The popularity of gig work has been rising year on year, but the global pandemic and widespread job losses that followed have thrown it further into the spotlight. 

The attractions of gig work – flexible working arrangements and less commitment – mean that many have pivoted to ‘gigs’ while seeking more permanent employment. This pivot has also been partly motivated by increased demand for certain services, like on-demand delivery.

While it was initially viewed as a stopgap measure, the rise of gig work is changing long-term sentiments towards employment. According to ADP’s People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View survey, 45 per cent of Singaporean workers indicated increased interest in contract or gig work in light of COVID-19. On their reasons for increased interest, a third (31 per cent) of workers highlighted concerns about the job security offered by traditional employment as compared to gig work or freelancing.

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A ‘permanent’ contract is no longer a guarantee of the safety and stability it was once was, which is helping the gig economy to establish a stronger foothold in today’s business landscape. There is a growing feeling amongst workers that full-time employment positions are at as much risk of disruption.

Employment as we know it is evolving, along with the workforce’s priorities and needs. Business leaders must consider how new expectations of work will redefine the traditional employer-employee relationship, along with operational issues of payment, benefits and compliance. 

Widening the talent pool

Companies are prone to having a transactional relationship with freelancers – a temporary short-term solution to an immediate gap. Career progression or development opportunities are rarely discussed.

However, assuming freelancers lack loyalty, or are unlikely to contribute their best work to the company, can create blind spots in talent retention. Instead, treating freelancers like prospective hires could open up new possibilities for growing one’s workforce.

More than half (56%) of Singaporean gig workers surveyed by ADP indicated their preference to be full-time employees, given the choice. This echoes the Ministry of Manpower’s Labour Force in Singapore 2020 report, which found a year-on-year increase of more than 15,000 own-account workers who were unable to find full-time employment. As much as gig work is increasing in popularity, it is also a growing possibility for freelancers to want to make the shift to a full-time role.

Freelance workers can be as valuable as company employees in providing new perspectives and fresh thinking. Furthermore, converting these workers to full-time staff comes with the added benefit of having already observed and worked with them for some time, allowing a smoother onboarding process.

From a freelancer’s perspective, receiving the same mentoring, resources and support as their full-time colleagues can be a pull factor to stay permanently. Being valued in the same way as permanent employees lets them know that they have similar growth prospects, allowing them to see a future with the company. It also boosts engagement and productivity during their time there, regardless of whether they choose to stay on after their terms of service are completed. 

Finding the right fit 

By analysing workplace dynamics, HR can help with identifying which freelancers would be the best additions to the company. This could be based on their performance indicators, how well they fit with company culture, and their willingness to take on a full-time position.

To gain these critical insights, employers must lean on data analytics and cloud technology, which are all the more imperative due to reduced personal interactions during WFH. Some of the most valuable employee feedback now derives from digital platforms, as workers may feel more comfortable and confident to express their true opinions on their managers and teams. 

With better visibility and a wider range of views into their workforce, employers can strategise effectively for better talent attraction and retention – and potentially unlock great candidates in their freelancer workforce.

Levelling the playing field

While the gig economy is thriving, it has also been subject to scrutiny regarding worker protection. Many business models, such as private-hire ride-hailing and delivery apps, run on a ‘supply’ of self-employed workers who depend on public demand for their services to generate income. Meanwhile, businesses profit from charging platform and commission fees, without needing to contribute insurance or other benefits.

Without a binding contract, such workers are at risk of being treated like interchangeable resources, with grey areas and less protection for their rights. This makes them vulnerable to health and economic risks in the long run. 

In response, representatives in the labour movement and Singapore’s governing authorities have ramped up efforts to provide better institutional support for self-employed workers. Most recently, the newly formed Advisory Committee on Platform Workers – which counts government representatives among its members – has stated that legislative changes may be part of their recommendations to ensure a more balanced relationship between gig workers and their companies. This includes financial planning for retirement, as companies currently do not contribute to gig workers’ CPF savings under Singapore’s mandatory social security savings scheme.

This is a positive step towards ensuring greater equity but also has several implications on business growth and operations.

Navigating new regulations

Should new legislation be formalised to ensure gig workers receive more of the same entitlements as full-fledged employees, many business models will be put to the test.

Various relief schemes have offset gig workers’ insurance and healthcare costs up till now. For example, self-employed persons contribute around 8 to 10.5% of their earnings to healthcare savings under MediSave, and the government will match these contributions till the end of 2021.  

These costs may eventually be directed to employers themselves, necessitating overhauled payment structures and worker entitlements. Legislating more benefits for gig workers would require more two-way communication between gig platforms and their workers, as platforms begin to compete not only on monetary incentives but on worker welfare as well. 

Gathering feedback and executing new standard operating procedures for a large, fragmented pool of workers is no mean feat. In such cases, implementing agile systems will be paramount to keeping businesses one step ahead. Automation can help with gathering worker data from several touchpoints, which can then be condensed into insights for further action.

Future-focused strategies

With new employment options come new considerations on how to recruit and retain talent. To stay future-proof, businesses must constantly review how they can stay attractive as an employer.

Whether businesses can thrive in this new gig economy will depend on how well they react to legislative changes. This entails ensuring compliance while also turning it into a competitive advantage. A dynamic, data-driven payroll and HR platform will buffer against a shifting regulatory landscape, allowing leaders to focus on strategic planning for the future. 

This article was contributed by Yvonne Teo, Vice President, HR, APAC at ADP

About the author

ADP Yvonne Teo

Yvonne Teo has over 20 years of HR leadership experience with large global companies in the technology, manufacturing, automotive and healthcare sectors.

Her previous role as the Vice President, Human Resources APAC was with the global IT data centre and telecommunications provider, VERTIV. Throughout her career, Yvonne has been accountable for a significant number of change management and technology adoption projects.