India's tryst with gig economy
The Indian workforce is currently undergoing significant shifts in the way it operates and secures well-paying fixed jobs. Technological disruptions have in many ways changed the manner in which employers interact with their employees. A critical dimension of this change has been on the nature of work. Flexible work is slowly becoming a preferred option for the urban employers. With reports showing the rise in the number of freelancers within urban spaces, many modern workplaces are also gradually shifting to this shift in working culture.
One of the impacts of a digitized business world has been in the evolution of modern work conditions. Alongside portion of the workforce employed in formal work conditions which are employed full time, there is now a slow-growing percentage of people in urban India that works in flexible mode because the company owners prefer it. This trend has been quite significant in the context of developed economies, leading to the coining of the phrase “the growth of the gig economy.” But as is the case with any part of the globalized world today, shifts within working conditions quickly get spread across geographies.
Owning its growth to a host of reasons, gig economy is slowly transforming the nature of work in urban spaces. A recent Indeed report on the job markets of India points to this shift. The report mentions how employees are increasingly willing to sacrifice the additional benefits that come with a permanent job, such as gratuity or health insurance, in exchange for a greater amount of flexibility that allows them a healthy work-life balance and the opportunity to simultaneously pursue multiple interests. Indeed data shows an increasing preference by the employers for flexible work arrangements, especially in larger cities, where daily transport might be difficult and cumbersome.
Of the leading metropolises in the country, New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore contribute 27.2%, 12.4%, and 12.9% respectively to all flexible work opportunities available in India.”--Sashi Kumar, Managing Director, Indeed India.
Factors driving the change:
- Technological reasons
One of the largest and perhaps the primary driver of the growth of the gig economy has been the rapid development of technology and its adoption within modern business practices. Digital technologies and shifts within business models have led to the requirement of a mobile workforce that can focus on delivering services effectively. This for many companies and start-ups meant looking for employees beyond the traditional structured framework of physical office work. Luckily, technologies that were revolutionizing business models also helped companies create better linkages with people who wished to work as independent workers.
Other technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation, are also shaping the future of this independent workforce. A gig based economy is dependent upon a strong technological architecture that supports a business environment wherein temporary positions are common and organizations engage independent workers on short-term contracts. Intuit Inc. in a research estimated that around 7.6 million Americans will be regularly working as providers in the on-demand economy by 2020, more than doubling the current total of 3.2 million, according to a 13 August study and forecast.
The other reason why gig economy albeit slowly, is on the rise because the work rings true with a certain human emotion; the emotion of experiencing new things and learning new skills. Many believe this to be a vital part of their lives and hence adapting to a life consisting multiple independent works, or gigs sounds a better option than a fixed salaried linear progression of a career. Gig economy helps in maintaining a balanced work-life.
Can the gig economy be a solution to our job problem?
But all is not ideal with the current work of affairs. Many end up becoming a part of the gig economy not out of a yearning to try out different things but rather because they can’t get a regular job despite all skills, efficiency, and qualifications. They have a genuine need to have a job. Given the rapid growth of India’s working population, many have been forced to go for it because the regular job market has jobs in scarcity and the ones that are there has cut-throat competition. Although this might be a temporary solution towards creating employment, independent workers by nature of their work are more exposed to market shocks than regular salaried full-time employees of a company.
This is not to say that there aren’t benefits that can accrue over the years. The gig economy helps spur entrepreneurship among individuals and because of the sufferings they go through over the years, temporary, ad hoc and contract workers find it better to start their own business rather than do a job that is extremely exploitative.
Regulations here can come in various forms. They range from overarching schemes like the creation of a Universal Basic Income scheme and the provision of skill-building opportunities (even ‘gigs’ would soon require specialized skills) to looking closely at the freelance and gigs based employment and taking steps to make them an attractive and secure option for people to follow.
The future of gig economy
The gig economy consists of markets where independent consultants, contractors, and freelancers put up their portfolios and work with companies on short-term contracts. In India, many start-ups and companies are transforming the way we work by disconnecting work from an office. In the traditional job, employers often require employee attendance in the office five days a week, eight hours a day. Gig economy employers, in contrast, focus entirely on performance, not attendance in the office. The gig economy employer values the quality of worker results, not the process by which they are created.
While it has reached a fairly mature stage in developed countries where recruiters and employers are used to a concept of a mobile workforce, the many within India are still getting used to this departure from the traditional work culture. But as estimates show, flexible jobs and gig based employment are certainly growing. Given the technological journey that Indian companies are still to chart, the gig economy is bound to grow. But in order to successfully utilize the gig economy as a way of engaging the rising workforce of the economy, many other factors like skill levels and technological access of the masses have to fall in the right place. Besides, payment has to be at par with the regular jobs and they need to have travel allowance, medical allowance, and other benefits in the same way as the regular job employees.