With the rise of the gig economy the employee experience is undergoing radical change. Eventually many employees won’t be employees at all, but digitally enabled third party contributors who work flexibly and at their own convenience, rarely coming into the place of work. 

Similar working patterns are displayed among geographically spread or shift-based organisations, such as the NHS, where staff may never or very infrequently come into contact with colleagues.

Without the traditional company hierarchy, organisations will need to work harder to attract and retain talent. Keeping employees happy and engaged will therefore be more important than ever. But with people working to their own schedules, often remotely and outside of the sight of management and other colleagues, this will be extremely challenging.

The consequences for HR teams are significant. Below are three key areas they should focus on.  

1. Create a strong, genuine employer brand
With the balance of power shifting to favour the employee, the challenge starts at the recruitment phase. Companies must create a strong employer brand that attracts potential workers to its organisation and ensures they stay. This applies equally to full-time staff and freelance members of the gig economy, who have a wide choice of companies they can work for.

This is about creating a ‘face’ for the company, including its values and working style as an employer. Of course this public face should be based on reality – meaning you attract employees whose values are aligned to the organisation and who are a ‘good fit’ and will be inclined to stay rather than look for jobs or gigs elsewhere. The employer brand has to be honestly communicated both in the traditional and online media and social channels, as well as throughout the interview and recruitment process – and of course in day-to-day HR and management policy and decisions.  

2.  Switch to always-on employee feedback collection
With a distributed workforce made up of individuals all working independently, the traditional approach to tracking employee engagement – an annual survey – will no longer cut it. We will need a more flexible, always-on approach to feedback that allows workers to express their views whenever it is convenient for them, using the devices and online channels they favour. 

Rather than sticking to a narrow list of questions that are typical of the rigid annual survey, workers should be given the freedom to discuss whatever is important to them and to do it in the moment when it is most meaningful to do so. This benefits retention by providing an early view of issues and challenges that staff might be facing – using an annual survey simply takes too long for problems to be uncovered. On top of this the freedom that always-on feedback can provide for employees to express themselves helps unlock insights and ideas that can be used to improve organisational effectiveness. This is especially true of third party, independent contractors who will have a wide range of experiences that they can share – if it is made easy and quick for them to do so.

3. Give staff a platform for ideation and innovation
With workers managing their own schedules or shifts and working autonomously, trying to create a shared work experience and culture will also be essential but extremely challenging. Part of the answer is to create a platform for ideation and innovation where people can share ideas, experiences and contribute solutions to work related challenges, from wherever they are, through their smartphones and other devices. 

A platform such as this should allow workers to ask for specific feedback on issues they are trying to tackle or search case studies of others who have solved similar problems. The rise of social media, review sites and chat forums means people are becoming accustomed to sharing their experiences and providing support to each other in this way.

In fact if this kind of platform isn’t provided by the organisation, there’s always the risk that workers will create group discussions on a public forum such as a Facebook or LinkedIn group. If this happens the organisation won’t be able to hear what they are saying – it will miss out on valuable insights. And it will be unable to ensure all those ideas are captured and turned into productive long term assets that can benefit the workforce.

The rise of the gig economy and organisations that rely on a distributed workforce of individuals is transforming the employee experience. These shifts in working models mean HR will need to find new ways to attract and retain talent, to understand and manage employees, and to a create a shared positive engaged workforce.