[YS Learn] The pandemic has started a new hiring trend: gig workers for specialised skills. How can startups leverage this?

The remote working norms have opened several gig opportunities and roles for people with specific and specialised skill set. With this hiring trend, here's how can startups work to build a truly hybrid work environment.

Consider a scenario where you are the founder of a Series A funded startup. And you are looking for a product manager and a product designer. You need someone who can work effectively and efficiently, remotely, and also build a strategy. 

Since most of the interactions happen online, the interview processes are longer. But while the candidate you’ve selected is perfect for the role, they volunteer to look for part-time, contractual or freelance roles. 

The pandemic has removed geographical boundaries and constraints. “The mental block to find people from cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru have reduced drastically. People across India are being hired due to remote work,” explains Bhavik Rathod, Co-founder of the edtech startup Kyt

Remote work has not only opened opportunities that didn’t exist earlier, but has also increased the number of gigs for specialised roles. 

An HBR report explains that the number of platforms that offer on-demand access to a highly-skilled workforce increased significantly – from 80 in 2009 to 330 now. It also added that almost all of the Fortune 500 companies use these platforms to scout for a highly-skilled workforce.

Gigs for specialised roles 

“Over the past eight months there has been an open-minded approach by founders to hire 1) remotely 2) through a time-based approach, which means, try people and their work for a month or two before hiring them,” explains Alex Peter, Co-founder and CEO, The Quartile Company. 

The Quartile Company is a boutique HR and Recruitment Advisory firm operating in India, Southeast Asia, and Europe. They advise founders and VC firms in the areas of people, community, and culture. 

“As in the Valley, certain high impact roles like sales/marketing/business etc are slowly metamorphosing into time-bound (contract-based) or growth-based (eg x to 3x) or a path to fundraise (eg. raised A, help us take it to B). At The Quartile Company, we have had significant enquiries made by Directors/VP's/CxO's who are considering gigs,” says Alex. 

He says that multiple pieces of research suggest that the gig economy is projected to hit $400+ billion by 2023. But why are people opting for the gig model, and what can startups leverage? 

The pandemic has made it clear that smaller teams with a strong focus can achieve faster results. Laks Srini, Co-founder and CTO of the San Francisco-based real estate tech startup Zerodown, and Co-founder of the payroll software startup – Zenefits adds, “We are open to part-time contract work now and are looking for smaller teams. That can bring maximum impact.” 

Set the right expectations 

With the advent of the pandemic, time became the single most important factor over everything else. Gigs help enable and optimise time. 

“Full-time work offers constraints on what people can work on and can’t. And with the deeper focus on specialised skills, people with these talent pools are becoming more aware of what they want and how much time they actually want to work on a particular project,” says Bhavik. 

An increasing number of people in specialised functions like Product, Engineering etc are now swaying towards the gig economy because the boundaries and geographies that once limited this thought process don't exist anymore with work from anywhere/work from home models. 

Neha Indoria, Co-founder of Boingg!, adds that such models have also opened up opportunities for several people who possibly can’t leave their homes or can’t take on full-time employment for nine hours, but for a few hours in a day. 

But when you are hiring freelancers or contractors, the expectation setting for both in-house employees and gig roles needs to be very sharp and clear. “We set clear expectations of what is needed, and it works well for us,” says Neha. 

Bhavik adds that with remote working becoming the norm, defining roles has become the single-most-important factor in hiring both remote and full-time employees.

“Since everyone is working online, and remotely, you need to make sure the role of the individual, what they need to do, how they fit into the overall organisation, what parts they will be working on, all become supercritical,” he says. 

Focus on building a strong integration 

All the hiring processes – from searches, conducting interviews to onboarding – is now being done online and remotely. Explaining how that works, Anu Hariharan, Partner, YC Continuity Fund by Y-Combinator says, 

“It, therefore, becomes important to integrate people well online. If you have done that and seen it work, as a leader, you need to understand what functions work well remotely, and what functions do not. Some functions don’t work well remotely. You have to understand your team’s capabilities of how they work together. And then build a thesis of what functions can work remotely, through gigs and what cannot.” 

She added once that integration is clear, it becomes important for companies to specify and create hubs that help people communicate and deliver the work they have promised. 

“Put in a lot of thought and create a hiring plan on what roles and functions can be hired remote or part-time. You also need to be clear if you have specific time zones that you want them to work on,” explains Anu. 

Honesty and transparency

Bhavik adds it is now becoming increasingly important for people to deliver from day one, and more so in specialised roles. So the integration and having an extremely transparent flow becomes exceedingly important. 

You don’t have the luxury to be ambiguous. How you sync every role with one another, how does the gig work fall in the entire segment, what constitutes the vision, mission, and direction of the company needs to be extremely transparent. 

“Apart from what you expect them to do, you also need to be clear: why is it important not just for the gig worker, but also for your overall staff. You need to build trust with your employees and understand how the flow of information and data passes on,” adds Bhavik. 

Also, gigs have given people the freedom to work on different projects, from anywhere, which means they can pick and choose. 

“High demand work means more money. They make more money on a per month basis than a full-time employee. And in times when funds are limited for everyone, this kind of clarity, honesty, and openness becomes important,” adds Bhavik. 

Understand the legalities 

Though remote work and gigs are bridging the geographic boundaries that had restricted people, it also becomes important for founders to understand the legalities and the payment methods that may work for these gigs. 

“There is a YC company - Deel that helps support payment processing for international contract workforce. A company from New York may choose to hire someone from Brazil, as the time zones are similar, but this means you need to understand the labour laws and payment systems of Brazil as well. Deel helps in the onboarding, payroll and payment management of international hires. The laws of the land are different, and even the tax filings work differently,” says Anu. 

She adds this, in turn, has led to a slew of startups that have started up to support the hiring of remote workers, and help ease their onboarding process. 

While the number of gig roles and jobs are increasing, many believe it will not be a complete remote or a complete full-time workforce. What this trend has opened up is a hybrid model that gives companies, startups, and employees the flexibility that was earlier lacking. 

Edited by Kanishk Singh


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