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Don’t be another Uber: How to build a corporate culture in the gig economy

Consider Uber, the brand name that usually pops to mind when people bring up the term “the gig economy”. The company has received masses of criticism about its treatment of employees after the ex-Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti dropped a PR bombshell, accusing Uber of discrimination and mistreatment of sexual harassment complaints. Moreover, Uber had to block access to anonymous workplace app Blind in their offices, as 2,200 of the company’s employees turned to the app to commiserate and express their frustration with their workplace.

Sure, you may say that the problem is that the corporate management at Uber is simply doing a horrid job at maintaining a positive corporate culture because unlike you, they’re bad people or unfit managers. Discrimination, as well as blatant neglect of employee rights and needs, exist in corporations of all types and ages. However, it’s hard to deny that the “gig economy” mindset, that regards employees as easily replaceable commodities, reflects on the corporate culture as a whole.

The neglecting treatment of contingent employees in an organization (like Uber) can easily “poison” the heart of the corporate culture, making it an unpleasant and unproductive environment for full-time workers as well. In addition to all that, a negative perception of the employer brand (i.e., an employer that is known to have a poor corporate culture) will usually influence the clients’ sentiment toward the corporate brand. No one really wants to buy from a company that doesn’t care about its employees, or invest in it.

The evolving workplace culture

Way before Uber, contingent workers, freelancers, and part timers were busy designing our websites, catering our events, and building our homes. So what’s changed? Currently, at least 35% of the American workforce is composed of freelancers, contractors, and contingent workers. Some estimates claim that this ratio will climb up to 80% by 2030. If you plan to continue doing business in the upcoming decades, you simply can’t afford to treat your contingent as “second class” while maintaining a positive corporate culture.

The growing number of contingent and temporary workers across all industries is not the only reason to pay attention to the effect the gig economy is having (and will continue having) on your business.

It’s very likely that your business has an established company culture that reflects your business goals, vision and working style. If it helps attract and retain talented employees, you should be proud of it. However, the rise of the gig economy means that even if you have a great corporate culture it more than likely reflects only your full time workers and is definitely not being communicated to your contingent workers. This may not have been a problem in the past but if your company is moving in the direction of the gig economy it will be.

Some like to call their corporate culture “company DNA” and this is a mistake. You’re born with your DNA and there’s nothing you can do to change that. I like to think of company DNA more as an accent than DNA. An accent can tell us a lot about a person but accents can be gained and lost. Unlike DNA, accents are democratic, they’re created from the bottom up by the will of the majority. So to sum up:

A successful culture should be fluid not rigid. You culture needs to personify your employees just as much, if not more, than they need to personify your culture. It’s a give and take symbiosis, which, if successful, produces a company culture that (all) your employees and management can get behind and be proud of.

For example, DeLoitte created an online portal for independent contractors. They can search for projects and read thought leadership pieces on industry trends. In addition, they’ve invested in simplifying the onboarding process so independent workers can sign contracts and statements of work before they start their projects, as well as communicate with the people who will be their points of contact during their projects.

By creating this portal Deloitte are telling their vendors that: “Your success is our success so we’re going to make sure you have all the support you need from us to make your job easy.Then, you can focus on growing your business”.

Commitment & loyalty in a Tinder employment market

I sometimes like to view employment relationships like romantic ones. If you take out the sex and (most of) the emotional involvement, there is distinct similar.

With full time employees, your relationship is less transient and some may say more meaningful. If it’s a healthy relationship – loyalty and commitment naturally develop and strengthen over time.

Contingent employees usually start out as “flings” – often short term and goal oriented. These short term relationships don’t have to be meaningless, and can be mutually beneficial even if they are short. You can be the love of their lives for an hour, if that’s the time you have, and they can be yours. Perhaps, you can even hook up again, when your needs match and your experience was a positive one. In either case, let’s agree that you want to avoid your exes bad-mouthing you on social media.

When time is of the essence, developing commitment can be hard but not impossible.  If you want to build a sustainable corporate culture in the gig economy there are a few steps you should follow.

Time matters in the gig economy

Unlike your FTEs (full time employees), the nature of your relationship with temp workers is very time sensitive. It’s often short and temporary, so it’s important to bring your contingent or gig employees onboard with your company goals and visions quickly and effectively.

Corporate culture training should be part of your contingent employee onboarding process. This way, your temporary workers can hear your company story from the very start. This simple yet effective step is often ignored by managers who consider their “gigsters” to be expendable labor, here today and gone tomorrow.

Again, the solution is not just quicker employee onboarding. It’s about having a culture that is dynamic so while you’re trying to introduce your culture to gigsters don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. If there’s no fit move on but if there is a continuous issue learn from it and adapt – don’t blame the workforce (or millenials in general).

Making it fit

When hiring contingent workers, it’s important to pay attention to their suitability to company culture. Many managers hiring contingent workers assume that since the relationship is short, they can afford to ignore this aspect of their relationship with the employee. Instead, you should invest the extra effort in selecting matching candidates that will fit the company culture and workstyle.

Remember that temporary employees, however brief their stay is, can contribute a great deal to your organization in all aspects. They bring a fresh outlook, past experience, passion and enthusiasm that can invigorate your business and corporate culture. But only if you let them.

Communication is key

Passion and commitment usually happen when the employees feel important, cared for, and meaningful to the organization. The best way to achieve this is by giving them a voice and encouraging initiative and feedback. With contingent employees, it’s important to create and maintain effective and open communication channels, both formal and informal.

As the lines between FTEs and temporary workers in company culture begin to blur, your goal should be to combine the best of both world. On one hand, you want to maintain long term business goals and a vision. On the other – make the most of the short-lived relationships your business has with contingent employees.

To do that we need to look back to Uber and the way they treat their employees (like a disposable commodity).

If until recently one of the “perks” of hiring contingent employees was that they were in fact disposable. However, as more core company jobs continue to go to gig labor, the day will come that company culture will need to adapt and as always you should try to be ahead of the curve and your competition. Otherwise, you place your company at risk of receiving bad publicity like Uber.

About the author:

Eyal Katz heads marketing for Connecteam, a free mobile app that provides a hum for mobile collaboration, skill development, and automation.

 

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