gig economy consulting

Time for a Grown Up Gig Economy


A week is a long time in business.  “Our B2E Consulting clients were benefiting from the gig economy way before Uber & Deliveroo were even created” …. that’s how I finished off my shoot for my first corporate video, which we launched on Wednesday. By Friday poor press of companies like Uber & Deliveroo came to a crescendo with the news that TFL was imposing a ban on Uber operating in London. Well, to borrow a phrase from my eldest child, ‘that was awks!’

With over 3.5 million users, 40,000 drivers and currently 785,820 signatures on the #SaveyourUber petition, even its fiercest critics would find it hard to deny that Uber has become part of the fabric of London. Personally, I do not want to go back to the days of waiting on the street late at night trying to hail a cab, sometimes being turned down as I’m not going the right way, or having to nip out to get to a cash point half way home. I appreciate waiting securely indoors until I know my Uber is outside, with a name and plate I can look for and I like the fact that my journey is tracked, cashless and affordable.  However, despite my own favourable experience with Uber, there have been a number of longstanding and serious concerns that the company must address and on that front at least this ‘ban’ may be a call to action for the firm. These allegations of use of Greyball and reporting of serious crimes, and issues around workers rights and safety are major concerns that it is essential that Uber address and they, their VCs and customers will need to accept the associated financial hit and eventually a corresponding rise in fares.

Uber has, like many other organisations in the gig economy, created an innovative platform that allows it to act as an intermediary in this market place. Reviewing the timeline of controversies surrounding the firm, saying that it’s been arrogant and aggressive to get ahead of the competition is probably an understatement. Like in many start-up organisations, the pursuit of being ‘agile’ and expansion has been an excuse for not ‘doing things properly’. Uber has failed to optimise socially responsible processes around the customer and the driver. Uber can argue that there is not a level playing field for all players in the market and they may have a point that TFL is not blameless, but nevertheless this dramatic set-back is an opportunity for Uber’s new, more placatory CEO and his team to meet the challenges. If not, in the era of Waze, tens of thousands of drivers looking for roles and newer entrants to the market such as Gett and FREE NOW, there are plenty of competitors that Londoners may now turn to.

In the realm of Professional Services, I’m glad to report that the gig economy is all together more grown up. Independent consultants, often the alumni of established big 5 management consultancy firms, have long been freelancing, enjoying benefits such as greater flexibility and freedom from bureaucracy. Whilst they can suffer from insecurity, loneliness and income volatility, these challenges are in no way on a par with gigging riders and drivers who are dependent on digitally distributed piecework, which while great for a side-line job or student income, may be a stressful way of earning a living or providing for a family and for them there are, understandably, growing calls for greater protection.

In 2013, The Harvard Business Review predicted a disruption in consulting where smaller firms “assemble leaner project teams of freelance consultants (mostly midlevel and senior alumni of top consultancies) for clients at a small fraction of the cost of traditional competitors. They can achieve these economies in large part because they do not carry the fixed costs of unstaffed time, expensive downtown real estate, recruiting, and training. They have also thus far chosen to rely on modular providers of research and data rather than invest in proprietary knowledge development.”

B2E is one of these challenger consultancies using digital platforms to capture skills and preferences, and communicate out roles, enabling its in-house team to rapidly match up its signed-up consultants with its client’s specific needs. It has grown organically, rather than at the mercy of VCs, and has developed a flexible delivery model benefiting its community of consultants, clients and in-house team.  In parallel with the need to ensure Uber sends out safe drivers, vetting is key – B2E’s reputation is based on providing our clients with quality candidates or project teams quickly. Our screening processes are so important that only experienced ex big 5 consultants form the in-house team who search out and screen the shortlisted consultants. As one client fed back “B2E is a breath of fresh air …they take time to understand my requirements and profile. They ensure they match the strengths of the individual I am looking for and ensure that the candidates they put forward are of the right personality. They usually get the individual spot on and have clearly spent time to ensure that this happens every time. Many times they have 4 or more excellent candidates to me 2 weeks before other suppliers.” B2E also seeks to counter any feelings of loneliness by creating a vibrant community, investing in events and personal contact amongst both consultants and the in-house team.

In the context too of us all living and working longer and flexible working, the gig economy for consulting is great news.  Clients can get the benefit of experienced consultants to support specific projects and support knowledge transfer to internal teams, and these older consultants can now benefit from their bank of decades of experience, able if they wish, to have time off (cruise anyone?) between assignments. By offering remote and flexible working to its in-house team, B2E’s gig model has allowed talented ex-big five Consultants to return to work following career breaks and demonstrate every day how this approach breeds greater productivity, loyalty and business results.

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About the author, Maninder Murfin

Maninder joined B2E in 2015. Working part -time, she currently leads the Business Analysis capability talent pool, as well as overseeing B2E’s social media activities. Prior to this, Maninder spent nine years with Accenture within its UK Financial Services division, leading and supporting programme workstreams in Change Management, TOM Design, Organisation Design and HR Transformation.