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Learning & Development in the Gig Economy

Matthew Brew
Matthew Brew

It wasn’t long ago that working remotely was viewed as a novel concept.

But with globalization in full flow and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and individuals are no longer being bound by physical location when it comes to work.

As of 2020, there were 59 million freelance workers in the US alone, providing ample opportunity for companies to enjoy the flexibility and dynamism that gig workers have to offer. However, a new category of worker requires a new way of working, especially when it comes to learning and development. 

In this article, we break down the benefits and challenges of the gig economy, why it’s so important to facilitate continuous learning, and what to consider when crafting a training strategy for your gig workers. The State of Training in the On-Demand Industry: 2022 Report

Gig economy definition

What is meant by the ‘gig economy’? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s:

“A way of working that is based on people having temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer”.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the gig economy as:

“Economic activity that involves the use of temporary or freelance workers to perform jobs typically in the service sector”.  

What actually is the gig economy?

We use ‘gig economy’ to describe a job market characterized by freelance work and short-term contracts, as opposed to a traditional job market characterised by permanent work and long-term contracts that adhere to set working days and hours. A gig worker is anyone engaged within this ‘self-employed’ segment of the workforce.

This can range from a ‘deskless’ independent contractor like a courier, to an online platform worker like a massage therapist, or a "desk-bound" contract firm worker like a video producer or copywriter.  


Why has the gig economy seen so much growth?

There are an estimated 163 million freelancers worldwide, and the number of people moving into the gig sector full time has grown by more than 10 million since 2014.

So, what was the catalyst for this growth? Why are more and more workers moving away from traditional work models?

Before 2020, the combination of rapidly evolving technologies (particularly, the emergence of the smartphone) and shifting generational demographics - Millennials and Gen Z joining the workforce - were two key influencing factors behind the transition to remote work.

COVID-19 did not change the trajectory we were on, but merely sped it up. It brought us to the “future of work” - an inevitably dispersed global workforce - quicker. 

Tech giants that once prided themselves on their sprawling open-plan offices with on-site gyms, catered gourmet meals and nap pods to sleep in, have forsaken this in favour of a digital workforce. Twitter and Facebook are just two of many companies to introduce permanent work from home measures.

The benefits of gig work

COVID-19, smartphones and millennials aside, another driving factor behind the push to remote work is simply that people, across generations and geographic lines, value the flexibility remote work affords - employees who are offered flexible working are 4 times less likely to become a retention risk.

A remote work set-up is also advantageous to both employee and employer from a financial standpoint. Employees are liberated to work whenever and from wherever they want. As employees are no longer spending unnecessary time and money commuting, the financial savings are huge - in a survey of 1,004 remote vs. office working employees across the U.S., those who worked remotely saved an average of 8.5 hours and $94.23 by working from home.

Similarly, employers stand to gain financially from favoring remote work too, saving an average of $11,000 per employee, per year which translates to 21% higher profitability. So much so that some companies - like our clients, Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb - have built their entire business model around the flexibility of the deskless workforce.  

The challenges of gig work

Of course, having a deskless workforce doesn’t come without its challenges. How do you reach and engage with dispersed workers in a meaningful way?

The technology to enable remote work is readily available - high speed internet, video conferencing softwares like Zoom, messengers like Slack - but how do you ensure that your workforce is motivated, engaged and upskilled to a sufficient degree? How do you make sure your people feel empowered to carry out their role to the best of their ability? 

One risk of remote work is that employees lose the sense of cohesion and community that comes with working in a conventional office. One of remote workers’ greatest concerns is that they’ll be deprived of the off-the-cuff spontaneity and creativity that arises from in-person human interaction.

They worry they will miss out on those ‘water-cooler’ moments, where they can bounce ideas off their co-workers in real-time, seek guidance and engage in peer-to-peer learning. After all, lonely workers think about quitting their job twice as often, are twice as likely to miss work due to illness, are less engaged and less productive.

Less connection leads to greater dropoff, a challenge which continues to plague the gig sector. Some companies report a staggering annual churn rate of 500%, wasting thousands on recruitment and onboarding strategies only to see their gig workers fall at the first hurdle.


How to tailor learning and development to the gig economy

So how do you replicate that organic human interaction, exchange of knowledge and feeling of working towards a unified vision, when employees are ‘isolated’? 

What’s clear is that companies need to move beyond traditional methods used to share information and train employees, like email or a dated, clunky, learning management system only accessible via a desktop computer.

Here are our top tips for optimizing your training strategy for the deskless workforce.

1. Make it mobile first

Modern problems need modern solutions. As of 2020, there are 3.5 billion smartphone users, up 1 billion from 2.5 just 4 years ago in 2016. Because of the proliferation of these devices, peoples’ preferred way of learning has been shaped by their user experience on apps they frequent in their leisure time.

The more companies meet people where they are (smartphones) and in a way that replicates features popularized by platforms like Instagram and Facebook (short-form videos, scrolling news feeds for information, swiping left and right), the easier they will find it to inform, train and engage their people.

By embracing mobile training, companies can send freelancers, employees or clients bite-sized modules, instead of bombarding them with lengthy courses that are not relevant to the immediate need they’re looking to address.

2. Accessibility is key

To be effective for our newly remote world, training needs to move beyond static, ‘learning management system’ style desktop delivery, and bring accessibility to the fore by being available on multiple devices. The flexibility of modern learning tools must reflect the flexibility - and needs - of modern workforces. 

Employee time is at a premium - the average employee has just 4 minutes a day to dedicate to learning new things. It is important that companies adapt to this ‘anytime, anywhere’ (or, on-demand) style of learning, where users can access relevant information instantly at their point of need, and fit training around their own schedules. 

3. Keep communicating

Training that’s best adapted for our new, remote, normal must address not only practicality, but effective communication. A sense of community is essential to inspiring loyalty, reducing churn and the general smooth-running of a dispersed workforce.

One way of achieving this is via a company newsfeed that leverages different engaging content formats. Think: short text, videos, GIFs, emojis. This helps remote workers stay up-to-date on the business, its products and current campaigns in short, snappy bursts that are ideal for reading on-the-go.

Providing a continuous flow of communication instils a sense of alignment and community, both of which are integral for retaining remote workers and achieving Workforce Success.

Ultimately, this inevitable transition to the mobile working economy does not need to be as daunting as it may initially appear. By utilizing remote training tools, like eduMe, companies such as Uber, Deliveroo and Gorillas have designed effective and engaging ways for workers to learn new skills and stay up-to-date with relevant company information.

Book a free demo with us now to find out how we can boost the productivity of your gig workforce 👇