Article: Gig economy: Then and now

Employee Relations

Gig economy: Then and now

The new-age gig workforce has radically transformed the workplace of tomorrow. Let’s take a look at the then, the now, and the future of managing the gig economy.
Gig economy: Then and now

Managing the gig workers, integrating them into the organizational culture, providing them the right kind of rewards and benefits, and creating governmental policies that would enable future workplaces of tomorrow to bring in a blended workforce, have become the need of the hour for organizations to succeed in the future. 

The sharing economy has given birth to the new-age gig workforce, and it is time to take a look back at how it all started. 

The Then 

Prior to the 20th century, working multiple-jobs in order to generate more income was the norm. The concept of a single employer and a particular job role in an office where employees clock in and clock out is a fairly new one. 

One of the major results of the digital age and rise in our understanding about the world of software and apps is that the definition of work and workplace have transformed. With the advent of website apps and infiltration of smartphones in almost every household’s hand in not only the developed countries but also developing countries. 

From the days of Craigslist in 1995 to the age of Uber in 2019--the gig economy has evolved with the changing times. 

The gig economy has been around for a few decades now. Originating from the music and entertainment industry where musicians landed “gigs”, the definition of gig workers has transformed radically in the last decade.

The Now 

Today, gig workers are not only limited to the unorganized sector. Traditional MNCs are also looking for knowledge specialists who would be able to help them for a few short-term projects. With freelancers and the gig workforce, leaders can access a wide talent pool of highly-skilled individuals whose skills are in high demand but less in supply. For example, data analysts, data scientists, UI/UX designers, software developers, product writers, videographers etc are some of the job roles that are a part of the gig economy. 

Another reason for hiring gig workers is to eliminate the often time-consuming process of having to onboard, train and get a new employee acquainted with the organizational structure and then getting to the actual job at hand. Moreover, in today’s fast-changing environment that is ruled by tight deadlines, time is of the essence. Hiring an expert in her or his particular field and getting them onboard for the duration of a few projects then seems like the better option. 

According to a report by KellyOCG, about 70 percent of CXOs in Singapore believe that mid-level roles are most likely to see the most growth for contingent workers. Thus, more and more leaders are looking towards a contingent workforce as a talent pool to tap experts from. When it comes to the APAC region, about three in five (58 percent) of the leaders are currently partnering with gig workers in order to improve the talent supply and combat the talent shortage in the region. 

About 45 million people in the US take part in gig work, according to a MetLife Study. This constitutes nearly a fifth of the total workforce. Sometimes they are full-time self-employed contractors and at other times they are a part of the gig economy when they are not employed elsewhere. Moreover, about 85 percent of these workers want to continue as gig workers. Flexibility, autonomy, a sense of purpose, a better work-life balance are some of the reasons why full-time employees are also seeking freelance opportunities.

As the economy undergoes a continuous yet inconsistent transformation, Gen-Xers and millennials alike have had to reinvent, upskill and relearn by themselves. An uncertain global economic situation has resulted in an increasingly high-pressure workplace situations that are taking a toll on the mental and physical health of the full-time employees. The downside of constant access to technology is the expectation of being continuously connected to the work. Gone are the days when you could leave your work at the office. Now, it follows you wherever you go. 

Many full-time employees are choosing a plethora of digital platforms available in order to enter the gig workforce. Similarly, HR leaders are leveraging such platforms to post gig jobs and descriptions of projects in order to get highly-skilled talent onboard as freelancers. 

The Future 

The gig economy is here to stay. As more and more full-time employees also start looking for work that excites them and gives them a sense of purpose, traditional business models are gearing up for an overhaul in their organizational structure and design to incorporate a blended workforce model. Going ahead into the next decade, a future-ready and high-performance organization will be the one that is able to bring out the best in full-time employees as well as integrate a robust gig workforce into the organizational culture. 

Breaking out of the traditional structure of 9 to 5 hours, and not measuring the productivity of the employee based on the number of hours spent in the office will help employees move beyond the boundaries of a workplace and rededicate themselves to the types of jobs that give them a higher sense of purpose and to inturn become more productive and efficient. 

How to integrate these employees into the organization is the question that most employers are grappling with. 

Along with the organizational culture, the rewards and benefits equation for the gig workforce also needs to be worked on in partnership with the CXOs and the government. At present, even within the freelancer community, there are many disgruntled workers who feel exploited in terms of the wages that they earn and the time taken between rendering a service and receiving the payment. 

These are some of the many reasons that have prompted a battle between employers and gig workers across the globe. Earlier in September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a labor law that gave wage and benefit protection to about a million workers. 

“The hollowing out of our middle-class has been 40 years in the making, and the need to create lasting economic security for our workforce demands action,” said Newsom in a statement while signing the labor law into effect. 

The bill includes workers in a plethora of industries ranging from health care, trucking, media, etc. A few sectors such as real estate, commercial fishing, and cosmetology services have been exempted from the law. The bill goes into effect from Jan. 1, 2020. 

“A next step is creating pathways for more workers to form a union, collectively bargain to earn more, and have a stronger voice at work--all the while preserving flexibility and innovation,” said Newsom. 

Within the gig economy, employers have access to a wide range of talent--from highly skilled knowledge experts who are the most expensive ones to the ones who are hustling to make a little extra income on the side by picking up ride-hailing fares or income generating from delivery-services. Thus, you have knowledge experts who are interested in knowledge-based gigs while on the other end of the spectrum, you have service-based giggers who are delivery drivers, etc. 

In an era of Uber and Lyft, Swiggy and Zomato, it has become crucial to recognize the gig workers as an integral part of our social fabric and professional ecosystem. All HR and business leaders can proactively build strong gig frameworks that would redefine the integrated workforce models of tomorrow. 

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Topics: Employee Relations, #GigToBig

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