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Solo Workers Plugging the Skills Gap

by maria

There have been a few unexpected world of work trends that have emerged in recent months, the impacts of which will prove a massive turning point in our thinking when it comes to work.

First, Covid-induced lockdowns accelerated the shift towards remote working, made possible by investments in cloud-based platforms that allow staff to work and collaborate with their teams and customers.

Another trend emerging has come like a wave. The first wave is telling us about the rise and rise of the ‘white collar’ gig economy. Remote work, furlough, redundancy, and the general sense of lacking control over one’s life have all sparked a new-found desire to work  for one’s self.

new survey report by Upwork of 6,001 people between June and July last year, found that 24% more people decided to enter the gig economy than in pre-Covid times. The top two occupations new solo workers entered into were computer engineering and business operations.

Another survey commissioned towards the end of 2020, found a significant increase in the hiring of contractor IT analysts, data engineers, IT/tech project managers, and marketing managers.

The ‘Great Resignation’ as a paradigm shift

The second wave is the ‘great resignation’ which has struck white collar industries across the globe. Burnout, overwork, pent-up desire to change roles, and dissatisfaction with how employers handled staff wellbeing are all likely contributors.

But, the great resignation isn’t just about leaving jobs, it’s’ a fundamental shift we’re seeing, that, like Covid lockdowns, will encourage more people to start their own businesses or join the ranks of the freelancers and contractors.

Although commentary and surveys are highlighting this shift of white collar workers into the contractor/solo worker world, it’s a trend that has been accelerated by Covid, not invented by it.

There are lots of examples to cite. Back in 2017, Jeff Wong, Global Chief Innovation Officer at EY recognised on-demand workers as a key part of EY’s strategy. In 2018, Google employed more contractor workers than in-house employees.

The issue was zoomed-in on by global management consultancy, McKinsey, in their Future of work Report in 2020. “Many firms across industries are competing for well-educated and digitally fluent professionals. While Europe has a number of well-known hotbeds of tech innovation, the higher associated costs and competition for hiring could lead some firms to opt for remote work or expand in less obvious regions.

“To acquire scarce talent, companies need to invest in recruiting and develop creative ways of identifying unconventional candidates. In some cases, firms may simply opt to make an acquisition to gain capabilities overnight. Others may engage freelancers and temporary contractors on a project basis,” says the McKinsey report.

Few companies want to downsize their talent in the way they’ve cut down on square feet of space. Employers who laid off skilled staff to help stay afloat during the downturn, now have a skills gap that needs to be filled as business operations resume.

Businesses are looking to less expensive and quicker route-to-work answers, by tapping into the rise of the remote, solo-worker white collar market and the new software platforms that make finding, starting, and managing jobs, contractors and admin faster and cheaper.

Businesses need tools 

And it’s not just the experience, skills, and creativity that need to be sought. Companies are repositioning their spending on tools and equipment to make it easy for employees to work from anywhere. In one survey, 65% of European IT decision-makers now have access to increased IT budgets this year, both to accommodate more widespread remote and hybrid working, and to support business continuity.  70% indicated cloud platforms as more valuable.

For businesses, it means managing hiring, invoice payments, expenses, document management, and communications on a bigger scale as more look to solo workers. Now, it’s all about clicking the mouse button and scrolling through easy-to-use platforms that operate on a flexible basis.

Covid has shifted and accelerated our world-of-world thinking and technology adoption. The challenge now is to make sure businesses have the people and tools to help it grow, and the mindset to anticipate what comes next in a post-pandemic world.

Author bio: 

Allan Martinson is the CEO of Xolo. He is a tech executive, entrepreneur and investor with a career spanning over 30 years.  Allan has been behind many successful tech and media companies, including Baltic news agency BNS, online media company Delfi, IT holding MicroLink, and venture capital company MTVP.  Prior to joining Xolo, he was COO of Starship Technologies, the self-driving delivery robots business. Allan has lived and built businesses in Estonia, across the Baltic states, US, UK, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia.


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