Is Architecture & Design embracing the gig economy?

Posted by: Michael Beeken

Date posted: 10/10/18

The benefits of a gig economy can be profound for both employers & employees alike. Many take advantage of contract staff – specialists who are skilled with certain software or, more often than not, those who have key skills within certain projects and typologies. Sometimes, brace yourselves, those staff are actually ‘regular employees’. Working 40 hours a week for 6, 12 or 18 months at a time, attending the summer & Christmas parties and becoming embedded in the company culture.

Gone are the days of a 9-5 (albeit I struggle to find many full time Architects who only do these hours), with a recent survey finding employees seek flexibility as their top goal in moving jobs. So why are companies sticking to a rigid 40 hour contracted work week and why do many shun the idea of contract staff when a gig economy is at the forefront of modern staffing?

Why is the trend not changing?

Well into Q4 of 2018, many architecture & design companies are primed with projects and still finding the ‘war on talent’ continuously challenging. Why risk a fixed overhead cost when conserving profit for the year is on the mind of many commercially driven businesses. . . enter contract staff. Specialists who offer a ‘Plug and play’ type of resource – fixing what is broken, covering for employees who have left, or growing at a faster pace to reach the demand of the project. With Brexit playing on our minds, despite Theresa May filling us all with confidence that her dance moves will bring fearsome negotiation tactics, the architecture & design sector is, was and forever will be turbulent for forecasting projects. Enter contract staff. . . specialists who are more flexible than a fixed, rigid solution.

The gig economy is a shifting cultural and business way of working. Businesses save resources which are sometimes never considered for permanent staff (office space, training, benefits, pension, sick pay etc) and at the same time retain a specialist for the job. From the freelancer’s perspective, a gig economy can no doubt improve work life balance, enabling specialisms and affording freedom.

All industries are changing, but the industries which offer project-based work, like our creative world, are the most prone to a gig economy. Abid Hamid, CEO of Recruitment Entrepreneur, speaks about the topic:

“The concept of permanent v contract as an employment option is a very real deciding factor in today's candidate population. The recent Hays report scored “work life balance” as the biggest factor in attracting and retaining employees. The focus needs to change in employers if they want to attract the best and retain creative, engaged people by offering them the options, but not compromising the output of that individual's job. The gig economy has changed the expectation of the employee and what they require from their work environment and their employers. Flexibility with performance is the formula for successful employers today.”

Now, am I being hypocritical? Do I employ the same gig economy mentality in my business?

Yes and no. Yes, freedom is allowed. Each recruiter at Beeken Reeves is the master of their own destiny and the business supports them as a ‘central hub’ to achieve a common goal. . . finding the best clients the best candidates and vice versa. Yes, there are challenges with contractors working for you. Yes, there are challenges with permanent staff working for you. Flexible management styles have to be at the forefront if flexible staffing is on the table. Our failures, albeit slight, in imbedding a gig economy into our culture have been failures as managers, not a failure in the system.

Security and stability will remain at the top of organisations. I find it hard to believe an interim will be leading one of the biggest companies in the world anytime soon. But just as the Prime Ministers, Presidents, Business Consultants and Interim Executives change roles, so too do the employees – the number one asset in any company, who are seeking freedom and autonomy in an ever digitised and changing world.

If the Architecture & Design sector does not embrace the gig economy sooner rather than later, then the difficulty with staffing will continue, if not escalate. Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

Michael Beeken


Michael has worked in recruitment for the best part of his professional career. After graduating from University of Leeds, he progressed to the Head of Commercial Development at SRP, where he was responsible for the executive search division. He has an overview of all accounts within Beeken Reeves, supporting the recruitment process and developing the internal team.