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This blog was originally published on Forbes

One of the perks of living with a musician is that I’m upping my groupie status. I can now sing along to most grunge rock hits of the 90s – which got me thinking about just how far the “gig” has come. A word once used to describe up-and-coming bands’ dreams, the gig economy now spans entire industries and represents our work-from-anywhere/for-any-employer reality.

Based on skills rather than roles, the gig economy is exactly what it sounds like – gig workers (you may have heard of them as contractors, contingent workers, freelancers) work on specific projects or execute specific tasks for a defined period of time. Think: the person who just delivered your dinner via UberEats or the videographer working with your team for the next three months. Employees love it because of the flexibility and speed to employment and employers love it because it cuts labor costs and enables them to agilely respond to the market (if they do it right).

What’s interesting is that this on-your-terms type of employment that gig workers enjoy is now the reality for many full-time employees engaging with their organizations externally because of COVID-19 restrictions. While some employees have always worked remotely, we’re now (and have been) doing it consistently on a mass scale with new work/lifestyles, and during a time when getting work done is almost more critical given current market volatility.

It’s also the reality for employees working at non-essential businesses who have found themselves participating in the gig economy now using their skills in new industries. Like Amazon who hired 1K workers with transferrable skills who may have previously worked at an airline or in food service. So, we’re now operating in an environment where gig economy practices are being used and are preferred across industries and regardless of your employment label.

These factors are creating a new set of expectations for all employees at work – like flexibility, lifelong career adaptability, and amazing experiences inside and outside of an organization’s walls. As employees (and employers) become more comfortable with these new work conditions and adapting/reallocating skills across roles and project-based work, the lines between internal and external employee will continue to blur and employee experience will continue to be top-of-mind. And it speaks to a needed shift from managing and engaging internal and external workforces separately to total workforce management and engagement.

This was emphasized at Davos 2020 where we learned three trends are influencing the now of work: increased desire for flexible work across generations, a continued increase in intelligent tech adoption, and a skills shortage. The World Economic Forum shared that with an increase in intelligent tech adoption, 133M+ new roles will be created. But to fill these, we’ll have to reskill or upskill 54% of employees globally on topics like tech design, emotional intelligence, social influence, and more by 2022.

To close this skills gap beyond re- and upskilling, organizations around the world have turned to supplementing their workforce with contingent employees. Recent studies from Deloitte, SAP, and the Society for Human Resource Management found that the external workforce continues to increase in size, importance, and cost from both a strategic and tactical perspective. In fact, some organizations allocate up to 30% of their procurement spend towards their external workforce. But most organizations have immature (or no) external workforce strategies.

Which matters because external workers influence brand reputation just as much as your full-time employees – they’re working with your customers, sharing their experiences with their networks, etc. and impacting brand experience. And because they’re typically the first to be impacted by workforce reductions and the first to return when cashflow is uncertain – which means impact to your bottom line. So, it’s important to empower your external workforce with the necessary tools and resources to be productive and create environments that allow them to feel connected to your culture, collaborate across the business, and feel appreciated for the value they’re delivering. Just like your internal workforce.

To get started:

1.      Understand your employee experience gaps(internal and external) as they navigate this new environment. Are they productive and thriving or feeling disconnected from leadership and unsure of how to work remotely? You won’t know until you ask, and once you have this data, you’ll be able to create a better end-to-end employee experience.

2.      Assess your external workforce management maturity to see how you stack up across organizational culture, the end-to-end worker experience, the use of integrated technology to source, manage, and engage your external workforce across the lifecycle, and visibility and business impact of these workers.

3.  Use this toolkit to develop a comprehensive external workforce management strategy from hire to exit to re-engagement.

These activities will help you create an integrated workforce experience where all employees feel empowered to contribute to your organization’s success and become ambassadors of your brand – regardless of the gig they’re playing.