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Understand/Prepare for Xpat Gigs

Olivier Meier

 Olivier Meier
Principal at Mercer
Helping Companies Go Global
Consulting, Data and Technology to Support Talent Mobility

The gig economy will have a profound impact on the globally mobile workforce and companies need to prepare to manage a mixed assignee talent pool that will include a growing proportion of international mobile gig workers.

Many of the future expatriates you will manage may not even be employed by your company.

One of the key trends of the future of work is that organizations will not just have to build (train) or buy (hire) talent, they will need to learn how to effectively borrow talent. Here is what to bear in mind to anticipate this evolution.

Who are expatriate gig workers?

The term “gig worker” covers very different types of employees. One group includes highly skilled and mobile professionals willing to market themselves globally. Other types are managers with extensive international experience, consultants, designers, and IT professionals, among others.

These constitute an increasing portion of the gig economy and the future expatriate workforce. At a more local level, and at the opposite end of the skill spectrum, the gig economy is about temporary workers trying to boost their incomes with part-time work or who are simply unable to find full-time employment.

Gig workers may have different contractual models: freelancers and contractors who remain independent from the company or workers employed by the company for a short duration.

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Why does it matter?

On paper, the gig economy model, in which workers take on temporary work to perform specific tasks or projects, looks like a win-win for the company and for the employees.

From a company perspective the gig model offers more flexibility, reduced fixed costs, and the capacity to react much faster to market changes.

It is also an opportunity to tap into a new international talent pool (experts who might not wish to join the company on a permanent long-term contract) and access expertise on demand.

From the employee perspective the gig model can offer more flexibility, a better life balance, and more autonomy. The rise of the gig economy coincides with a change of generation: millennials, who are much more likely than their predecessors to join the gig economy and thrive in flexible work environment. Technology developments are allowing workers to market themselves globally and are reinforcing the trend.

The capacity to attract and retain this new type of flexible and mobile talent will become more important for companies and will force HR and mobility managers to review their policies, compensation models, and processes.

Highly qualified internationally mobile gig workers can be in high demand. Attracting them and retaining them for future gigs can be a difficult and costly exercise.

The rise of expatriate gig workers also raise a host of compliance questions and potential duty of care issues.

Important considerations when managing expatriate gig workers

Mobility policies need to be adapted for gig workers. Managing an international gig worker is less about moving someone from one country to another and more about dealing with the consequence of a move that already happened. Highly skilled international gig workers are more likely to be either locally hired foreigners or on virtual assignments, rather than fitting in the traditional long-term assignment model.

Adapting remuneration packages. In a gig economy, organizations are increasingly paying for skills rather for jobs as such. This implies understanding the relevance of the skills of potential candidates and their experience (skill depth).

Furthermore, remuneration of gig workers is impacted by the duration of the tasks performed, the business requirements (and urgency), and the global competitive environment (skill supply).

Remuneration options to consider include various forms of lump-sum payments to reflect the preference of gig workers for cash amount over benefits in kind. If benefits are provided, the question of portability (i.e. transferability) of these benefits will be essential for gig workers.

The basic relocation package itself might be irrelevant as international gig workers might already be in the host location or prefer to make their own arrangements.

The per diem approach commonly used for short-term assignment can be tailored for gig workers on project assignments.

For longer projects, different forms of local plus packages include a competitive local salary, various incentives, and whenever possible, portable benefits could be provided.

The rise of the gig workers will reinforce the trend to adopt more flexible approaches and processes.

Reconsidering career incentives. The sum of all gigs doesn’t always constitute a career. HR teams are not equipped to follow the careers and evaluate the performance of this new category of professionals. This raises questions about the relevance and consistency of performance review and career management processes.

One of the main goals of gig workers is not to be promoted within the organization but to increase their employability and capacity to win additional gigs.

Training considerations and future skill development needs to be taken into account. Replacing developmental moves with project-based assignments done by gig workers and more generally a greater reliance on gig workers, as opposed to building up the internal workforce, could lead to a less skilled talent pool in the long run. This is one of the paradoxes of the global gig economy: it allows companies to tap into new talent pools without helping replenish them.

Engagement and communication. Companies need to avoid having a fragmented workforce with employees on one side and the gig workers on the other side. How does one motivate a gig worker to go the extra mile, convey the official messages, and uphold the values of the company? Gig worker engagement is important because a company’s reputation influences its attractiveness to top gig worker talent.

Whenever possible, incentivize top talent to perform recurring gigs for the company with the objective to position it as an employer of choice for gig workers.

Compliance and liability: the risks of venturing into gray areas. The concept of a gig worker is not always well-defined and encompasses different realities that means that company risks operating in gray areas.

Legal definitions and contractual agreements vary by country. If the contractual obligations have not been clearly defined or if the local employment law is subject to interpretation (due to rapid changes and new questions brought up by the gig economy), companies could find themselves facing legal complications.

Do not automatically assume that gig workers are independent from the company or the company has no liability and duty of care towards them.

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