Freelance, or contract, workers have long been a feature of the IT function, regardless of sector. Whether for a long-term infrastructure project, a part-time systems role or to help rapidly upscale an established team during a crunch period, the value of being able to draft in highly skilled employees has been well known for many years. It’s the same with a number of other functions, like marketing, and for certain sectors, such as journalism, film and hospitality, it’s both a way in and an option for those more established.
What’s interesting is that in more recent times it’s started to seep into other functions and sectors. In the UK, according to the ONS self-employment rose 22 per cent from 2008 to 2015 and currently accounts for 15 per cent of the UK workforce. This is often talked about as the rise of the gig-economy, surely one of the most used phrases of 2017. Quite often it’s in a negative context, associated with attempts to skirt basic employment rights such as holiday pay and national insurance contributions, but it covers a much broader cross-section of the workforce other than delivery drivers or retail staff on zero-hour contracts. It can also be applied to established professionals choosing to take on several projects or clients with a mix of timescales.
At the same time, established organisations are having to come to terms with the challenges of the digital era, including competing with digital-first market entrants and the ongoing issues of managing cost while operating more efficiently. For these employers, often operating with cumbersome legacy systems, the gig-economy offers a significant opportunity: as they strive to become agile, being able to quickly build experienced teams for immediate impact without breaking the bank is extremely attractive.
New ways of working require new ways of thinking
However, whilst it may be straight forward in theory, many established businesses overlook the complexity of bringing interim staff on at their peril. Legacy systems and onboarding processes, designed to support permanent and long-term employees, often struggle with the more fluid nature of freelance staff. From security access and right to work checks to corporate networks, health and safety and providing facilities, hiring contractors can be a minefield. If your usual onboarding process takes a few days and several employees, including the new staff member, it’s likely to significantly impact the productivity and effectiveness of a contractor on a six-week project.
One critical area to get right is pay. Using the above example, if new starters cannot be added to payroll until a new cycle starts, unlucky employees might have to wait six weeks to be paid. For contractors relying on timely payments, that could well be too long.
This might seem like an aberration, but a recent survey we conducted found that just over half (53 per cent) of UK IT decision makers in organisations of over 2000 employees believe their payroll can meet the challenges of paying gig-economy workers. This despite 76 per cent agreeing that changing staffing models require new approaches to payment.
Leashed by legacy
So what’s holding them back? The inflexibility of the aforementioned legacy systems, in the shape of systems not being able cope and the lack of automated processes were some of the barriers holding businesses back from making the changes they needed, along with a lack of resource to pay people more frequently.
This is a classic example of the friction we’re seeing as organisations go digital. The desire and intent might be there, but the supporting technology and management mindset isn’t. As highlighted above, the digital era is about agility and effectiveness, unencumbered by decisions made years before. For businesses that have been operating more than a handful of years, all the desire in the world to go digital will only get them so far – whilst embracing change from a cultural perspective is critical, having the technology infrastructure to effect that change is just as important.
A mature approach to new ways of working
For many, that could mean cloud. A bit like gig-economy, cloud computing was once a bit of a buzz word, with lots of hipsters and hype. As with any new technology, some of the hype was justified, while other parts have needed to mature. What we’re seeing now, however, is a wholesale move from hyperbole to practical application delivering tangible impact. In our survey, just six per cent didn’t have any mission critical applications hosted in the cloud.
What’s driving this early acceptance of cloud computing? The ability to solve the challenges of restricted resource, systems not coping and a lack of automated processes:
It’s clear that when it comes to cloud computing, the maturity not just of the technology, but of the supporting services and consultancy, is a major driver in its increasing acceptance. Of those that expected to move payroll to a cloud environment in the near future, 25 per cent said it was because cloud based services are now a proven technology, whilst 17 per cent said it was because their organisation was a progressive company and wanted to remain on the cutting edge.
A strong foundation to be more agile
As legacy enterprises strive to become agile and ward off the threats of more nimble competitors, being able to move fast and deliver results more quickly is critical. The right talent is crucial to that approach, yet as with everything, having the right foundation, or infrastructure, is critical. To be able to access the right skills and talent means tapping into new ways of working, for instance delivering mobility, ease of access or the opportunity to use non-corporate devices. These in turn require new approaches to onboarding and compensating talent, which in turn requires a more flexible system from which to operate. At the heart of these changes is an infrastructure which reflects the ways of working employers are striving to implement. By incorporating cloud computing into the management and location of mission critical apps, organisations across all industries can establish the foundation they need to become more agile.
Jerry Chilvers, Managing Director, Zalaris UK&I
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