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5 Lessons COVID-19 Taught Us on the Power of the Gig Economy

Few talent teams spent 2019 planning to kick off the new decade by hiring in a pandemic and an economic slowdown. Yet, that’s exactly where we are.

This reality might not be grim though for companies who seize the opportunity to hire and work differently in the 20s.

Over the last three recessions, only 9% of companies evaluated in a Harvard Business Review study came out in a better position than they entered it. Crisis means caution for most leaders, but for the brave it’s a chance to secure their market position with one investment that’s never failed them—their people.

Talent leaders know that hires make or break business strategies, but hiring now is about more than selecting the right person for the right role. It’s about which roles are right for a business post-crisis.

iCIMS’ CEO Steve Lucas puts it like this, “Building a winning workforce post-2020 will become radically different. From embracing virtual hiring capabilities and leveraging machine learning for precision hiring, to parsing out ‘work’ to contract and gig workers, we’ll see a revolution here.” (Click here to read the entire iCIMS Class of 2020 Report.)

New Collar Jobs

While the gig economy isn’t new, there’s more appeal than ever to fill skills gaps with freelancers, project-based workers, independent contractors, and part-time hires.

COVID-19 accelerated gig workers to the forefront of our economy to enable services we all rely on like rideshare and deliveries. This is our normal now, as more workers look to put their versatile skillsets to use with contract work. We’re seeing that 22% of 2020 graduates are going right to the gig economy, and 18% have established side hustles.

As gig economy hiring grows, it’s laying a roadmap for quick and quality hires for an expanded group of companies across industries.

The Human Side of Hiring

Like any great hiring strategy, it’s important to start with an understanding of your job seeker. When NPR interviewed Candy Roberts, an Instacart employee, they uncovered the reality of the gig life during a pandemic. (Click here to read the full interview.)

Candy represents a workforce of people struggling to balance their need for flexible work with rising concerns for job security and personal safety. She shares that her job allows her to support her autistic grandson, as his sole provider, but that “it’s scary, and it’s emotional.” She becomes impassioned, sharing “I’m always worried about what happens if I get sick. We don’t really have a big support system. It’s scary thinking I may not have a home for him.”

Candy’s story gives us a moment to pause and consider the mindset of gig workers. This realization that Candy is a person with needs and concerns of her own is the first step in creating authentic hiring strategies for our next chapter of work. Her story reminds us that:

  • Attracting gig workers may be as simple as being reliable amidst someone’s personal chaos
  • Texting is the best way to reach gig workers while they juggle family and other contract work
  • Part-time workers are often on the lookout for new opportunities

With that in mind, let’s dive into what we’ve learned over the past few months.

1. Work is now location agnostic

In March remote work went from progressive to executive-ordered, overnight. Now only a screen and a webcam are requirements for a fully functioning office, which means location is now one less barrier to employing excellent talent. While Amazon, Uber and Lift mastered the art of hiring virtually long ago to service the entire country, all businesses just got the key to unlock that model for their own workforce.

There’s nothing stopping a retailer headquartered in Pennsylvania from employing a top-performing developer based in California. That drastically opens the sourcing potential with access to even the most specialized gig workers. Making a good impression on these people today may bring them back as candidates for full time employment down the line.

2. Don’t undervalue the connections your gig workers can bring you

Effective gig recruiting doesn’t start from scratch. Even without open roles, employers can think through talent networks that already exist, and how to build them up proactively. When it comes to sourcing gig talent, employee referrals or outreach to talent in your database is the first step. Sourcing organically saves you money and ensures communication within your candidate relationship management tool is authentic and targeted.

There’s also an opportunity to leverage the reduced cost and time commitments that virtual hiring events introduce. Maybe you never thought about holding a hiring event specifically for gig workers. Consider the opportunity to differentiate your employer brand here by creating an event specialized to contractors. It may be time to talk to your team about a virtual career fair to reach hundreds of gig workers at once. (Click here to learn how to get started.)

3. Inclusivity builds a winning workforce

A culture of inclusivity is key for building a diverse workforce, and tapping gig workers is an opportunity to invite a broader range of candidates to the party. In fact, 91% of employers see diversity and inclusion as a top promotional priority on their career site. It’s invigorating to see how the thinking around diversity is evolving to include gender, age, disability, veteran status, and ethnicity. Pulling from a broader pool brings varying skills, industry knowledge, education, and personality to round out a dynamic and diverse workforce.

As businesses look to cultivate of-the-minute skills, gig workers add fresh perspectives and experiences. Video interviewing is a great way to assess intangible qualities like personality, energy, and positivity—all while keeping the hiring process virtual. A video interview also breaks down barriers with accessibility for every candidate, everywhere. (Click here to read how AI is remediating bias that stands in the way of that winning workforce.)

4. Fast, virtual hiring went from nice to have to need to have

Recruitment teams quickly learned that what were once bonus tools—video interviewing, automated mass text, and Candidate Relationship Management campaigns—are now the glue holding their remote hiring process together.

Time is of the essence when it comes to hiring talent for contract positions tied to high-demand or specific projects. You wouldn’t spend 40 days to hire someone for an assignment slated to last just three weeks. Picture reaching out to an established talent pool through text message, with a link to a mobile-friendly application. That application is completed by your candidate right away and your recruitment chatbot automatically shares open time slots for a video conference in sync with your team’s schedule. The largest Domino’s franchisee cut their time to hire by 80% by doing just that, so imagine your speed and efficiency.

5. Employers banding together will become a norm

Employers are recognizing they have a shared interest in keeping America employed and the economy moving. During the last few months, we’ve seen incredible partnerships between employers reducing their workforce and those looking to expand. We’ve even supported the effort with our Connecting Customers career site.

The trend will gain traction as time goes on and reopening of the economy varies among companies and locations. The flexibility, talent, and speed to work that gig workers bring to even traditional companies offer businesses a way to adapt to the changing times. The more employers embrace that, the more they can benefit.


Each week we’re growing closer to brighter days ahead. We’re hopeful that there is growth potential if we embrace learning opportunities, remain flexible, and lean into proven strategies.

If you’re looking to appeal to hard-working, dedicated, and authentic workers like Candy, download A Talent Leader’s Guide to Hiring in Up and Down Times for more tips.



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