Make way for the ‘pixelated workforce’

Companies such as Unilever are already working on ways to make the gig work model more flexible and secure


New terms are being added to the global employment vocabulary with each passing day. Just when we were getting used to ‘gig’ work and ‘hybrid’ model, along comes the ‘pixelated workforce’. The term is used by Josh Bersin, global industry analyst, who was quoted in a recent report.

Why did he use ‘pixelated’? Well, the term is self-explanatory. When an image or graphic design is broken down into pixels or components, it is called ‘pixelated’. In the same way, jobs within an organisation can also be divided into their fundamental components or smaller tasks. Each of these tasks can then be carried out by different people or groups of people. These people can be available internally within the organisation or may be hired externally to complete just those tasks. Once those tasks are completed, these people can be released. And that is where the ‘gig’ workers come in handy. They are available out there in big numbers. They possess the talent and skills that companies require. They do not wish to be tied down to any one organisation. Most importantly, this ecosystem of workers prefers engaging with businesses or clients on their own terms. They form what is referred to as the ‘open talent economy’, yet another term which is coming to be used widely.

It is a win-win for the gig workers as well as the businesses that engage them.

When work is broken down into its main components, that is, tasks and acitivities, organisations are able to find the best means of accomplishing each of those tasks and completing each of those activities. They may not necessarily rely only on contract workers or freelancers but may simply automate those tasks, if they happen to be repetitive or follow a fixed or standard process or system.

The report, aptly called ‘The Future of Work is Flexible’, reveals that most companies in the tech, retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) space, admit that sometimes up to 60 per cent of their workforce comprises contractual workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to various models of work such as work-from-home, hybrid and work-from-anywhere. Companies worldwide are trying to embrace the four-day work week and more flexible remote work models. The gig workers’ community is also expanding rapidly.

If more companies break down their projects, processes and work into tasks and activities, they will end up relying more on the ‘pixelated workforce’. The only challenge would be to come up with an efficient way to match the right skills with the right tasks / activities. Time to introduce yet another upcoming term, ‘fractional hiring’! As is evident, it is the practice of hiring people to work for just a part or fraction of the time that a normal employee works.

There are already firms in existence that help companies match gig workers with suitable opportunities in this ‘fractional’ space. While some of these projects may last a few weeks, others may last for a few months or even a year. Such firms are dedicated to providing businesses access to talent pools with skills / expertise in various domains including design, marketing and engineering. These firms can even put together small and big teams to suit the project needs of companies. Of course, technology plays a big role here. These companies rely on artificial intelligence to help constitute teams for specific projects, based on their skills, level of experience, and even ratings from previous clients and team members.

Unilever identifies workers that are a good fit for specific projects through its U-Work programme. The initiative is aimed at bringing fexibility and security to gig workers. Even workers who were once on the rolls, full time, but chose to move on to pursue their dream professions, can continue to be retained by Unilever on a monthly retainership. Such workers are paid the monthly retainer fee even for the month or months they do not work for Unilever. They are paid additionally for the assignments they do for Unilever as and when required. What’s more, these workers also enjoy other benefits such as pension. This gives them a sense of security and an opportunity to pursue their hobbies, along with the flexibility to pick up other dream assignments or jobs whenever they wish to.

This strategy ensures that the talent pool does not shrink for the company and remains associated for a longer period of time. It benefits the workers whose roles become redundant but who are skilled and confident enough to be part of the active workforce again. This kind of arrangement also allows employees to start their own businesses if they so wish, since they have the time and flexibility to do so. What a win-win!

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