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How to Make the Gig Economy Work for Your Company

Chris CollinsBy Chris Collins

You don’t not have to look far to see the changes taking place across our industry. AT&T is virtualizing its network; cloud computing services are selling at a rate six times faster than overall IT spending; and Nielsen says consumers are spending more than 60 hours a week consuming content across multiple channels and devices.

Each of these stats tells a story on its own, but taken together, they show the marked shift that’s happening across the telecom industry. Everything from product development to go-to-market and channel strategy will be impacted. To be successful in this new era of telecommunications means you must pay attention first and foremost to the bedrock of your business: the workforce. More specifically, worker availability.

Let’s face it: The old ways of recruiting and hiring professionals capable of handling sophisticated telecom work are passé. Rather than engineers who can climb telephone poles to install cable modems or sales teams who can go door-to-door, our industry is desperate for innovators and software developers — particularly those who can set trends and form thought-leadership strategies. As technology and customer demands continue to evolve, we need people who can keep up. These individuals know they are in demand, and they have the luxury of being selective about whom they work for and when.

Once hot startups, Google and deep-pocketed Fortune 500 firms take their cut of the potential workforce, the rest of the market is left fighting for a select few individuals. In fact, of the 37,000 global employers interviewed in a 2014 survey by McKinsey, 36 percent reported they “could not find the talent they needed.” That’s a lot of unfilled roles, and the unemployment rate has only gone down since 2014. As of February, the unemployment rate for those with a Bachelor’s degree and higher was just 2.4 percent.

Bringing on contractors to close gaps caused by understaffing and focus on immediate-need projects without adding the overhead of a full-time employee has long been a successful coping strategy. But posting a job ad and then handling the resulting influx of applications and interviews simply takes up too much time and energy. This is especially true nowadays, when the industry’s changing needs mean today’s exciting new contract hire could be next month’s redundant body.

So, what is a telecom leader to do? In short, embrace the “gig economy.”

The New World of Flexible, Project-Based Work

To efficiently bring on the best-suited talent for each task or project, you need to embrace the workforce model popularized by consumer-facing businesses such as Lyft and Instacart. Using technology to hire contract workers and independent experts is beginning to extend upmarket and enter the business plans of larger enterprises. These innovative companies are finding they can access a specialized, professional, independent workforce using cloud-enabled talent-access platforms, like UpWork or the one provided by my company, Catalant.

Got unfilled openings? Join our Camp Talent: Pull Together A Winning Team keynote and get hiring advice from Telecom Broker’s Nancy Ridge, Carousel’s Tim Hebert, Ingram Micro’s Emily Lundi and Avant’s Drew Lydecker. Register now!

Many external specialists make some or all of their livings through completing short-term, project-based work via these platforms. Nearly one-third of U.S. workers earn income by embracing a sort of “portfolio career,” during which they hop among several part-time gigs rather than spending eight (or more) hours every day enclosed within one employer’s four walls. This strategy is becoming popular among companies, too: As of 2015, approximately 90 percent of businesses in the U.S. used freelance workers in some capacity.

The reason is simple: Hiring gig workers lets businesses get more done in less time and with more-efficient spending. Independent workers have chosen this path for themselves because it offers flexibility and freedom. To embrace the agility and competitiveness that today’s telecom industry calls for, companies must do the same.

How to Get Started

To test the gig economy waters, focus on five key areas:

  • Planning and budgeting. Prioritize the work that needs to get done and determine whether it should be executed by a full-time employee or an external talent. Budget in such a way that managers are incentivized to find the best ways to meet their objectives, rather than simply increasing full-time head count.
  • Procurement. Develop policies so that hiring managers understand how to operate away from traditional, one-size-fits-all contracting and payment policies and procedures.
  • Hiring-related technology. Onboarding and implementing a flexible talent-access platform isn’t difficult, but there will be some training and onboarding to get up and running.
  • Human resources. The HR department will play a critical role in the implementation and coordination of a freelance workforce. They should focus on talent “access” rather than “acquisition,” as well as lead curation of the talent ecosystem. HR should strive to make your company the “partner of choice” for independent professionals. Also, educate them on IRS tax provisions for workers in the sharing economy. For now, the onus is on workers to file tax documents, but it’s important that your HR team understand the legal differences between contract and freelance.
  • Training. This was touched on above, but it’s worthy of its own spot. Line managers will need to learn how to contract with, pay and manage individual contributors, and they should be given instruction on managing scope, launching teams, and providing feedback and coaching to individuals they do not formally control.

New technologies plus a shortage of skilled workers equal challenges for the telecom industry and the channel at large. To succeed, proactively and effectively leverage available resources, including gig-economy workers who can help address real-time changes quickly and at a lower cost.

Chris Collins is the general manager of the technology, media and telecommunications practice at Catalant Technologies. He frequently advises innovative technology, research and advisory services companies on driving dramatic growth and navigating change. Prior to Catalant, Chris served as the vice president of the technology and telecom practice at Millward Brown Digital.

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