HR can thrive in the gig economy

I was made redundant from my role as HR manager earlier this year, but, rather than dwell on it, I decided to use my redundancy as an opportunity to set up my own business.

After more than 10 years as a board-level executive assistant in various international organisations, HR seemed a logical next step for me. I was privy to a lot of sensitive business information; could name and recognise every member of staff in the organisation; no task was ever too much; and no day was ever the same. With a little bit of training, I knew these skills and experiences would translate well into any HR department.

Although ‘going at it alone’ can be daunting, the next stage of my career felt exciting and made sense for me. I felt that offering a virtual assistant and HR service in a freelance capacity would not only allow me to make full use of the skills I have acquired over the past 15 years, but would be beneficial to the ever-growing pool of entrepreneurs, consultants and SMEs that require regular assistance with various tasks but aren’t able to – or simply don’t want to – take on a full-time employee. I had found a niche and was able to target my skills appropriately.

I don’t feel that the service I offer is a threat to traditional HR departments, or even HR consultants who have been in this space for a number of years, but I do think the fact that there is a market for these services is indicative of forthcoming employment trends. Estimates reveal that, by 2020, 50 per cent of the UK workforce will be working on a freelance or contractual basis, and research by Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, from Oxford University’s Martin School, suggests around 24 per cent of HR roles – especially administrative roles – are susceptible to automation.

Rather than feel threatened by this, I think HR professionals should embrace the growing opportunity to work as a freelancer in future.

PwC’s The future of work report suggests a scenario in which companies will break down into collaborative networks of smaller organisations, with specialists (such as HR professionals) working as satellites communicating with a slimmed-down workforce. Organisations will have fewer employees but engage with a greater number of associates, leading to the re-emergence of professional guilds and trade networks. This will provide a challenge for HR professionals working in traditional HR departments, as they will need to attract and engage employees on an ad-hoc basis. For those professionals who work on a freelance basis, they will need to take responsibility for their own long-term financial security and learning.

With the rise of social media, it has never been easier as a freelancer to identify and engage with potential clients. I rely on Twitter, LinkedIn and word of mouth to connect with potential new clients and have been amazed by the demand I have identified for services such as mine.

I’m not advocating that every HR professional quit their jobs today and enter the freelance world, but I want to reassure them that, if the robots really are coming, there is life after the ‘traditional office role’ and, actually, our skills are highly transferable in the future of work.

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