The gig economy is growing fast, with millions of flexible workers across the world taking on regular ‘gigs’ and businesses keen to get on board with a modern and cost-effective way of accessing flexible talent.
What exactly is the gig economy?
The gig economy describes a modern and flexible labour market which utilises freelance, contract and short-term or temporary workers as business demands dictate and allow – rather than the permanent and more static jobs of old. Workers take on ‘gigs’ – such as projects or individual work items – as independent contractors, rather than as employees. Obvious examples are taxi drivers, couriers and copywriters, but project managers and even senior executives work in this flexible way.
Sometimes it is called the sharing economy (often associated with digital platforms such as Airbnb), the collaborative economy (particularly in creative or knowledge-based fields) and the platform economy (such as on copywriting platforms like Copify.)
Some statistics worth knowing:
- Over 25% of the workforce are engaged as ‘contingent’ workers in some capacity (source: https://www.gigeconomydata.org/basics/how-many-gig-workers-are-there)
- There are 55 million gig workers in the US (BLS statistics) and 5 million in the UK. (sources: https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2019/01/08/what-are-the-pros-and-cons-of-the-gig-economy/#6089f2ee1388, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37605643)
- Over 10% of workers use the gig economy for their main income source.
The benefits of gig workers to SMEs
Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) can greatly benefit from the gig economy as a means of controlling costs – and boosting profits as a result. For example:
- Entrepreneurs can flourish, accessing the talent that they need on an immediate, flexible basis
- Scale-ups can grow without the risk of taking on permanent staff.
- Larger businesses can grow and access talent and expertise on an ‘as needed’ basis.
- Businesses can outsource tasks such as payroll, copywriting, website management and customer services, whilst staying lean and efficient.
- Firms of all sizes can flex their workforce resources up and down at a moment’s notice, creating a talented base of flexible workers who they can call upon when needed.
- Employers can access this talent without needing to administer and deliver expensive employee remuneration schemes and benefits.
- Technology, such as digital gig platforms, expedites the process and makes it smoother, and cheaper to find the right talent for a job.
Which organisations are using the gig worker model?
Just some of the big-name companies making use of the flexible gig worker model of employment are Uber, Airbnb, Fiverr, Upwork, Copify and 99Design. In the UK, companies using it include Ocado, Amazon, Deliveroo, Argos, Addison Lee and DPD.
The benefits for gig workers
Gigs are ideal for workers seeking work-life balance, or access to income sources without commitment. The gig economy is also favoured by workers who are building up CVs or following passion projects. Often creatives, these individuals can pay the bills with flexible gigs, whilst developing their own interests. Even better, with most gigs carried out online, it’s possible to work anywhere in the world; hence the numbers of gig workers funding travel or relocation dreams.
Disciplined individuals can reap the rewards of being their own boss and work the hours and jobs that they want to.
Individuals who have the expertise, specialist skills or relevant experience can get interesting work at good rates – with the option to structure and manage their own working lives. Individuals in particular who have leadership, creative, management or strong technical expertise can find meaningful, flexible and rewarding work.
Workers with an entrepreneurial bent will also benefit from the ‘hustle’ of the gig economy – finding multiple opportunities to develop their own streams of income and enjoying the autonomy that comes with a self-directed career.
Although typically associated with millennials, gig work also benefits baby boomers and older workers who never had such flexible and digitised work options available in previous years. This can be a real boon to older workers who may not want to be tied to a permanent job or who are keen to flex their skills into new fields.
Isn’t this just a zero-hour contract?
The negatives of zero-hours contracts have been well documented. However, the fact remains that zero-hours contracts also offer benefits to workers and employers when used in the right way.
For businesses, in particular, SMEs, zero-hours contracts offer the opportunity to have a flexible workforce ready and on-hand to take on working hours when they are available. In an age where access to skilled talent is paramount to success, zero-hours contracts give businesses the chance to scale-up when demand is high, and to avoid over-burdening the wage bill with excess worker resource when demand is low. Similarly, cover can be arranged when permanent staff are absent.
For workers, there is the flexibility that comes with this type of arrangement – and, when combined with gigs, these workers can choose to take on other paid jobs when zero-hours contract work isn’t available. For many, it can also provide a welcome foot in the door to a firm or a career path, especially when building up experience and a CV.
Gig working is undoubtedly here to stay and to grow in prominence. Critics may also find it interesting to note that Gallup’s findings, that 70% of traditionally-employed workers aren’t satisfied or engaged in their jobs. Other studies show similar levels of dissatisfaction and stress. The gig economy offers an alternative work model that can either provide an alternative or a supplementary route to income-generating work. For employers, it offers myriad benefits, from better cost-management to flexible access to talent in a digital world. For businesses and workers prepared to flex with the modern world, the benefits certainly add up.