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Efficient, flexible and diverse: Career lessons from the gig economy

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The principles of the gig economy can make us more efficient and more productive. Not only this, but they are also helping us future proof our own careers.

People who are in steady employment might not think they are impacted by the gig economy – doesn't it apply to freelancers and delivery workers only? The truth is, you can adopt aspects of the gig economy into a senior position to thrive in your career.

Reimagining a frictionless, more fluid workplace

Put simply, this new economy puts in touch people who have a skill or an asset that is underutilised, with people who need that skill or that asset, but do not want, or need, to own it. According to a report published in February 2018, by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the UK, 2.8 million people participated in the gig economy in some way 20171. Flexibility and efficiency are at the heart of this new model.

This kind of thinking is a huge opportunity to boost your existing career: flexibility and efficiency are perfectly aligned with the strategic goals of organisations, whether in established or emerging sectors. Here are three things you can do to use these principals in your own career.

1. Avoid the silo effect by opening up to more perspectives

One of the strengths of the gig economy is it is truly open to all - from teenagers who are great novice graphic designers, to exceptional wisdom from retired executives.

This diversity is crucial. According to Hays' UK Diversity & Inclusion Report 2018, over half of respondents (58%) believe their leaders have a bias towards those who look, think and act like them. That's not the case in the gig economy: the ability to do the job trumps everything else.

In your own career, model the diversity of the gig economy to capture more diversified views. Are you in regular contact with people who “look” nothing like you? Do you listen to their views? Young people will tell you about their use of social media. More senior people will share their strategic insights into gaining hidden tacit knowledge. Find people who are the best at what they do, but outside of your normal networking access or geographical reach, and learn from them.

2. Strengthen your skills and your team, bring in expertise

The collaboration economy challenges all our assumptions. What used to be barriers are disappearing fast, but mental habits are slow to catch up. Who says you can't sit in on a Harvard lecture if you don't enrol in an MBA? You can attend a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). Who says you can't practice Mandarin before your trip to Asia, because there is no Chinese teacher in your town? You can take lessons on iTalki.

To drive your career forward faster, look at bottlenecks and apply resourcefulness – a crucial driver of the gig economy. How do you get a "bit of something"? If you need a web logo yesterday but your web designer is too busy at the moment, who says that you need to pile the new task on them? What counts is the ability to do graphic design and have a good eye. Does that describe somebody else in your team, even if they're not officially a web designer? Or perhaps the web designer of another department can help you out on a one-off basis?

Identify the exact size and scope of skills gaps, both in yourself and in your team, or for a specific project. Is it a web designer you need, or a new logo? Is it an MBA you need, or a better knowledge of governance? Think in terms of stripping back and identifying the exact capability you need.

3. Identify and leverage resources lying idle

This is a key principle of the collaboration economy. Idle space in someone's house in the form of an unoccupied guest bedroom can become a source of income through AirBnB. Where is the spare capacity in your career? Maybe you oversee young people who have management potential, but aren't there yet. Can you put them in charge of brainstorming a new product, obtaining market research and building a paper prototype? Maybe you have a shelf of books that have been taking up space in your office for years. Can you donate them to charity, take a picture and share on your company intranet to inspire others in the company to do the same? Can you turn mentoring meetings into a reciprocal opportunity? You could pair up senior employees with younger employees, so that the senior team members can learn about the tastes of tomorrow's customers.

The gig economy is about uncovering new opportunities in your career and in day-to-day processes. It will help you think in terms of reallocating just the right amount of resources where they're actually needed.

If you are looking for support with your employment needs please contact your local office.

1. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2018. The Characteristics of those in the Gig Economy: Final Report.


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