Does the Gig Economy Have an HR Department?

The gig economy, also called the “on-demand economy,” represents a growing sector of the job market where millions of people work as freelancers and independent contractors, hiring themselves and their skills out for income as clients need them.

Many workers love this lifestyle due to the freedom it offers, but one of the notable challenges is that these freelancers may not have access to a human resources department and, if they do, they probably don’t get to meet its representatives face to face.

Essentially, the gig economy has changed how some human resources departments operate and has subsequently shaped what freelancers do when they need job-related assistance.

A Huge Portion of the Workforce

Statistics from 2015 indicate there are 53 million people who worked as freelancers that year. Although those individuals earned 17 percent more on an hourly basis than full-time employees working in traditional settings, their overall career earnings were 28 percent less than their peers because they didn’t work as many hours.

The gig economy has the most workers in Los Angeles, but it’s growing most rapidly in Orlando. Plus, it’s expected the on-demand workforce will continue to prosper. Employers particularly like hiring workers to contribute to the gig economy because they can save significant amounts of money on payroll costs by doing so. But, what do on-demand workers do when they need help with something that would characteristically be handled by an HR department?

Mobile Technology Moves to the Forefront

Until recently, on-demand workers were often largely, or completely, on their own when it came to being assigned work, getting feedback and resolving problems. However, things are changing.

Forward-thinking companies have realized HR solutions for the gig economy are needed and will be most readily adopted if they’re offered via mobile platforms. HR professionals often manage their teams in very fluid ways, and they need to be able to monitor things from wherever they, or their teams, are.

Of course, certain tools are needed to make this process run smoothly, and many remote team have found services like VPNs and Cloud documents to be real lifesavers. As Ksenia Votinova, Technology Entrepreneur & Chief Marketing Officer at Le VPN, explains of the former:

“Connecting without a VPN means remote or traveling employees could be compromising their security and all their business communication, documents, access codes to online platforms, even the content of VOIP calls. Using a VPN resolves these issues.”

However, using mobile tech for gig workers extends further than just giving them secure ways to connect to workplace interfaces. When gig workers rarely or never see HR professionals, it can make them feel like there’s no recourse when problems arise, or even if they need clarification about something in the worker agreement they signed.

That’s why it’s important for companies to give gig workers ways to touch base with them as needed. Teleconferences conducted with headsets and tablets, smartphone messaging apps and project management interfaces are all things that could be used effectively to help HR professionals stay abreast of what’s going on with gig workers, when applicable.

Disputes in the On-Demand Economy

The gig economy offers a favorable way to work for people who love to get tasks done, often while doing things that are naturally part of their lifestyles, such as driving. Also, they go about their business without being under the constantly watchful eyes of their bosses. However, it can also become hectic if customers make complaints.

Companies like Lyft and Uber allow freelance workers to directly interact with clients who need transportation assistance. Although, when disputes arise, these workers are usually out of luck.

Uber has published a descriptive list of things that could cause drivers to get “deactivated,” meaning they can’t work. Although the company says drivers may get transportation privileges reinstated if they do things like attend training sessions, there’s not yet an appeals process in place.

Uber drivers, and similar service providers, are considered independent contractors. The companies that provide them with income don’t have to offer benefits, and they make the workers take care of their own taxes. HR departments are nonexistent for these freelancers. The only thing left for these workers to do when they have problems, then, is to file lawsuits against the respective businesses.

Things get even trickier because the laws determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee vary by state, and gig workers often don’t fit neatly into either category. Also, because most work becomes available through apps, many of the companies in the industry are considered “software technology companies.”

The legal framework for that sector is still being developed, because current labor laws don’t fit what gig workers do. Some workers may find a precedent has not yet been set, leaving them caught in a stressful legal limbo.

Access to a Worldwide Market

In the United States, nearly a third of workers complete on-demand tasks. Although this option isn’t yet as popular in the United Kingdom, it’s going through a period of similarly fast growth. There, the number of self-employed workers is nearly the same as amount of public sector employees.

Many of the top gig economy websites advertise how clients get nearly instant access to workers from around the globe. That’s good news for people who need specialized work done fast or at odd hours, but as should now be clear, these worldwide contributors often don’t have access to an HR department when they have questions or things go wrong. If they do, help may be a continent away.

Although it’s true many gig workers have the good fortune of earning income flexibly without ever running into problems, that’s not a very realistic expectation. After all, gig workers often interact with dozens of customers daily. A gig worker’s earnings could be compromised by poor feedback or even disputes about things that never actually occurred. When these things happen in traditional workforces, people can usually go to their HR representatives, but for gig workers, an HR department is often unavailable. Hopefully HR resources offered by companies or independent HR firms can fill the gap for workers as the gig economy continues to grow.

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