Full-Time Employee or Gig Worker: Could You Be Both at the Same Company?

At some businesses, in-house “gig marketplaces” allow employees to flex skills outside their normal job duties.

August 19, 2021 Daniel P. Smith

Chances are your job title doesn’t tell the whole story of what you can do. Take the front desk receptionist known for writing funny Instagram posts, the copy editor whose hobby is food photography or the product designer who happens to be fluent in three languages.

Some companies are coming around to the idea of breaking employees free from traditional job descriptions. It can uncover hidden value — especially as changes across industries have upended the makeup of the workforce.

“More organizations are looking at the capabilities employees have or what they might develop, which might exist beyond the employee’s job or role,” says John Boudreau, professor emeritus of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business and a senior research scientist with USC’s Center for Effective Organizations.

The elements of work need to be freed from job descriptions, so that it can be reinvented more quickly and efficiently.

John Boudreau

This reevaluation of employee skill sets is one way businesses are responding to rising automation replacing human jobs, economic uncertainty and intense competition for talent, he says. Employers are looking for strategies to optimize their workforce, tap into hidden capabilities and work hours to boost productivity, better leverage internal talent and engage employees in work that offers opportunity and purpose.

“Organizations increasingly realize that work must evolve faster than traditional job-based systems can handle,” says Boudreau, an expert on the future of work. “The elements of work need to be freed from job descriptions, so that it can be reinvented more quickly and efficiently.” This can also unlock cost savings and thousands of hours of work time that are hidden within rigid, traditional job classifications.

Employers Find Benefits of Internal Talent Marketplaces

Boudreau calls this a tectonic shift that has compelled notable companies such as Unilever, Schneider Electric and Dolby to create internal marketplaces akin to Upwork or Fiverr for their employees.

Internal talent marketplaces help companies address high-demand areas of the business while allowing worker development and empowerment.

Flex Experiences, Unilever’s internal talent marketplace, features some 65,000 global employees who can share their skills and experiences with departments and offices in other countries. During the pandemic, more than 3,000 people with lower job demands redeployed to high-demand areas of the business using Flex.

Thus far, companies with internal talent marketplaces typically don’t tout just the company-serving benefits. Instead, they’ve focused on a philosophy of worker development and empowerment, connecting employees to passion projects and democratizing work choices. These marketplaces can also present an alternative to layoffs by redistributing worker contributions throughout the company.

“That’s encouraging,” says Boudreau, who expects more internal talent marketplaces to emerge. “The current emphasis on worker well-being and leadership empathy also speaks to the opportunity for such systems to reflect both organization and worker interests.”