The gig economy is off and running, and CIOs are taking notice. The CIO Executive Council recently estimated that almost half of CIOs will employ gig workers in 2016.
Employing workers for a particular job can offer CIOs several advantages. Not only does it provide them access to hard-to-find tech talent, it also allows them to hire employees on an as-needed basis without a full-time commitment.
"Hiring gig workers allows companies to operate in a more agile manner," said Andrew Engler, co-founder of Eagerto, a New York-based professional liability insurance platform and community for freelancers. "If a CIO wants to try something new, hiring a gig worker can be a great middle ground that doesn’t require the same money and commitment as hiring a full-time employee."
The gig approach also enables both the employer and the employee to try each other out to ensure there is a fit—an opportunity rarely afforded when hiring a full-time worker.
This is particularly important for programming jobs. Many programmers are self-taught, or don’t learn their skills the way people in other types of jobs might.
According to the 2016 developer survey from Stack Overflow, 69% of today’s developers are primarily self-taught and do not hold computer science degrees. Therefore, determining whether or not a worker has the skills a CIO needs can’t always be discerned from a resume. Hiring a gig worker can help a company see how the worker performs, how they fit with the company overall, and how well they work within the existing team. A great fit may lead to a full-time offer, if both the employer and the gig worker are amenable.
Using gig workers can also provide employers access to talent beyond their immediate geographic area. If the talent a company needs is hard to find in Akron, Ohio, for example, using a gig worker can mean finding specific tech skills perhaps anywhere in the world, assuming that jives with the job’s requirements.
In that way, using gig workers is really about creating agile business ecosystems that bring in the right competence exactly when an organization needs it, said Carl Piva, vice president of strategic programs at global industry association TM Forum.
"When talking about the gig economy, some people assume that it is about hiring temps who will do the same jobs regular employees do today," said Piva. "What it really should be about is ecosystem partnering. How can I partner effectively to make this happen? Do I even have to hire people - could it instead be cheaper and faster to navigate an increasingly connected business ecosystem?"
In many ways, the gig economy is driven by companies’ need to innovate.
"The CIO of the future must drive how the organization reinvents its business around the customer, and create a customer experience that delights the customer every step of the way—being a faceless business interface to technology will no longer be enough," said Piva. "In parallel, the CIO must evolve (their) understanding of the business ecosystem, improve cross-functional collaboration and inject new skills into the organization."
According to the U.S. Government Accounting Office, 58 million men and women currently comprise the gig economy. Some of those workers are full time independent contractors by choice, some are moonlighters, and others are perhaps between full time gigs or haven’t settled on exactly where they want to commit yet.
The gig approach also affords workers several advantages. Not only can "gigging" allow workers the flexibility and variety of working on different projects and for different companies, it also allows them to learn new skills and constantly add to their resume.
"Gig workers have the advantage of being able to work on lots of different projects if they chose to, and they can learn many new skills and become well-rounded future full time employees if desired," said Engler. "Or, they can become so experienced that they command higher and higher prices and can make a great living as a full time independent gig worker."
Studies show that the vast majority of people that try out the gig approach never go back to working full time. So in some ways, CIOs may see the gig economy as a threat to their current stable of full-time employees.
In response, CIOs should ensure that the full-time workers they want and need the most are well taken care of and provided ample opportunities to learn and grow. If not, CIOs could risk losing them to the gig economy.
Not a fit for all companies
Not everyone believes gig workers are a great solution, however. For some, investing in a full time employee instead of a gig worker offers rewards and control you simply cannot get with a gig worker.
"(Gig) developers may seem like a steal, but in my experience they will only do exactly what you ask, nothing more," said Rob Lennon, senior product marketing manager at Thunder. "They aren't decision-makers or collaborators, so you have to be extremely organized to use them efficiently."
Lennon added that gig workers can still be a good solution, it just depends on the task at hand.
"Certain types of tasks are great for the gig economy," said Lennon. "When we need voiceover for a marketing video, rather than buying gear or renting studio time and voice talent, we can find someone on Fiverr who can deliver professional audio in 24 hours. This kind of project works well because it is extremely contained."
But when it comes to something like app development, Lennon said there is no replacement for good developers working alongside you.
"Using gig developers is less expensive, and the code you get may work, but running down bugs can turn into a zero sum game where you devote as many resources to policing and fixing their code as it would have taken to do it right," Lennon said.
And there could be hidden costs as well, such as managing the project and checking the work, Lennon added.
For other companies, using long-term employees gives them an advantage with clients that they can’t get using gig workers.
Shelly Alvarez, director of client services at PostUp, said they have avoided hiring people for "gigs" because their overall company goal is to develop long-term relationships with their clients.
"That becomes very challenging with short-term employees," said Alvarez.