Internal Experts
July 16, 2020

2020: Year of the Internal Gig Economy

One of the most hopeful and potentially game-changing ideas I’ve heard floating around business circles in the past few years is the “internal gig economy.”

The idea is pretty simple: As the world transitions to more and more “gig” type roles, the bureaucratic structure of job titles and responsibilities inside large organizations is becoming increasingly antiquated. In fact, the reality for many organizations is that their people already are working different ‘gigs’ internally: it’s more common than not for knowledge workers to be touching multiple projects at the same time.

But while the ‘gigs’ already are a de facto part of life for most team members today, the way these ‘gigs' are run is pretty haphazard. A lot of people have spilled ink and spoken from conference stages about internal gig economies and internal talent marketplaces — I’m especially interested in how NASA thinks about it. But amid all of the upheaval and new direction (and major market changes) of 2020, I haven’t heard as much as I’d expect about companies formalizing and really leveraging their internal gig economies this year.

Why not? This year seems like a very good time to understand employees’ talents and experience so that you can form specialized, cross-functional teams to work on the many unexpected projects and priorities that have popped up in 2020 — all without the hassle, paperwork, and expense of bringing in outside contractors.

You have strategic needs, you have talented people, so why aren’t we doing a better job matching the people to the projects and creating more connection at work?

As I work with HR and IT leaders on my mission to create more connected workplaces, I’ve seen a couple of common roadblocks that are keeping companies from fully embracing an internal talent marketplace.

Why Companies Aren’t Using Internal Talent Marketplaces

THE ROADBLOCK: We don’t know enough about the people in our organization. Let’s say I need to throw together a team to quickly develop a work from home program for my company. How do I find out who in my 10,000-person organization has experience creating podcasts? In most organizations, there is no way — there is no user-friendly database of employees’ skills and experience. I might be able to find people’s professional certifications (a list of people who have taken a test from a professional marketers’ association, maybe), but I don’t know what projects they’ve worked on or their side gigs or the lessons they’ve learned. Maybe I ask around, but if I reach a dead end, I’m going to jump ship and look outside the organization, where it’s easy to find people’s experience and skills on external talent marketplaces like Fiverr or LinkedIn.

THE SOLUTION: Think like LinkedIn, not like old-school HR. The very nerdy-sounding solution to this problem lies in taxonomy. In most traditional HR systems, our people data is clunky. The data reflects tests and official certifications that have been cross-checked by HR — not the on-the-job skills people are learning right now. If we rethink the taxonomy of those skills databases and let employees (or even their managers) self-report skills and experiences using a shared language, we’d have a much more useful way to identify talent and match them to projects where they can make an impact.

And if you’re thinking, “Self-report?! Never! How could we trust people to tell the truth?” then you have a bigger trust problem in your organization that bears examining.

Let people create a profile just like they would on LinkedIn. Let them tell their own story about their experience, skills, and what they’re interested in working on. As a side benefit, asking people what they’re good at and what they want to work on is a simple and immediately effective way to pump up employee engagement. What would a profile like that look like? Check out what our Sift Profiles do for employees.

THE ROADBLOCK: We’re creatures of habit. When we have a tough problem to solve and we need to assemble a new team, humans usually reach out to people they already know. Why would we open an unfamiliar app or search through profiles of coworkers we don’t know when we could just Slack our inner circle?

THE SOLUTION: Prove that the internal talent marketplace delivers BETTER outcomes. Just like humans are comfortable repeating familiar habits, we’re also smart — we want to get the best possible result. But since internal talent marketplaces are new (much newer than calling people we already know, which is an old-school impulse), we have to prove their worth. If you’re setting up an internal talent marketplace at your organization, test it out. Have you tried building a project team or finding a new internal contractor using the marketplace? How did it go? What did you learn? Share your results as a way to market the marketplace.