In a time of acute shortages of tech talent, chief information officers (CIOs) are tapping into the gig economy, using freelance and contract IT workers to help meet their staffing needs.
First and foremost, CIOs should investigate the pros and cons of hiring gig workers as they begin to formulate plans to leverage these workers to tackle the tech worker shortage.
While there are differences between companies and industries, some key elements are common across them all – and understanding and addressing these commonalities will provide CIOs and their organizations with the tools to design, implement and monitor the plan.
For example, when considering the pros, the key benefits of using gig workers are flexibility, workforce optimization capabilities and access to a very specific sets of skills.
On the other hand, the constraints of using gig workers often comes from the cost and the knowledge side.
“The risk of knowledge loss needs to be addressed to minimize it, but other hidden costs like transition costs, additional fees and management costs must also be monitored,” explained Bizagi CIO Antonio Vázquez. “Last but not least, CIOs must understand how to keep their existing talent engaged in this working environment, ensuring both gig workers and full-time employees are collaborating and working together effectively.”
He pointed out CIOs will need to work closely with chief human resources officers (CHROs), as the primary stakeholders, to formulate IT gig worker strategies.
“CIOs and CHROs should work in tandem to measure goals and ensure that consistent processes are defined across the organization,” he said.
This includes establishing a set of standard KPIs that can be used to control costs and performance for gig workers, identifying skill sets that can be commonly reused, drawing up knowledge transfer plans, onboarding and offboarding processes, and defining employee engagement plans to retain internal talent through development or succession plans.
Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid, explained CIOs should approach the rise in IT freelancers as a “borrow strategy”, as part of a holistic talent recruitment strategy.
She said that by employing a temporary workforce model, IT departments can bring needed or specialized skills for the short term or specific projects, filling in functional or talent gaps, in addition to their permanent employees.
Lahav noted a crucial part of any plan involving gig workers is to have a strong IT service management platform (ITSM) and automation capabilities.
“This foundation can streamline the onboarding processes of freelancers quickly and efficiently without taking too much time away from permanent employees,” she said. “A good ITSM platform will minimize the work that freelancers will essentially have to do, a cost-effective benefit for the organization in the long run.”
With newly freed-up bandwidth, permanent IT workers can redirect their time to learning new skills or emerging technologies within the industry, such as service automation or self-service platforms.
“I believe the pandemic and the overall shift to flexible work has changed everything,” Vázquez said. “The use of freelance workers is not something new, but the way flexible work has facilitated the change is – and it’s huge. Tech workers can now become gig workers very easily.”
He added that the ease of collaboration and teamwork today is miles away from where it was even a few years ago – both technically and mentally.
Additionally, Vázquez noted companies don’t need to worry about bringing gig workers to the office, doing paperwork, or coordinating travel and housing; and that means reducing time and costs.
“Hiring is absolutely a challenge and that’s led to a shift in our approach,” said Alastair Pooley, CIO of Snow Software.
Pooley said the company has added the remote option for several roles which has extended where they hire, but that hasn’t solved all the challenges with hiring, rather it just widened their talent pool.
Secondly, he said Snow is working with independent organizations on specific projects to overcome resource constraints.
“For example, with our data strategy we found an ex-CDO who worked with us to document and improve our enterprise data strategy,” Pooley explained. “We wouldn’t have been able to hire someone full-time with this level of expertise, but having access to an expert allowed us to move a complicated project forward and make immediate impact on the organization.”
He added leveraging outside resources for their projects is a short-term solution.
“Ideally, we want to build these capabilities in house, but the talent market is tight,” he said.
Vázquez said the digital transformation journey all organizations are immersed in is evolving into a global fight for talent and noted most companies don’t have the capability to fulfill their complex needs in terms of skills required for that transformation journey.
“Gig workers give companies the chance to access those very specialized, rare and expensive skills in a much easier way,” he said. “Even new trends like the expansion of low-code and citizen developers can benefit from gig IT workers by bringing in skills that bridge business users and traditional IT.”
Lahav said when a company is scaling and/or undergoing digital transformation, freelancers and gig workers can be very helpful for overcoming short-term heavy workloads including onboarding existing IT teams and end-users when adopting new technologies and services.
Additionally, organizations should take advantage of the skills and knowledge that are unique to outsourced talent.
“Freelancers can often provide a fresh perspective on existing practices and recommend innovative technologies and platforms that they were exposed to throughout their work history which could benefit the organization in its digital transformation,” she said.