If you were interviewing a candidate whose resume indicated they couldn’t hold down a steady job, whose previous employers continually neglected to renew their contracts and whose skillset was so all-over-the-map that you wonder if job descriptions were pulled out of a hat, you’d have to muster up all the fake politeness in the world to keep from laughing them out of your office.
So why is it, then, that the same candidate could hock their product design skills on Fiverr and have tech companies line up to hire them?
It’s the gig economy, and it’s pulling millions of (mostly millennial) workers out of the traditional nine-to-five office environment and into the lavish lifestyle of working from wherever, taking on jobs as they see fit and quickly reshaping the entire hiring process.
More and more companies are attempting to build their businesses using the types of talent found on Upwork, Freelancer or a bevy of other online contract worker emporiums. The latest estimates have 16 percent of the American workforce employed in an alternative work environment, with surprising industries like law and medicine incorporating aspects of “talent-for-hire” short-term arrangements.
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Relying on freelance workers for certain quick gigs has its place. Uber and Lyft are the obvious pioneers in this space, but those businesses are just different (albeit revolutionary) takes on what were already short-term hire situations. When it comes to contract workers filling actual skill positions, the practice just isn’t scalable. Tech companies should only dip into the gig pool for very low-level, highly repeatable needs.
It takes an average of three days to “onboard” a freelancer from a talent marketplace. That alone points to a fundamental truth many businesses are missing -- the gig economy solves for a time gap, not a skills gap. The saturation of talent in these marketplaces forces individuals to become jacks of all trades and masters of none, but companies don’t notice/care that the same worker offering up content marketing services is also an amateur voice over artist, legal consultant and recipe maker (or worse) -- they spread themselves thin and don’t but scratch the surface. The businesses that hire them do the same, by association.
Compartmentalizing reduces quality and a reduction in quality is not what’s driving success in today’s environments that crave highly customized and personalized outputs. Companies are looking for a Swiss Army knife but make-shifting it out of broken down parts. When you break a skillset down to it’s simplest form you’re doing nothing but checking the boxes. Companies treat talent like they would their lunch order are creating more layers of the wrong toppings.
Related: The Rise of the 6-Figure Freelancer
Listen to anyone from our parents’ generation talk about craftsmanship and you’ll see why there aren’t many cobblers, for example, on Taskrabbit. Just because you’re a warm body doesn’t mean you have the expertise. There are plenty of individual shoe resellers online making decent coin in the on-demand economy, but are they true craftsmen? Do they drill down deep into one specific, marketable skill? Or are they simply commoditizing motion.
We see this most frequently in our space when it comes to content writers. You can produce quantity very easily using a site like Fiverr, but you’ll soon find that the outcome is far removed from what a true organic effort would yield. The consideration that never seems to come to mind until it’s too late is that not only is there a lack of positive effect but also the accumulation of a negative one. You never do get that second chance to make a first impression -- in a world where impressions are so brief, with a click they’re gone.
The rise of the untethered workforce has been too rapid and too fueled by the technologies of the time to really say who will benefit most in the long run. From a business-owner perspective, it would be foolish to believe that hyper-quality and specialization can be counted upon consistently in the gig economy. They can certainly exist in the same space -- or same employee -- but companies have to be extremely careful using these services.
Short of calling gig workers flighty (which they’re not, they just don’t want to be tied down), you’ll never get all their skin in the game when you bring them aboard for project work. They simply have too many other options and too many different hats to wear. For companies that are truly looking for a partner, someone they can trust and someone they can scale a business with, it’s scary to think where the current trend is going. Trust that the skills you desire are out there, and don’t be suckered in by a quick fix that only addresses your lack of time and understanding of the true need.