HR Leads Business

Dec 5, 2018 | Geoff Whiting

The Future of L&D Strategy in the Gig Economy

The gig workforce of the future will call you a client, not the boss, fundamentally changing the way your company operates and how you onboard and train team members.

More than one-third of workers in the U.S. are taking part in the gig economy, according to a Gallup poll. These freelancers have high levels of autonomy and may work on multiple projects for multiple clients simultaneously. About 34 million of these workers say it is their preferred way to work.

These contractors won’t be your workers, but their skills will be required for your success, which means you have an interest in developing their skills. At the same time, any training these workers receive could obviously be put to use for other businesses. That creates a new give-and-take for teaching a contractor to be successful without damaging your company’s own competitive edge.

Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to succeed.

Train Your Team to Work with Freelancers

Before you address what you need to teach the freelancers, first you need to make sure your staff members are trained on how to manage them. While a freelancer may “feel” like an employee, especially if you become reliant on them, they have ample chances to stop working with you and end their contract. This limits your control over the benefits that you get out of them and their training. Start L&D efforts by discussing this reality with existing staff.

Companies should help employees temper their expectations, as freelancers are unlikely to walk in with enough institutional knowledge to perform 100 percent of work on their own with stellar outcomes.

“There should be a subtle shift when considering learning and development for gig or contract workers,” says Kyle Brost, founder of the organizational development consultancy, the Choice Strategy Group, and author of books on improving the effectiveness of outsourced workers. “Most gig work is going to be fairly ad-hoc or one-off. In this case, the learning emphasis should be on how the organization works with freelancers, rather than on how the freelancer is learning. By focusing your learning on the front-end work of how you engage with freelancers, you can minimize the risk involved in doing so and improve the success rate on future projects.”

Teach Freelancers to Work with Your Team

Contract workers most often need to learn about your company, not about their industry. Typically they have solid expertise in their field and you’ll only need to work with them on the part that’s new to them: how things work at your business.

For most companies and freelancers themselves, “there isn’t the appetite or time for traditional L&D,” says Bryant Galindo, co-founder and CEO of CollabsHQ.

Connecting freelance workers to your organization’s purpose and strategy can help ensure they provide their best work and a fresh perspective. Focusing your training on familiarizing them with company values, workflows and practices will help them become fully integrated with the organization’s strategy.

The company will get the most benefit from contract workers when it prioritizes training in areas where contractors need to be connected to the organization’s purpose and strategy, says De Stobbeleir. “While for some functions, the gig worker’s independence and fresh perspective may be an advantage, there are also functions where the gig worker needs to be fully integrated and absorbed within the organization’s strategy.”

Keep Training Enjoyable

As is the case for your regular staff, training needs to be enjoyable and provide tangible benefits for it to stick with contract workers.

One option to keep things fun is gamification, which has been touted as a way to significantly boost employees’ abilities to learn new skills.

“For our 30 contract workers, the best training strategy was implementing gamification,” says Cristian Rennella, CEO and co-founder of “Thanks to the gamification of education, we were able to improve our contract workers’ productivity by 14.6 percent. We believe that the main reason it worked better than other options is that the game format resonated with younger freelance workers.”

Play the Long Game

Independent workers need to learn to stay resilient and relevant to employers. While their development rests on their own shoulders, it’s also in the best interests of their client companies to have access to talented, independent workers. This requires an internal shift for many companies.

“The biggest change in company mindset is that independent workers are no longer just suppliers that you can flexibly hire and fire whenever you like,” says De Stobbeleir. “Independent workers usually have high levels of scarce expertise and given the fierce war for talent, companies may need to work just as hard to retain independent workers as they need to work to retain their top talent employees.”