The concept of the gig economy - which is defined by people working on short-term, independent contracts, as opposed to in regular full-time roles - has come increasingly to the fore in recent years.

This trend has been reflected in changes in legislation. In the United Kingdom, for example, the government recently announced its biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years, one of the aims of which was to provide better protection for gig economy workers and people on 'zero-hours' contracts.

In the United States, it has been predicted that gig workers will make up approximately 43% of the labor force by 2020.

While there have been some questions raised about the significance of the gig economy with regards to how most people do their jobs, as an employer you can't afford not to acknowledge this trend and what it could mean for the future of work.

From an HR perspective, here are some of the key themes to think about in context of the evolving gig economy.

remote control

The growth of short-term, contract-based employment signals a shift away from the traditional model of people working regular daily hours in a single location. If your business is ready to get on board with new forms of employment, one of the key elements of the gig economy to prepare for is the prevalence of remote working and flexible hours.

Managing remote and geographically distributed teams presents some unique challenges, such as maintaining strong lines of communication with workers and ensuring people are making adequate progress towards whatever goals have been set for them.

Fortunately, as an HR manager in the 21st century you have a powerful resource at your disposal to overcome these challenges: technology.

The range of services and software designed to facilitate communication, team administration and project management is broader than ever, helping businesses to ensure that flexibility doesn't come at the expense of productivity.

Some solutions have been specifically designed to meet the needs of employers in the gig economy, such as managing remote teams and giving people the tools they need to control their own schedules.

One example is Gigwalk, a cloud-based workforce management platform that has benefited from financial support through the Randstad Innovation Fund.

realizing mutual benefits

The gig economy has the potential to offer mutual advantages for employers and their workers, and it's important this balance of benefits is made a priority. Ethical, responsible businesses place just as big an emphasis on the rights and well-being of their people as they do on cutting costs or maximizing efficiency.

It's certainly possible to reap some financial gains from alternative work models. A Randstad report covering HR trends in 2018 cited figures from Global Workplace Analytics suggesting that businesses can save over $11,000 for every half-time telecommuter they employ each year.

Remote and gig-based working can help your business reduce real estate costs and overheads for resources such as electricity, phones and computers.

Employees can also secure various advantages from a more flexible, 'ad hoc' approach to work, such as having more control over their hours, a better work-life balance and the potential to earn more by taking on overtime when it best suits them.

If you expect to see an increase in gig and contract-based working in 2019, finding arrangements that are equally advantageous for the organization and your workers is likely to be a key goal.

staying in compliance

As new, more flexible approaches to work in the 21st century become increasingly common, you need to prepare for the possibility of the regulatory environment changing as well.

The recent legislative reforms introduced in the UK, for instance, closed a legal loophole that previously allowed agency workers to be paid less than their permanent counterparts. Businesses operating in Britain also saw the holiday pay reference period increased from 12 to 52 weeks, so people working in seasonal or atypical roles receive the paid leave to which they are entitled.

According to Dr Alex Wood, a sociologist and researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, the recent shift away from traditional employment and towards the gig economy means it has become necessary to rethink the common understanding of workers' rights and employment law.

'The purpose of the law is to protect people in a vulnerable position; if it is not doing that anymore we need to change the law to make sure that these people are protected,' he told Oxford University's Oxford Science Blog.

If the growth of alternative working arrangements continues, readiness to respond will prove beneficial for your organization. As well as preparing for new compliance demands linked to the gig economy, looking to the future will help your business gain maximum advantage from this trend and build positive, mutually rewarding relationships with workers.

Download our report '7 stats that show the relevance of flex workers' to learn more about this growing trend.