The Rise of the Gig Economy

The rise of the gig economy has been one of the biggest and most far-reaching developments in the workplace over recent years.

By Pete Hamilton, Vice President & Regional Director, APAC  |  October 02, 2018

The rise of the gig economy has been one of the biggest and most far-reaching developments in the workplace over recent years.

But it’s interesting to recall that the gig economy is something many of us have been engaged in over many years in one form or another.

Like many people, I’ve done my share of gig work – delivering newspapers and paid per delivery, working in a university student union bar, delivering postal items as a contractor, engaged in sales on a commission, working as a public servant on an hourly rate, and even as a volunteer on no pay.

At the time, I’d have referred to those positions in a variety of ways – temporary, contractor, freelancer, free agent – but now we collectively know it as the gig economy.

And, of course, there’s no doubt that it has shaken up the contemporary workplace, often because it’s occurred in tandem with genuine business ‘disruptors’ such as Uber, Deliveroo and AirTasker.

But the gig economy itself is something that’s been with us for a long time. I can recall the sense of uncertainty that would often be a part of those roles – not certain if you’d make a sale or how many customers would turn up on the day – but also a sense of expectation and even excitement at what was in store, and what I’d need to do to make it work.

You would need to think about what you were delivering, what value it had, and to who. You had to be innovative, quick thinking and flexible – all traits that became useful in a professional sense, and which are now the essence of so much of the modern, dynamic gig economy.

For many years, we have been tracking this trend through the rise of ‘free agents’ and the way that organisations have been using this gig talent to become more competitive and meet particular skills needs.

But, it’s only in the past few years that the wider economy and the workforce has started to tap into it and embrace it. Our latest research estimates that gig workers make up about 31% of the global workforce, while 65% of global talent managers say they use gig workers. Interestingly, APAC is far ahead of the global trend, with 85% of talent managers using gig workers.

And it’s no longer the pizza delivery driver who’s at the forefront of it. The vast majority of gig workers are highly skilled and educated. They are also deliberately choosing this mode of work. The innovation that’s driving the gig economy is now two-way – embraced by employers as well as workers – and that’s the big difference.

Gig workers are increasingly taking charge of their careers, developing their talent, and are highly committed to what they’re doing. They are frequently earning more than if they were in traditional employment.

When we recognise that a majority of gig workers are doing this by choice, not from economic necessity, it adds a fresh dimension about how we all use and engage with this new economy.

So, what’s driving it? There are three key factors that I see – technology, demographics and lifestyle.

We all know how much technology has liberated people from their geography. Mobile technologies and virtual collaboration tools mean that much more work is done outside of organisations, while human cloud platforms have turbocharged an entire new group of contractors and entrepreneurs.

The millennial generation that has grown up in this technological revolution sees nothing unusual in pushing the boundaries toward more flexible, sharing and entrepreneurial modes of work. They are, both, willing to engage in gig work and, as managers, use gig workers in their organisations.

From a lifestyle perspective, the gig economy offers flexibility, diversity and autonomy that is unparalleled. I know people who have made this choice who say they can’t imagine returning to their former ‘stable jobs’. Whether it’s mothers returning to work, fathers wanting to spend more time with families or baby boomers wanting a ‘soft retirement’, there is a growing cohort whose hearts and minds are driving them in a similar direction.

And, the final key element is the way that enterprises are leveraging these free agents within their organisations and using them to get better results such as more flexible ‘on-demand’ delivery of products, services and niche talent.

The important point is that the benefits cut both ways. Gig workers are being increasingly recognised and utilised for their worth to mainstream enterprises and, in turn, enjoy the work and lifestyle flexibility it offers. Organisations are making use of the flexibility and competitiveness that flows from the more agile gig workforce. They also derive a ‘dividend’ from the transfer of knowledge and skills from outside the organisation.

These are changes we are all absorbing as the gig economy evolves and moves into the mainstream.

I’m very confident about it. I think it’s one of the most positive innovations that we have seen and can be mutually beneficial.

I still recall the buzz that I’d get as a gig worker. It’s a powerful and motivating force, and I can see why so many people find it empowering and infectious. When its unleashed on a national scale, it really becomes transformational – and we need to remember that this is just the start.

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