improve your operational efficiency

  • Invest in your onboarding process to help new employees get up to speed quickly and start adding value to your company. Here’s how:
    • Prepare the right materials and the training process,
    • Set very clear goals (most companies find that problematic, we’re just starting to get it now),
    • Prepare a detailed plan and tasks for the first weeks of work,
    • Provide supervisor support.
  • Prepare processes and tools for remote collaboration. “The best are everywhere,” and there’s no reason your company shouldn’t take advantage of talent just because it’s located elsewhere.
  • Manage by values. That doesn’t mean abdicating from management, especially when it comes to supervising junior employees. But here’s another approach to managing a company:

Management by values ​​is based on developing a working process that meets the company’s business needs, as well as the employee needs.

In practice, it means focusing on building self-organizing teams where team members are empowered to make mission-critical decisions. Such teams usually deliver an excellent quality of work, identify with the company’s objectives and express loyalty to the company.

Another management by values technique is articulating company values and referring to them in the daily work (feedback, rewards – we use Bonusly for that), as well as company events and evaluations.

3. Decentralize the structure and decision making

  • Gather and organize all the relevant knowledge within the organization. This is especially important in the onboarding process where the immediate availability of insight is essential for process productivity.
  • Invest more in establishing processes but avoid complexity. Break roles and processes into standalone, manageable, and often-updated chunks and assign the owners to each process, role, or responsibility. Such owners need to be 100 percent aligned with the company’s culture and vision.
  • Always be grow replacements for critical people in the organization, so that events such as emergency incidents, health problems, holidays or simply parting ways doesn’t hurt your operations.
  • Create local leaders and tribes. Instead of a fixed hierarchy, group people around specific competencies or responsibilities. That approach worked well at my company – for example, we group developers not only by technology (like frontend or backend), but also by their role in a team (team lead, architect, DevOps, etc.) or their involvement in in-house processes recruitment, marketing, or sales).

Company growth happens over a long-term basis.

To follow Ray Dalio, it will still take for a team member at least 1.5 year to become aligned and fully productive! Out of the people who decide to leave the company, most will do that during their first year of employment. Fewer of them do that in their second year and even fewer in their third year. So do what you can to keep talents on board for the first three years, and you’ll position your company for success.

Over to you

Have you used other strategies to address these challenges and grow your company with top talent?

Please share them in the comments section; I want to start a conversation about what founders can do to leverage the latest workforce trends to their advantage.

Lukasz KarwackiLukasz is a co-founder and CEO of Sunscrapers. He’s got his background in computer graphics (graduate of Kingston University London) and has started his career as a web designer in a creative agency. He currently manages Sunscrapers, leads the business development team and does client consulting. Throughout the last 10 years, Lukasz managed, supervised and consulted over 100 projects for startups, SMBs and enterprises across different industries and locations.

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Economy

‘What are the options?’: a new film on the toll of the gig economy | Documentary films

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Jason Edwards would find it a struggle to pass a job interview with his prominent gold teeth and criminal record. But he has something more powerful than a suit, shirt, tie, clean shave and polished shoes. He has a laptop and guile.

Edwards works from home by filling in online surveys. It is not typically lucrative work, paying just a few cents. But Edwards, who is white, figured out that by posing as an African American Republican, his opinions would be much sought after. He reckons he has earned more than $30,000.

“If you didn’t cheat the system the way I do, you’re not going to make a respectable amount of money,” he observes from a modest house in Mims, Florida, where he cares for an ailing mother who loves smoking and lottery scratchcards.

This is just one bittersweet story told in The Gig Is Up, a new documentary that shines a light on the human side of the gig economy, now worth more than $5tn a year globally and spurred further by the coronavirus pandemic. It includes, of course, the now familiar hustle of driving or delivering for companies such as Uber, Amazon and Deliveroo.

But there is also a bigger and more mysterious army of “ghost workers”: millions of people around the world who provide the elusive human factor in artificial intelligence, from completing surveys to transcribing audio recordings or tagging images and other data. While they gain work-from-home flexibility, they earn a pittance, must provide their own computer, broadband and power and have to cope without a safety net, trade union or the consolation of office banter.

“There is a Big Brother aspect to that, where there’s no one to call,” says the director, Shannon Walsh, by phone from Vancouver, Canada. “That was one of the big things we heard around the world, that sense that you were at the peril of a machine. Get a bad rating, if someone’s in a bad mood one day, and you lose your job and your livelihood. It’s a next level of precarity.”

The Gig Is Up is the fifth feature film for Walsh, 45, a Canadian who has had spells living in South Africa and Hong Kong and always had an interest in uncovering stories that are most neglected. She was intrigued by the way gig work offers the illusion of technological utopia on slick phone apps but hides an entire underclass of workers.

“In the early 2000s we used to talk about globalisation and the outsourcing of jobs into parts of the world where you could find cheap labour,” she says. “With the advent of the platform economy, we really see this flattening of the global workforce. The haves and have nots each exist in each country.

“Someone doing a job in rural Florida is actually doing the exact same job as someone in Lagos or someone in Mumbai. I found it fascinating how that shift has happened with the growth of multinational corporations. What we saw in those early days has really transformed into something else.”

A still from The Gig Is Up.
Photograph: Intuitive Pictures

Within the US, Walsh found that gig work throws a lifeline to people shut out of the formal economy for reasons such as disability, caring for an elderly parent or children, or having undocumented immigrant status or a criminal record that would show up on a background check. In some cases, they are desperate.

“It’s not the idea of a student making pizza money: that is what the companies want us to believe. It’s folks who need this kind of work and don’t have a lot of other options in many cases and who are working for multiple platforms to try and scrape together a living.”

A delivery driver knows that a single spilled drink or spoiled meal can result in career-ending complaint from a customer. On the flip side some “independent contractors”, as they are euphemistically known, relish the autonomy and flexibility of not being tied to the 9-to-5 commute, freeing them to attend their child’s school concert or sports game or explore their own creativity

Walsh’s travels for the film included Nigeria, where gig work is both liberating and crushing. Some perform menial online tasks for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, sometimes for just a few cents, and are paid in Amazon gift cards.

One Nigerian interviewee, a trained architect, does 3D design work for architecture firms in the US along with far more soulless work. Walsh says: “You’ve got this paradox where you’ve got folks like him working for Amazon gift cards in one breath and then also having this incredible untapped amount of human creativity and expertise.”

She extrapolates: “This new kind of evolution of platform-based work can’t be painted with one brush. There’s this incredible sense of human creativity connected like we’ve never had before and yet at the same time, it’s a race to the bottom in terms of not taking into account what that means for the transformation of labour and the future of work.

“If we’re going to ask people to be available and ask them to bring their creativity and human intelligence to the table, how does that shape the way we have to think about what we need around labour? In the US, the idea of having a base of support and security that is not reliant on the companies doing that is going to be ground zero in the conversation.”

Filming The Gig Is Up.
Photograph: Intuitive Pictures

Many of the film’s subjects speak wearily about the isolating effects of gig work, especially since the apps are actively designed to prevent workers meeting each other and organising. But Walsh observes: “What’s always amazing is that, like the grass that grows through the cracks in the pavement, people find ways to find each other.

“We heard great stories in India about folks doing platform based work on computers who would find each other on Reddit forums, call each other and just leave the phone off the hook while they worked because that sense of community around work is essential. People will find a way to be in community.”

The process of how society, and notoriously tech-illiterate governments, get to grips with gig work, regulates it and forges a new social contract is only just beginning. Last week elected officials in New York City passed legislation for gig economy and food delivery workers, setting minimum pay, allowing workers to keep more of their tips and limiting how far workers can be asked to travel for deliveries.

But there is a long way to go to curb the power of corporations that have found in gig work a way an army of labour that not even 19th-century coal barons and factory bosses could have dreamed of.

Walsh comments: “The big names are problematic on so many levels. They’re trying to bend the rules for their benefit and governments by and large for a long time have been letting them do that. It’s also that question of policy not quite being where tech is. It’s so often the case that stuff’s already happened by the time governments catch up to understanding what is happening.”

Back in Mims, Florida, Jason Edwards cannot bear to watch The Gig Is Up because his mother died just after it was made. But he still has the gig economy. Walsh reflects: “I really felt a lot for him through the process. What are the options in a place like where he lives?

“And this is true for a lot of the US, unfortunately. What are the work options that are available to you? A lot of them are not good. Like he said when I first interviewed him, ‘Well, before this, I was dealing drugs.’ What else is he going to do?”

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Striketober and the Gig Economy

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What does ‘Striketober’ mean for the gig economy?

Is something stirring among the workers? There are signs of a noticeable uptick in strikes internationally. In the US, where trade unions have been shattered by decades of neoliberalism, an October strike wave, dubbed ‘Striketober’, includes John Deere manufacturers, Hollywood film workers, nurses, building engineers, auto parts workers and Instacart gig workers.

The Instacart strike, organized by the grassroots Gig Workers Collective, took place yesterday [16 October], and followed a campaign for consumers to #DeleteInstacart over collapsing pay, unsafe conditions and the unfair ratings system at the Amazon company.

It’s not only in the US. In the UK, the combination of a labour shortage, rising prices and a supply chain crisis is pushing workers to use their leverage to push for higher wages and better conditions. The climate summit in Glasgow, COP26, will be marked by train strikes, while bus workers are also striking for three weeks demanding higher pay. Lorry drivers in Unite the union are seizing on the shortage of drivers by threatening crippling strike action over the Christmas period unless pay and conditions are improved drastically.

Bigger Slice of the Pie

What about in the EU? There are signs in Germany, with inflation reaching a 29-year high of 4.1% in September, that workers want a bigger slice of the pie. The Financial Times reports that unions are entering negotiations demanding above-inflation wage increases, with lower unemployment an additional factor in giving workers’ more confidence. The number of construction companies stating a lack of workers were limiting their activities hit a new high of 27%.

What does all of this mean for the gig economy? One possible outcome is that platforms will have to offer higher pay and potentially greater employment security to attract and hold on to workers. If they do not, gig workers with little attachment to the platform could look elsewhere, or they could decide that taking strike action is now worth the risk.

Gig workers have been treated by platforms as easily replaceable and thus easily disposable, but what if that were to change? The growth in industrial action we have seen this year in Europe’s gig economy may just be the start of something. •

Ben Wray is Gig Economy Project co-ordinator.

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Festivals boost demand for gig workers as economy opens up: Experts

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Amid the ongoing festival season in the country, the hiring of gig workers has zoomed across sectors as the businesses have begun opening up leading to an uptick in consumer sentiments and rising pent-up demand, according to experts.

“In the third quarter, with the onset of festive season, we are witnessing a 400 per cent spike in the hiring for gig workers. Earlier, in the first quarter of this year, as many businesses and companies were not operating at full strength, growth was muted.

“However, things began picking up and became more promising from the second quarter, as the demand for gig workers across sectors grew,” Taskmo, a subsidiary of Quess Corp, co-founder Prashant Janadri told PTI here.

Given the impact of the pandemic, companies are preferring quick hiring processes, therefore gig workers and short-term workers are in high demand, he added.

He said that currently, the demand for gig workers is being witnessed, especially in sectors including edtech,

, mobility, e-commerce, foodtech and retail across roles.

Roles such as business development, sales, marketing, onboarding, auditing, retail and warehouse operations are mostly in demand, he added.

“As companies are opening up after the COVID-19-induced lockdowns, we are witnessing increased demand in customer support, tele-sales, onboarding partners, auditing, packing, customer service, loader-unloader, samplers and merchandisers roles,” he said adding that demand for blue-collar gig workers is more as compared to the white collar workforce.

The salary for gig workers is 1.25-1.5 times higher as compared to the first and second quarter, Janadri also said.

Echoing a similar view, FirstMeridian Business Services Group CEO Sudhakar Balakrishnan said pent-up demand and rising consumer purchasing, e-commerce is expected to generate up to 1 lakh jobs this festive period.

The Indian job market is on the road to recovery, as most of the companies are intending to hire in this quarter, which is expected to be the highest over a period of 1.5 years, he stated.

“The pandemic has taught companies about adaptability and new ways to navigating through disruptions. There was an increase in the number of delivery boys, people handling distribution centres to meet the demand in the festive season.

“Looking at the current trends, hiring in the e-commerce sector is expected increase 50 per cent, e-pharma and logistics will increase 30-40 per cent and food delivery will increase over 50 per cent,” he noted.

He further said that e-commerce, e-pharma, and logistics are the biggest job creators in the gig blue-collar space right now, and 70 per cent of new hires will be blue-collar, while 30 per cent will be white-collar.

E-commerce is also facilitating indirect employment at seller partner locations, with kirana stores acting as last-mile delivery partners, he said.

“Also, demand for gig workers are robust in sectors such as logistics, warehousing, technology and support services, as companies expand and optimise their supply chains. Retail, healthcare, home services, and fintech are also areas of focus,” he said.

Balakrishnan further stated that the demand for blue-collar workers has increased by 50 per cent in Maharashtra, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which are more industrialised.

“The majority of the hiring is taking place at Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Pune and Lucknow. Even as India’s gig economy is an unorganised sector where wages are not fixed, we anticipate that the workforce will earn an additional 25 to 30 per cent as a result of the increased workload,” he added.

Meanwhile, CIEL HR Services Director and CEO Aditya Mishra said hiring of gig workers has gone up due to the sales and marketing push by e-commerce players, consumer durables, apparels, footwear, food and beverages, beauty and wellness sectors.

“We see gig workers in a wide variety of roles, the largest being in last-mile delivery. We see rise in gig workers in the domains such as content, digital marketing, supply chain operations, sourcing consumer loan applications, beauticians and technicians for cleaning services, installation of electronic appliances.

“On an overall basis, blue- and grey-collar jobs are the most in number, about 90 per cent,” he said.

Metros, tier-II and -III cities have created these jobs for the festive season because the end customers have been in a buying spree, Mishra said.

“As the scare of COVID-19 has receded, we see an upswing in consumer sentiments and the pent-up demand is finding the release.

“Another important reason is the fact that many people have moved back to their home towns and the spending power is no more concentrated in the metros as they used to be pre-COVID-19 era. As a result, we see a rise of over 50 per cent in demand of gig workers in tier II and III cities,” he observed.

The earnings of gig workers will increase in the season because they will get to perform 40-50 per cent more gigs than what they did on an average month, he added.

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