I’ve written a lot about the opportunity for both companies and individuals in the contingent workforce phenomenon known as the “gig economy”. Companies get access to talent and expertise while retaining the flexibility and agility required to remain competitive. Millennials build their resumes while Baby Boomers leverage theirs. I’m excited and passionate about the potential triple win this represents for individuals, companies, and the economy overall. But I am also very concerned.
In the frenzy to capitalize on this trend, technology is rapidly becoming the lead “solution” for connecting freelancers and employers. These online platforms and tools purport to facilitate and accelerate the process for both parties. Every day I see another consulting company touting their “workforce marketplace” or another new entrant into the “Human Cloud” space. In these models, workers are sourced and managed via the internet, with minimal human interaction in the process. The client typically purchases a labor or labor service outcome, and work arrangements are established, completed, and (often) compensated entirely through a digital/online platform. “Matches” are made based on algorithms, reverse auctions, and keywords. Not a lot of thought is going into what this means to the individual, the notion of work as we know it, or how it will impact wages, benefits, and productivity. It’s impersonal at best; demoralizing and ineffectual at worst.
The looming spectre of context collapse. The rush to leverage the perceived efficiencies of technology places participants in the Human Cloud race at risk of repeating the hard lessons of (recent) history. Specifically, one of the big issues I foresee is the impact of context collapse on the long-term viability of online models designed to connect people in the workplace to people in the workforce via cyberspace. What is context collapse? It is a sociological term that describes the way social media and other online platforms tend to erase the boundaries that once defined people’s social lives. We all have multiple “selves”; the one we “present” at any given time is based on the social sphere (context) in which we are engaged. We have public/private personas and professional/personal personas. Within each, we exhibit various personas depending on who we are with (close friends vs. acquaintances; current vs. prospective employers; personal friends vs. work colleagues, etc.). This doesn’t make us disingenuous…this is just one of the unique complexities that make us, well, human.
When you present yourself on a social media platform (or online employment network or marketplace), you lose the ability to modify or nuance what you communicate to each of your social contexts. It is like having a personal conversation over the loud speaker of a sold-out stadium. What is meant for a specific individual becomes broadcast to the entire world. Everybody sees what you’re doing. As a result, all spheres merge into a single sphere. Context collapses (read more here).
Facebook is currently experiencing the reality and the impact of context collapse in a big way. While they may not recognize it as such, Facebook members have become aware, weary, and wary of the consequences of the context collapse created by the Facebook business model. They are circumventing it by limiting/eliminating firsthand sharing and shifting to recycling secondhand content like memes, news stories, songs, etc., or by leaving the platform altogether. The nature of what is being shared is changing from personal to impersonal, informal to formal, and subjective to objective. But Facebook needs original sharing in order to identify and define precise target markets it can then sell to its advertisers. Mark Zuckerberg has realized that his original belief that everyone would eventually have only one identity was misguided. He has announced a new vision for the company (“Give people the power to build community [italics mine] and bring the world closer together”) and is launching tools to facilitate establishing, limiting access to, and maintaining the privacy of Facebook Groups, essentially one of several “context restoration” initiatives designed to reverse the user response to context collapse and the impact it has had on Facebook business results.
The power of community. As much as social media and the contingent workforce platforms offered by Human Cloud companies want to drive us towards having a single self that is presentable to the entire world (after all, that makes algorithms, programming, and matching much more efficient), the reality is that none of us has, or would ever be comfortable with, a single self. Nor should we. It is incredibly hard to capture the multiple dimensions of our work selves on a web site profile. So, what is the alternative? How can we create an environment that allows all participants to capitalize on the potential of the gig economy in a way that effectively and efficiently delivers professional and personal satisfaction, as well as business results? By creating and nurturing specialized Talent Communities.
Talent Communities are comprised of specialized, independent talent and structured for accessibility when needs arise. Tapping into formal Talent Communities facilitates and expedites sourcing, engaging, and deploying talent with a much greater probability of success for all involved. To find and match the right expertise, particularly for contingent work that is predominantly judgement based and requires a level of expertise and strategic perspective gained over a longer career span, requires a talent acquisition partner with a broad and deep talent community to draw upon, knowledge of the required technical skills, and ability to assess cultural fit.
While technology and algorithms can identify and match objective measures of skill, experience, tenure, etc., it cannot assess fit with company culture, personality, and style. That requires personal connection and understanding. Furthermore, developing a portfolio career that can span 50+ years (the “new normal”) requires individuals to continuously reinvent themselves, learn new skills, and remain inspired and engaged. In the Human Cloud model, this is left up to the individual. In the Community model, continuing education, collaboration, and new ideas are shared within the Community. In fact, creating a true talent community and the right expert journeys is paramount to attracting and retaining the best talent. It takes expertise to do this effectively while adding value to both the experts and companies who utilize them. Simply managing access to expertise or to contingent work opportunities is not enough.
To be truly effective for the client, talent communities must first be truly engaging and valuable to its members. This is created through training, collaboration, mentoring, insights, social events, and more, all in support of what motivates, rejuvenates, and supports the individual and collective journeys of the members. The Community model not only allows for the existence of multiple selves, it encourages, leverages, and celebrates it!
It’s one thing to have access to talent, but it’s another to configure, curate and organize it, with the right leadership and processes to bring it to life and customize it to a company’s needs in a way that fits strategically, operationally, and culturally. One of the biggest challenges of the gig economy is the disenfranchisement of talent. We see this happening when there is no connection between the hiring company, the provider of talent, and the talent themselves. You cannot replace the human connection when searching for the “just right” combination of skill, experience, wisdom, and gravitas you need to achieve your business objectives. Technology facilitates the process and allows for the mobility that gives companies greater options and individual contractors the flexibility and quality of life they need. But selecting the right talent is as much art as it is science.
About Mike Lewis: Mike is Chief Sales & Marketing Officer for YourEncore. He is passionate about connecting Life Science and Consumer Goods Clients with YourEncore Experts, bringing them the rich experience and technical know-how they need to address their business challenges via flexible resourcing and consulting engagements. He is an innovative sales and marketing leader who has successfully introduced new selling and marketing models that have transformed companies in the process. He is a thought leader in social selling and account based marketing and has leveraged both to grow company revenues and reputation.