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Leadership In The Age Of Gig Economy

It’s no longer possible to be a reluctant leader

The gig economy is taking over the world and reshaping our work lives. The employment landscape is changing, and traditional job roles are slowly dying out.

As companies are increasingly turning to private contractors and outsourcing tasks, they are losing the familiar structures and deviating from the norm. Apart from in-house employees, organizational leaders now have to factor independent contractors into the workflow.

The gig economy has influenced a more project-based approach in many organizations, and leaders need to adapt to this more flexible work ecosystem. 

A new leadership style is emerging from this shift.

The Rise and Reign of Gig Economy in Asia

The rise in the number of freelancers and self-employed people is noticeable around the globe, and Southeast Asia is certainly the frontrunner in the trend.

One of the reasons for this change is a high demand for gig services, and the Asian workforce is extremely cost-effective for companies in the West. By hiring independent contractors from the ASEAN region, some businesses can save up to 400%.

It has become quite the norm to seek the services of skilled freelancers based in the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, and other countries. However, it’s not only westerners who nurture this trend. Business organizations based in Asia also outsource to gig workers in great numbers.

While freelancing was once only for the brave or those who had no other options, it’s now become one of the most desirable employment options out there. It can have many benefits for the self-employed, such as flexibility, independence, and control of workload.

What’s more, since some countries’ populations are now predominantly self-employed, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others, governments are introducing legal frameworks that seek to protect independent workers under employment law. Some examples include the Self-Employment Social Security Act in Malaysia and National Digital Careers Act in the Philippines.

With a steady rise in demand and support from local governments, it seems the gig economy is here to stay. Meanwhile, this market system is changing the very fabric of the global business world, and companies need to adapt fast.

How Gig Economy Is Challenging Old Systems

The gig economy has a major impact on the corporate workplace, posing many challenges to those in charge. A company workforce no longer consists entirely of full-time in-house employees with clearly defined roles. A business is now much more fluid and open to collaboration with external parties.

Some organizations are structured around a tight core of in-house team members with contract workers dealing with peripheral, non-essential tasks. However, others are almost completely decentralized with independent contractors being the essential, customer-facing part of the company.

In other words, businesses used to be solid units and mostly closed systems, whereas now, they are rather like ecosystems reliant on partners, suppliers, temporary contractors, and other outside parties. There is no clear-cut hierarchy to speak of, and rigidity in the employment scheme is often punished with premature failure.

What’s more, even permanent employees are experiencing increased flexibility in the workplace. Less and less of them have to work fixed schedules, and remote work, especially since the start of the pandemic, is often encouraged.

While these changes are mostly good news for workers, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to retain the sense of corporate identity and culture. Leaders have the challenging task of uniting all the involved parties, enabling collaboration, and inspiring motivation to work toward achieving the common goal, i.e., the company’s vision.

A New Kind of Leadership

Being a leader is now more difficult than ever as business operating models are not straightforward anymore. Long gone are the days of autocratic leadership; leaders are now much more like mediators, who need to facilitate the company’s internal and external relations, e.g., between customers and customer-facing contractors.

They need to be smart enough to know where to set the organizational boundaries and open-minded enough to know if and when to allow for more fluidity in them. They need to know when to introduce gig workers and the extent to which they need to integrate them into the company culture.

They need to find ways to successfully incorporate independent workers into the collective company efforts. Temporary workers are often seen as disposable, but there’s no room for such an attitude in the gig economy leadership. A “disposable worker” won’t be motivated to strive for the organization’s goals, which can be extremely damaging for the organization, especially if contractors cater to customers directly.

A great leader needs to know how to make even temporary workers feel like part of the team and value them as much as their in-house employees. They also need to ensure there’s a functional operational model that allows these workers to fit seamlessly into the company’s system.

Moreover, a “dispersed workplace” is another chasm to cross. With so many people involved who don’t work from the same physical space, the leader needs to find a way to keep everyone connected through efficient tailor-made processes and using the right technology.

How to Become a Better Leader in the Age of Gig Economy

It’s no longer possible to be a reluctant leader. Leadership positions need to be filled with highly involved and motivated individuals who understand that they need to keep learning and adapting. Since the workplace is no longer rigidly segmented, flexibility and openness coupled with integrity are now top traits of a leader.

Traditionally, managerial positions used to be filled by people with the best technical know-how, but now, managers need to adopt a host of soft skills. They need to be expert communicators above all, with superb interpersonal skills. They need to be fierce decision-makers, who are not afraid of introducing major changes. Open-mindedness and adaptability are other desirable features.

It’s highly likely that improving overall leadership abilities through coaching will become the norm. Hiring experienced leadership coaches to work with managerial teams can prove to be extremely beneficial (and is yet another instance of involving external contractors).

After all, leadership roles, just like any other job, require training and constant learning, especially in the age of the gig economy.

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Written By

I’m Rebecca, a translator, avid traveler, and bookworm. My job has given me the amazing opportunity to travel to dozens of countries around the world, and writing on Rough Draft gives me a chance to try to showcase some of them. Follow her on website and Twitter.

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