Expatriate Gig Workers: Opportunities and Considerations


The gig economy is on the rise – we can experience it while downloading yet another on-demand service app, meeting yet another freelancer, or seeing an increasing amount of temporary project-based job openings. The gig economy is also a highly discussed trend in different media outlets and industry reports. Some time ago I discussed the gig economy in one of my blog posts, focusing on the lower skilled gigs, which people usually take up in addition to, or due to a lack of full-time jobs, to boost their income. Yet, the gig economy does not only comprise taxi drivers and delivery workers. On the other end of the skill spectrum there are highly skilled and globally mobile professionals, who are also increasingly ready and willing to take up relevant gigs.

Contrary to necessity-based motives of lower skilled gig workers, the expatriate gig workers largely choose short-term project work for the benefits of flexibility, work-life balance and independence. Such an arrangement of independent freelancers with highly demanded skills is also quite beneficial for companies, who can access needed talent at the right time and at relatively low cost. Indeed, given that expatriate gig workers are usually relocating and arranging their living in the new destination independently, hiring companies do not need to allocate resources to relocation and adjustment matters. Moreover, hiring talent for temporary project work implies savings in terms of fixed workforce costs and long-term payroll expenses.

Despite several benefits, the trend of expatriate gig workers also raises several questions for organizations. As a recent Mercer insight report argues, companies need to learn how to effectively ‘borrow’ this talent, namely attract and retain the gig workers. Here are some of the most important questions to consider:

  • How to adapt expat policies and remuneration packages to the realities of the gig economy

Expatriate gig workers might not fit with the existing long-term or even short-term assignment policies, as these workers, as already mentioned, can be independent movers, or are already locally based foreigners, who take up specific projects with rather short-term deadlines. The same reasons also imply more flexibility in remuneration packages. For instance, expatriate gig workers might not be interested in such benefits as home allowance, or assignee spouse support benefits. As Mercer insight suggests, gig workers might instead prefer cash over different expatriation benefits. Finally, given the changing nature of the on-demand skills needed at a given time, the profiles of hired gig-workers are unlikely to be standardized, hence the pay should be flexible enough to account for all relevant factors (e.g. size and uniqueness of the gig).

  • How to manage careers of employees, who are not part of an organization’s talent pipeline?

When you ‘borrow’ talent, it means that this talent is not part of a company’s talent pool, thus the standardized career management practices might not apply either. In essence, expatriate gig workers are most probably not interested in promotions within the organization, thereof performance reviews and development plans may not make much sense either. As in any customer-service provider transaction though, there could be some sort of performance evaluation in place. For example, Uber drivers receive customer evaluations, and the higher the evaluations, the higher the chances of the next job… Similarly, expat gig workers are interested in increasing their employability for the next gig, hence, what could be the alternative for expat gig workers?

  • How to engage and communicate with gig workers?

Being less part of the organization and less involved with its culture means also less possibilities for communication and engagement. As engagement is naturally important for motivation, well-being and productivity of ordinary employees, these are also relevant questions for gig workers. How much communication and engagement is needed to support the productivity of gig workers? For example, research indicates that the relationships and trust between expatriates and local employees are of crucial importance for knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer practices. I would argue that the same notion is relevant also for gig expatriates.

  • How to make use of ‘borrowing’ talent without neglecting the development of in-house talent?

As the Mercer professionals put it, one of the paradoxes of the global gig economy is that ‘it allows companies to tap into new talent pools without helping replenish them’. In other words, HR professionals need to figure out how to enjoy the comfort of borrowing talent from the global pool of gig workers, and balance it with talent development practices and efforts within organizations.

One thought on “Expatriate Gig Workers: Opportunities and Considerations

  1. Really lately we heard about this GIG economy a lot. Its cut down to a small piece of works aka projects to achieve long-term efficiency. Quite smart and will follow other articles published here.

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