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Boston’s Rising Companies on The Gig Economy: 5 Insights on How It Can Fuel Business Growth

Posted by Lauren Kendall on November 1, 2018
Last week, The Bowdoin Group, in partnership with Marsh & McLennan Agency, hosted “The Future of Work” on October 23rd, the fifth installation of the HR leadership panel series, Building Cultures of Innovation and Accountability.  The event boasted an exciting new location in the heart of Boston’s hot Seaport neighborhood: the offices of Catalant Technologies, a company that helps Fortune 100s access gig and employee talent when they need it.  The setting drove home the panel’s intention: to explore the challenges associated with location, flexibility, and the gig economy.

The panel brought together some of the Boston innovation economy’s top leaders: Ed Davis, COO/CFO at Janeiro Digital, Christine Phaneuf, SVP of Operations at PlumChoice, John Voith, Co-Founder and COO of Virtudent, and Patrick Petitti, Co-CEO at Catalant Technologies. Karen Walker Beecher, COO of The Bowdoin Group, moderated the exciting panel discussion.

The group talked about challenges, trends, and best practices, and it generated a number of key insights. Here are the top five:

  1. Gig talent is great talent: Many of those who are the best at what they do realize they are in control and can work in the way that suits them. Patrick Petitti, Co-CEO at Catalant Technologies, said that the average age of freelancers and employees in Catalant’s marketplace is not the twenty- or thirty-something that you would expect, but 43 years old with decades of expertise in the field.  He added that for these individuals to leave their jobs as Product Manager at Twitter or VP of Strategy at McKinsey, they have to know they’re going to maintain their salary working for themselves, and that takes a certain individual.  These days, gig workers are incredibly talented, and that explains why they constitute 34% of the U.S. workforce.[i]
  2. Find talent based on what you need to get done, not where they are located: It’s a fact – the best talent is not always going to be sitting across from your headquarters. It’s no longer a question of whether companies should allow people to work remotely, but how they can get really good at it.  22% of the Fortune 500 are WeWork members[ii], which means that they are doing two things: 1) starting to integrate elements of the gig economy for their own employees; and 2) thinking creatively about how best to attract and retain gig workers that aren’t located in close proximity to their offices.
  3. Determine what needs to be core and what can be flexible: Many forward-thinking companies are starting to “variabilize” their workforce, meaning that they are determining what needs to be in place at all times and what can be supported by gig talent. For many companies, staff is a huge expense (often the #1 expense), so “variabilizing” can ease that burden.  In the end, this is a balance game – too many FTEs can affect profitability while too many gig workers can impact operational efficiency.[iii]  Finding the right balance for your organization can have a huge impact on your bottom line.
  4. The gig economy is attractive to your employees, too: Gig work is difficult in some industries, including healthcare. Some positions, like those of clinical workers, require employees to be on-site or entail a large amount training.  That doesn’t mean those individuals don’t want to incorporate components of the gig economy into their job, like flexibility.  The panelists commented that, “People want choice and they deserve it.  There are times in your life when you want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with people and there are times where you don’t.”  With that in mind, it’s important to think about all of your employees in the context of the gig economy and what you can integrate into their day-to-day to make their lives easier.
  5. Knowledge management is everyone’s responsibility: Part of the concern around gig workers is that they develop a depth of expertise and then they leave, taking all of that hard-earned knowledge with them. The panelists commented that lack of access to company knowledge isn’t just a gig economy problem—it’s an organizational problem.  Companies go to great lengths to create a morass of knowledge in platforms like SharePoint or DropBox and employees still don’t know how to find the information they need when they need it.  Panelists encouraged the audience to host regular learning opportunities (like lunch and learns) and invite gig workers or to break down silos by pulling talent from one area to another to inspire knowledge transfer.

Read highlights from the prior event in this series and learn more here about attending future events and receiving best practices and insights from the Bowdoin team.  Request to join the HR Leadership Online Forum to exchange ideas around important topics like this one and ask questions of your peers.