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Advice for Employers and Recruiters

When and how HR tech can engage gig workers in your organization’s culture

Anna Peters AvatarAnna Peters
June 12, 2018

If there is one person who knows about how HR leaders can and should choose the right technology tools, it is Sarah Brennan. Brennan is Founder and Chief Advisor at Accelir, where she dedicates herself to improving the impact of technology on people, business and the future of work. She partners with the companies that build the technology and she educates the companies that use that technology. Brennan was also selected to be an official SHRM 2018 blogger. I interviewed Brennan about how she is seeing the impact of the growing gig economy, and how HR leaders should be using (and not using) technology to engage their contracted and gig workers. 

The interview transcript has been slightly edited for length and flow.

Four ways to include gig workers in your organization culture

Sarah Brennan: A company that’s really doing their culture correctly is making sure that those gig workers, temporary workers, and contract workers are every much a part of the organization’s culture as the full time or part time or any other employee is. And one of the really easy, simple ways to do that is to make sure they’re going through at least a modified version of the onboarding program. Onboarding is an easy, early place to start with a minimal investment for most organizations. With all the technology out there, it’s really easy to help them understand the story.

But even before onboarding, it’s giving people the option to do this type of work. A lot of organizations will only do this for manufacturing, distribution, IT, or administrative help, but not for a professional type of role. You have to make sure that you’re setting up your roles and jobs in a way that can attract that talent.

Third, make sure that there are learning and development opportunities available. Even if they’re only there temporarily or part-time, you want them to be at the top of their game, as far as skills go, because they are contributing to your bottom line and helping your organization.

Fourth, make sure that they are every part as much of the culture. When there are holiday parties or anything like that, they get the same type of level of involvement that anybody else would.

Will organizations that rely heavily on contracted work lose their competitive advantage?

Brennan: I actually think we’re going to see higher engagement rates because more and more people want to shift over to the temporary workforce. And it’s not just the millennials. We’re also seeing people in their forties who want to work part-time because they’re going to spend more time focused on kids and family, or they’re taking care of parents and children, or they are retirees who just aren’t quite ready to leave. I think we’re going to see companies that are willing to embrace this new future, and the ones with the stronger cultures will be those that set it up correctly.

Tech tools to engage contract and gig workers

We just need to apply to the contract world what the full time employees are going to go through. A lot of times HR isn’t even involved in the contract or contingent workforce, so what really should be done is pretty simple. Put them through the same process, let them use the ATS, let them apply online. Put them through your onboarding and if you’re onboarding is only about forms and making sure your paperwork is done, it’s time to look at kind of the new onboarding and what is out there.

Related: Onboarding best practices from pre-boarding to the bottom line

The newer onboarding really is about socialization and making sure somebody feels comfortable with what they’re going to be doing, the teams they’ll be on, culturalization and helping them have buy-in. It’s helping them have pride in the organization is even though they aren’t full time employees. At the end of the day, they are going to impact your customers the same.

Some of the cool things that we’re seeing are surveys, pulse surveys, and employee feedback tools. Performance management gets a little bit tricky but the new performance and feedback tools have been great. So for example, Do you feel like you got enough training, are you getting enough work? Do we need to change anything up? This is a very easy way to have back and forth conversations with people that aren’t getting the same type of development or coaching or performance reviews at your full time employees.

See: How Blain’s Farm and Fleet improves their retail employees’ performance

The return on investment of including gig workers

Brennan: Tech is one of the areas we’ve seen this happening already. If tech professionals aren’t working on a contract basis, they are only staying for 12 to 18 months at the organization. They are constantly moving. One of the reasons is they want to continue to test their skills out. Many candidates will only do contract work and so the market has made the organization shift the expectations. We don’t really have as much control on the corporate side is we think we do anymore because there are enough other organizations willing to try the new way that the ones that don’t are the ones that are going to be left behind and that’s who’s really going to be losing this talent.

The cost of including a single contracted employee is much less than having to replace that person, even if the goal is just to sign them onto another contract in a different department. What often happens is they will stay for 12, 24, 36 months, go to the next contract and then come back. A lot of the workers in this space will actually bounce between two or three companies. I have seen this go on as long as 12 to 15 years between two companies. And so especially in the tech world, you see this in a very long term way. In a lot of organizations they’re even having leadership that is contracted when it comes to IT.

Choosing technology tools with gig workers in mind

Brennan: I work with the vendors to help them improve how they’re building the technology to make it a little bit more human. Sometimes we have to remind developers that at the end of the day, it isn’t a persona, it’s a person so how do we build technology better? We look at the future of work and who’s going to be in there, whether it’s the gig workers, retirees that are just doing part-time. One thing is that [the tool] has to be able to be used without training because we don’t somebody to spend a week going through training to learn how to an HR product. So whatever you decide to buy, you need to be able to open it up and use it from a mobile device without having to log into a computer. It needs to be cloud based, mobile accessible, and it needs to be as simple as any other app they would download on their iphone or their Android. It just has to be consumer based and easy. [With gig workers especially], you’re reducing your investment and giving them a faster access to get what they actually need to do.

One of the things we have to get over is a stigma around why somebody wants to be a gig worker. That is something that maybe HR tech can’t address, but if [HR can] make it an option in the ATS where people can say they’re looking for contract, part time or temporary, and manage all that from one place. So as we’re trying to source talent and projects, and we could search for skills and move to a talent matching system that is more a skills-based, versus job description based. I think that is going to be the biggest differentiator for organizations that want to really retain, and manage their culture. They will be able to source from this entirely new sub segment that is just getting started.

Choose technology only when it makes sense

Brennan: Organizations that rely too much on technology lose the personalized touch and will have issues with engagement. The technology should help facilitate and simplify what you are doing to amplify your strategy and your goals. You shouldn’t use the technology when you’re trying to push stuff out. Too often we see companies trying to do too much learning because they want to make sure that they look like a learning culture. Never buy or utilize any technology without having a really clear understanding of what your process and your goals are for having in the first place. I have seen the same products fail and succeed simply because of how a process was different and I think especially because of social media, it has become so easy just to simply rely on reviews or what somebody else said instead of doing the work to make sure a product fits.

There’s hundreds of tech tools coming in every year and there’s hundreds going out every year and not all of them work with all companies. It’s a very crowded, very busy marketplace, which makes it hard for buyers to really understand if something is going to work for them, and it’s why organizations rely so heavily on just asking [peers], “Hey, what do you, what do you have? What works for you?” I have literally seen the exact same product succeed beyond their wildest expectations and completely fail [for another organization]. Every organization’s process is slightly different. I think the most important question is how does it do it? And we a lot of times, we send out RFPs and we just look for the checkboxes but we don’t really spend as much time on the how. It’s very small nuances in the UI and the UX that culturally make a massive difference in adoption.

How can HR include contracted workers in a learning culture?

Brennan: When companies are building really strong learning cultures, they’re typically putting in place a learning management system and then funneling in different types of content from any number of vendors. It might be micro learning from like a TED Talks or formalized training certifications. Just as easy, you could set up your gig workers or contract workers and let them have access. Maybe those workers don’t get full access to everything. Maybe they just get things that you think is going to be very valuable for them in their role or where you might need them next.

When we look at benefits and what is most desirable, the learning and training is one of the top areas that employees ask for now. So if you have any hope of ever converting that person over, or you want to be able to book them or get referrals from them, give them these little perks and benefits. At the end of the day it’s not a huge investment annually per employee, for the impact that it actually has on them and your company.

Sarah BrennanAbout Sarah Brennan: Sarah is the Founder and Chief Advisor at Accelir. She focuses on improving the impact of technology on people, business and the future of work by partnering with the companies that build it, advising investors that support it and educating companies wanting to develop innovative talent attraction and retention strategies.




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