Gigification: Outsourcing communication tasks to drive productivity
Gigification is one out of five key trends for corporate communications in 2022 that was identified by the Communications Trend Radar. Gigification – that’s the division of projects or large tasks into small, independent jobs (gigs) that are mediated through digital platforms (gig economy). Corporate communications can outsource various tasks as gigs to drive productivity, for example creative tasks, text layout, presentation design, software development and many more. Gigification can also help to employ highly qualified digital nomads who prefer to work on gigs.
The growth of the gig economy
The idea for gigification (structuring work into small, easy-to-complete tasks) was born out of necessity during the financial crisis in 2009. Back then, the first gig platforms like Uber emerged and were instantly successful. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the growth of the gig economy. As people had to stay home, new online gig platforms have mushroomed – e.g. delivery services such as Delivery Hero (food) or Task Rabbit (labor activities). They all have in common a central online platform – a marketplace – where small jobs are offered by independent contractors who perform these gigs.
It’s not just gigs for unskilled workers that are booming. According to a McKinsey study, creative professions and knowledge-intensive sectors are the fastest-growing parts of the gig economy (Manyika et al., 2016). These include, for example, gigs offered by independent engineers, consultants, management executives, data analysts, translators, or communications experts.
Gigification – a promising concept for corporate communications
“Gigification is definitely well worth considering for communications departments. We see industries with similar complex processes that have already transformed themselves, for example publishing houses.“ (Prof. Ansgar Zerfass, Leipzig University)
Even though the gigification of knowledge work is still in its infancy, communication leaders should keep an eye on this trend. Three positive aspects are worth highlighting:
- More flexibility: One of the biggest advantages of gigification is the flexibility it allows – not only for gig workers, but also for communication departments. Gig workers can provide a short-term solution to bottlenecks (e.g. when colleagues are on vacation or sick). A gig can be purchased and carried out much faster than an agency can be briefed. The large selection of providers on the platforms is also an advantage. Teams aren’t dependent on one translator, for example, but can draw flexibly from a large pool of providers.
- Lower transaction cost: Another advantage are lower transaction costs. Instead of searching for alternative providers, checking their quality through references and pitches, making contact, and coordinating them, communication managers can do all that on a gig platform. Ideally, this saves costs and a lot of time. If you understand the gig economy, it allows you to get projects off the ground at short notice and react flexibly if necessary.
- Attracting experts and talents: Home office and remote working arrangements have become more popular than ever, with flexibility and autonomy being a new priority for many workers. One group of people is already living this autonomy: digital nomads. They travel around the world and work from wherever they like. This is particularly popular among young, technology-savvy creatives. The gig economy helps to meet the demands for new work models and thus attract previously unattainable talent.
Recommendations for communication leaders and professionals
There are hardly any best practices for communication management so far. Thus, communication managers should think about use cases of gigification and identify possible application scenarios for their own department. These could be tested in pilot projects. Three basic scenarios have been proposed by the research team:
- Purchasing services on gig platforms: Gigs for editing photographs, creating illustrations, or translating interviews: Communicators can test how the services compare with traditional service providers and inhouse production in terms of quality or time.
- Designing your own platform for gig workers: If companies don’t want to use existing platforms, they could also create their own, tailored solution and offer tasks for which gig workers can then apply for. Creative or programming competitions as well as co-creation among gig workers can also be realized this way.
- Organizing tasks internally as gigs: A gig platform can also be used internally. For example, individual, non-specialized tasks could be posted on an internal team platform and employees in the communications department can then decide, like gig workers, which tasks to take on as well as when and where to complete them. There is much potential here, especially in agile set-ups and among employees who place great value on flexibility.
Be aware of criticism! Although there are many opportunities and advantages on both sides, the downsides of the gig economy must not be forgotten. Gig workers lack pension entitlements, enjoy less job security, and are not part of the team. These disadvantages can quickly become a risk for the company as the gig economy is often publicly criticized for its insecure working conditions (Stewart & Stanford, 2017).
About the study
For the second time the Academic Society for Management & Communication presented the Communications Trend Radar – an interdisciplinary and scientific study on the most important trends that will influence communication management in the near future.
The study analyzes changes in the areas of society, management, and technology. For 2022, the research teams proposes the trends Language Awareness, Closed Communication, Gigification, Synthetic Media, and Cybersecurity.
These trends were selected and scored on a scientifically sound basis, developed by a research team at Leipzig University and the University of Potsdam (led by Professors Stefan Stieglitz from Business Information Systems, and Ansgar Zerfass from Communication Management). More than 100 sources from research and practice were included. Selected aspects will be further researched in in-depth projects. The study aims to support communication managers in setting the course and guide decisions.