Karo Kilfeather | 07.18.17
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Picture this. A field service engineer wakes up early on a Tuesday. He brushes his teeth, and puts in his augmented reality contact lenses. On the left side of his vision, he can see his personal emails. On the right, he sees a long list of work requests, bids, and notifications from the day’s potential employers.

Will he blink twice to accept the repair job an hour away? Or keep scrolling to find a gig with a more convenient commute? He’s got a five-star rating on the TechsOnDemand app after all. There’s bound to be a job closer to home.

While this world of on-demand, highly empowered field technicians may sound like fantasy, it’s truly not far off. So what exactly is the gig economy? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines it in the following manner.

The Gig Economy Defined

“Gig workers are spread among diverse occupation groups and are not easily identified in surveys of employment and earnings. But they are similar in the way they earn money.

These workers often get individual gigs using a website or mobile app that helps to match them with customers. Some gigs may be very brief, such as answering a 5-minute survey. Others are much longer but still of limited duration, such as an 18-month database management project. When one gig is over, workers who earn a steady income this way must find another. And sometimes, that means juggling multiple jobs at once.”

In field service, the gig economy is taking hold, and fast. In fact, just last year Michael Blumberg conducted a study, KPIs for The Blended Workforce In the Gig Economy, in which his consultancy found that nearly 70% of field service organizations used a freelancer management system of some kind for staffing purposes. Other reports have pointed to the same trend: field service is soon to be dominated by freelance technicians and engineers.

With the field service talent shortage we are all facing, making the most of the gig economy will be key to the success or failure of nearly all service-oriented organizations.

But all future-tech predictions aside, here are five ways field service organizations can survive, and thrive in the gig economy.

1. First Things First: Get Familiar with Freelance Management Tools

While you likely won’t completely abandon traditional methods of hiring and retaining talent, participating in the gig economy requires new methods of finding and managing part-time, freelance, and remote workers. While there are platforms specifically dedicated to the management of freelance talent, others can be used to manage both your full-time and freelance staff.

But finding workers with niche skills unique to your organization will require being highly selective with the online platforms you leverage. There are dozens of online networks including SimplyHired, Upwork, Flexjobs, Indeed, or even LinkedIn where you can find and vet top talent. Do some research to find out whether the skills you’re after are reflected on these sites before posting jobs. Otherwise, you’ll get flooded with meaningless resumes and non-specific talent.

2. Tap Freelance Talent for Geographic Expansion

Maybe you’re expanding into a new market, or perhaps it’s costing you thousands of extra dollars to send techs to hard-to-reach service areas. Tapping freelance talent can solve both problems. By using geographic targeting available in the tools listed above, you can narrow your freelance search to the target areas you are expanding, or trying to provide service to.

Consider conducting remote training sessions via video to ensure new talent reflect your organization in a professional and personable manner. If you have unique equipment training needs, consider bringing your entire freelance network to headquarters for a training on an annual basis. This will improve the likelihood that your on-demand workforce feels like they are as valuable to the organization, as full time field engineers.

3. Scale Up & Down Faster with Freelancers

Whether you are running an HVAC installation business, tree trimming service, or oil rig service operation, the needs of your service business can change drastically on a seasonal, quarterly, or annual basis. Lay the groundwork for scaling your business up or down by vetting a handful of online talent communities, and “testing the water” with freelance resources. If you’re forced to hire thousands of new freelancers in an attempt to keep up with a major market shift, you’ll want to have the kinks worked out.

In the recent ClickSoftware Uberization of Service report, just 3% of service suppliers reported, “response times” or, “optimizing service delivery” as highly important in an open-ended question. On the flip side, the majority service consumers (60%) cite faster service as a top priority.

This means using freelancers to scale up, and speed up service is one of the most strategic differentiators available to organizations today.

4. Meet Unique Customer or Technical Demand with Freelancers

Field service technology is changing at light speed. The Internet of Things, augmented reality, and even virtual technology are set to disrupt nearly every area of consumer technology, and likewise change manufacturing, infrastructure, and maintenance industries. In a few short years, homes and factories will be controlled via Wi-Fi and smart devices. Where will we turn, when we must service these new technologies? The very millennials we so frequently fail to draw into full-time service careers.

There’s a huge demand on the horizon for tapping talent that can service new technologies and equipment. Getting ahead in the freelance game today is how organizations can prepare for the new technologies of tomorrow.

5. Most Important of All: Increase Profits

Whether supplementing staff, scaling to meet new market demands, or hiring freelance talent to service hard-to-reach areas, remaining efficient with talent management is essential to the profitability of field service operations. The gig economy is not so much an “if” situation, rather it’s a “when” situation.

According to Intuit, the gig economy now makes up 34% of the US labor workforce. With new tools, devices, and skills, imagine how many thousands more will choose to work remotely as a part of this budding freelance economy in the coming years.

The service organizations that survive will be those that have a keen understanding of the gig economy, and how to use it to their advantage. Get in today and you’ll be spared the pain of being forced in tomorrow.

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