sign saying gig, job, career Decisionmakers say they’re increasing their reliance on gig workers, with more than 60 percent saying they expect they’ll be using even more of them over the next five years. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Flexibility and cost are the impetus behind an expected continuing growth of gig workers as companies strive to adapt to disruption in the business environment.

So says a new survey from The Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by North Highland, on sourcing and managing talent in a gig economy. Among the survey’s findings is the news that decisionmakers say they’re increasing their reliance on gig workers, with more than 60 percent saying they expect they’ll be using even more of them over the next five years.

Related: 7 FAQS about the current gig economy

In fact, almost 60 percent already rely on gig workers making up 20 percent or more of their workforce, and 63 percent say that without temporary workers their companies can’t meet strategic objectives.

The need for flexibility, says the report, is “imperative” because the majority of businesses—73 percent—say they’re “undergoing some type of transformation. In addition, about two thirds say they’re having to adapt to a business environment that presents considerably more challenges than just three years ago.

In some cases, this means that gig workers are being hired to bring in skills and talents that a company lacks—perhaps short term, perhaps for longer once any transformation is complete. In others, the temporary work force carries out everyday responsibilities while the company’s own staff deals with the transformation itself and the resulting flux.

But it’s not all smooth sailing just by bringing in gig workers, since so many “outsiders” can bring their own issues with them. In fact, 80 percent of respondents say that gig workers have to be managed differently than regular employees, and more than half say there’s more risk with gig workers that partially offsets the benefit of having them and devoting more attention to managing them.

In the report, Jeff McMahon, managing director at North Highland, says, “Market disruption requires new ways of thinking about your workforce, and gig talent pools offer greater flexibility and cost savings. However, companies are challenged with how best to manage gig workers to fit with their processes, culture and management workload.”

Still, McMahon adds, “As organizations navigate the art of onboarding and integrating temporary help, they are finding the benefits more than offset added risk and supervision.”

Then there’s the matter of cost, with 79 percent saying that they’re being pushed to improve productivity and 67 percent under the gun to cut labor costs. According to the report, some 57 percent of respondents say that gig workers cost less for about the same or slightly higher level of productivity than full-time employees.

But in the end, says the report, whether gig workers present employers with their own challenge, “a sizable, semi-permanent gig workforce is becoming the norm” and as companies get better at bringing them on and managing them, the rewards of an on-demand workforce will more than offset the challenges.

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