Not Your Grandpa’s Gig Economy

Survive or Thrive in the Gig EconomuIn your grandpa’s day, gigs were for musicians. Starting with jazz players in the 1920s, working a gig meant you landed a performance, and the term often referred to one-night engagements to make ends meet before the band made it big. But gigs aren’t just for struggling artists anymore. Today, the gig economy extends to jobs like taxi service, grocery delivery, dry cleaning, and handyman work in addition to professional services such as graphic design, content marketing, and web development. Despite some discrepancies about whether these workers should be classified as independent contractors or employees, the gig economy is growing and doesn’t show signs of slowing down in the near future.

What’s Up With the Gig Economy?

According to a 2015 study conducted by Intuit and Emergent Research, the on-demand market will see 18.5% growth annually for the next four years. By 2020, 7.6 million workers, or a whopping 43% of the American workforce will consist of contingent workers.

What’s behind that trend?

Broadly defined, the gig economy includes any on-demand worker who is hired for a short-term engagement or single project. It encompasses side hustles like Uber, pet sitting, and people who find gigs through apps like Fiverr or TaskRabbit. It also includes professional service providers who manage their own freelance businesses, solicit their own clients, and create full-time income.

In the business world, gig workers usually provide services like content development, web design, or project work that can be completed remotely. They’re attractive to companies for several reasons:

  • Smaller resource investment—Gig workers don’t receive benefits, overtime, or training. They use their own equipment and if they do require office space, it’s for a limited time. For many companies, it costs less to pay an independent contractor than it would to hire an employee to perform the same type of work.
  • Mobility—They can work from anywhere. Companies aren’t limited to talent in their geographical area. They can hire a qualified worker anywhere in the country.
  • Digitization—Many types of work that once required a full-time employee can now be handled by technology. As companies realign their workforce to meet current business needs, they can outsource individual tasks without investing in a full-time staff member.

Adapt or Perish: Thriving In the Gig Economy

The gig economy is wildly popular among millennials who want more control over their schedules, better work-life balance, and the option to earn money doing things they love. But it’s not without risks.

Independent contractors can throw a wrench in your well-oiled HR machine, especially when there isn’t a good system in place for communication and appeals. And unhappy workers create serious problems in  your organization.

Before you hire your next gig worker, have these components in place:

  • Secure connections—VPN connections protect sensitive company data, access codes, and documents in a hacker-happy online environment.
  • Cloud sharing and storage—Sharing and storing documents in the cloud makes it easy to collaborate on projects, get feedback from team members, and keep work in one place.
  • Teleconferencing options—When independent workers have no access to HR, they can quickly become frustrated. Providing an option to ask questions or receive clarification gives workers confidence that their concerns will be addressed.
  • Legal recourse—Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the gig economy is that when contract workers don’t have legal recourse within the company, they sue. Laws to govern the gig economy are still being developed and may vary state to state, so it’s essential to have a legal and structural framework in place to manage independent workers.

To paraphrase H.G. Wells, today’s gig economy demands that we “adapt or perish.” That’s true not just for workers, but also for companies looking to benefit from the new normal.

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