Every December linguists across the world club together to agree on the year’s zeitgeist-defining new words. Chief among them in 2015 was the phrase “Gig Economy”, and in the time since then it’s become much the more than just a buzz word – it’s a headline-grabber. However, it might end up dramatically changing the relationship between business and employer. But what is it exactly?
Put simply, the Gig Economy encompasses anyone who works on a freelance contract or a short-term basis. In some cases, these short-term contracts are ultra-short, for example whoever Deliveroo hires to bike a Biriyani to your doorstep. You may also want to hire someone to work on a short-term project, such as a graphic designer. The sky is the limit.
The advantages to an employer are many. Being able to hire people to do small jobs and work on projects offers a high degree of flexibility, as well as cutting out a lot of the tax burden and bureaucracy that comes with a mostly permanent workforce. If someone has a specific skill you’re missing, then the digital world had made it easier to connect with someone quickly. By unlocking the potential of the gig economy you can make your business more flexible and agile.
Here’s an example: Almost all companies find themselves hamstrung by the lengthy process of recruiting. This can take hours of your time, dealing with HR teams and/or employment agencies, holding rounds of interviews over several weeks, haggling over contracts and then waiting for your new employee to finish with their previous employer before they can start. This wait could mean life and death to a project, whereas your average gig can start pretty much straight away, and all they’ll need is a laptop and a wi-fi connection. There are many websites where employers can connect with skilled freelancers such as www.hired.com and www.upwork.com.
There are also advantages to freelancing this way. The traditional 9-5, bums-on-seats model of working feels outdated in the information age; technology was supposed to give us more leisure time, but instead, it seems to have been used an excuse to squeeze productivity to the max. Not everyone wants or needs full-time employment anymore, and many who do feel stuck by the trappings of the rat-race, heroically put up with commuting so they can sit at the same desk every day, only to do the same tasks over and over again. It’s no surprise that a different model of work, offering the chance to participate in different projects with different companies, presents great opportunities for both employers and freelancers.
However, the gig economy is still in its infancy and arguably needs to evolve more to stop employers taking advantage. The system also needs to ensure a reasonably steady income for freelancers. Companies that view their freelancers as ultimately disposable are troubling. We’ve all seen the video of Uber’s Travis Kalanick, putting the C in CEO by ranting at one of his drivers who confronted him about low wages.
Then there’s the name: the word “gig” inspires romantic images of musicians, with instruments in hand, displaying their talents on stage to general adulation. But under the surface, as most bands will tell you, there’s a hand to mouth existence from one gig to the next. Recent attempts have been made to rebrand the gig economy as the “On-Demand Economy”, but that’s liable to make most workers feel like a Netflix boxset than a budding Bob Dylan. The image of the musician still rings true, for every stadium band earning megabucks, there are hundreds of buskers earning change. There may be little difference between the gig economy and the much- maligned world of zero-hours contracts.
Barely a day goes by without another newspaper headline fueling controversy over the gig economy. Temporary employees are not given the same benefits as permanent staff, and regular freelancers are asking for more rights such as holiday pay. There are several test cases in the courts at the moment, so it’s worth keeping up to date with freelance worker’s rights.
The gig economy is no longer a flash in the pan, and it’s clear that it offers both employers and skilled employees a flexible way of working outside the status quo. However, it’s also true that gigging doesn’t necessarily suit everybody, and there are many opportunities for the unscrupulous to take advantage. I’d like to see a brave and exciting world emerge from the gig economy, but I fear the romantic image of freedom might mask a land-grab on workers’ rights, or depress freelancer’s fees. One thing feels certain, the way we are working is changing, and it’s worth paying attention to this growing sector to see what happens next.
All ‘Opinion’ pieces are the opinions of the author, not Quick Formations.