When most people think of the gig economy, it’s no surprise that services offered by companies like Uber and Lyft often are the first that come to mind. While these ridesharing juggernauts have brought ubiquity to the term “gig worker,” the gig economy – now encompassing almost every industry – first garnered attention in the U.S. during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The weakened economy forced droves of people to seek out temporary positions wherever, and whenever, they could find them. Since then, it has evolved into a viable full-time employment endeavor. 

What is the gig economy?

The gig economy reflects the part of the workforce made up by temporary, short-term, independent or contract-based employees. One of the main appeals of the gig economy is that workers are able to set their own schedule, creating a work-life balance on their own terms. 

It’s not just the convenience that’s made the gig economy such a popular choice. Gig economy jobs can pay well, too. According to the Gig Economy Index, close to 40 percent of gig workers earn more than $100,000 per year, and “it’s estimated that gig workers accounted for more than $1.4 trillion of total U.S. income in 2018.” The number of gig workers is only expected to grow. A recent Intuit report estimates 43 percent of U.S. workers will have a gig job by next year, up from the current stat of 34 percent.  

The gig economy does offer a number of benefits for businesses, namely quick, easy access to skilled workers – at least compared to the traditional hiring process. It’s easy to see how this could be a potential solution for relocation and expansion needs. 

While there are situations where hiring gig workers can be a smart alternative, there remains a strong need to continue investing in relocation for certain “non-gig” positions and employees. Moving forward, HR and relocation specialists must keep a few things in mind when determining if an employee needs to be relocated or if hiring a gig worker in another city will suffice. 

When to go the gig worker route

One of the biggest concerns around relocation is ensuring the assignment is successful. A failed relocation assignment can be incredibly costly – upwards of $76,000 after factoring in loss of productivity, the cost of the move and recruiting expenses. In some situations, hiring gig workers is a safer way for companies to ensure they won’t see such a hit to their bottom line.  

The positions best suited for gig workers are those with a short, relatively flat learning curve. These individuals should be able to demonstrate value and productivity as close to their first day on the job as possible. The more resources needed for onboarding, the more you should consider simply relocating existing staff.  

There’s also the question of quantity. Hiring dozens of people to staff a new location can take quite a bit of time. At least to get things up and running, gig workers can be a smart way to take the pressure off of HR, allowing them to focus on hiring and relocating the long-term staff who’ll be critical to the organization’s success. This also can be a good “testing ground” for those gig workers who could potentially transition into full-time staff. 

When to relocate existing staff

Not all positions can be commoditized for gig workers. Some require specific expertise and time to get up to speed. They’re also the ones where retention is key. These are the positions that need the right employee – not the “right-now” employee. In these cases, don’t forego the traditional hiring and relocation process

It’s also important to consider how the role will impact your organization’s culture. For many companies, staffing a position is more than just finding a candidate who has the right tactical skills – it’s about finding someone who fits your organization’s culture. This is why those routinely tapped for a relocation also are some of the most tenured employees. Not only do they understand the company’s values and culture, but they also embody it. These are the individuals who can drive top-down acceptance of how things should be done to achieve the goals your organization hopes to see. 

There’s little question that the gig economy is having an impact on how organizations hire – and in turn, relocate employees. The benefits of going the gig route certainly are there, so long as the circumstances make sense. It’s important you don’t underestimate the value of relocating the right individuals who’ll be critical to your long-term success and who can serve as a model for your organization’s values and culture.