Imagine delivering groceries in the morning, working on your project during the day, walking dogs in the evening and capping off the night by performing at a bar. Or perhaps, working as a graphic designer for an advertising company and simultaneously designing the interiors for a client. Sounds challenging? Tiring? Exciting? Well, irrespective, this is how it’s going to be. This is the future of work.
The workplace is undergoing the biggest change it has seen in the past few decades. The typical 9-to-5 jobs are close to becoming obsolete. Unlike the traditional economy of full-time workers who rarely change jobs and focus on lifetime careers, the on-demand economy or more commonly the ‘gig economy’ is based on flexible, temporary or freelance jobs. The word ‘gig’ has very little to do with music concerts in today’s context. Instead, it refers to a one-off job that someone gets paid to do on a casual basis.
Today, a traditional full-time job with benefits package is no longer the prime model of employment. All the new graduates and soon-to-be graduates need to accept the fact that they may no longer be walking out with traditional employment offers. This does not mean that there are fewer jobs, but that the opportunities will appear as ‘gigs’ and not as a ‘traditional job’. Majority of us will need to create our own employment opportunities.
There are several reasons why the economy is moving in this direction. First of all, advancements in technology have led to an increase in efficiency and a decrease in the need for manpower. Companies prefer to hand out fewer permanent roles in order to cut labour costs. They save on training, office space, and benefits, and can engage experts temporarily who otherwise would be too expensive to have on staff. Remote work or contract-based work arrangements can help companies attract the right talent and fulfill current needs to remain competitive.
Also, the digital revolution has made the workforce more mobile, i.e. they can easily get work done from anywhere. Thus, job and location have decoupled and geography is no longer a barrier. Freelancers can select temporary projects from around the world and offer their skills via the internet, while employers can select the best individuals fit for special projects from a larger pool.
It isn’t just the companies that are benefitting from the gig economy. More and more people are realizing that they don’t have to be pinned to a single place of work to earn a good living. The gig economy can be seen as an evolution of this trend. The option to freelance is becoming more appealing as it provides workers more control and autonomy over their career paths, and allows them to prioritize the things that are important to them. Millennials are gravitating towards gig work for the promise of greater work-life balance. Most workers list flexibility as the most important reason to work independently. Other reasons include increased ability to travel, spend time with family and the appeal of ‘work-from-home’. It’s not just members of Gen-Z, but boomers and other generations on the brink of retirement too are drawn to gig work as it brings in a little extra income without the major time commitment.
For both businesses and workers, there are many reasons to find the gig economy appealing. Still, these benefits must be balanced with the acknowledgment that the gig economy can be extremely exploitative, and the changes occurring between workers and businesses may not all be positive.
In a cruel irony, workers in the gig economy (hailed as the height of the modern workplace) find themselves without any of the worker protections enjoyed by their grandparents. Gig workers don’t have the rights that full-time or even part-time employees enjoy – things like minimum wage, overtime pay, paid sick leave and other benefits. It is perhaps the combination of overworked and mismatch between promise and reality that causes the high attrition in the gig economy.
Besides a lack of benefits, being a part of the gig economy comes with the uncertainty of the future. Since gig workers are in short-term relationships with the employers, they always have to be on the lookout for future projects. So, if you’re not pro-active and a highly motivated worker, you may have to struggle with finding jobs. Also, gig workers do not have skill development models available to them like regular employees do. Thus, this may limit options.
But there is little stopping the gig economy now. This is because over the past two years, domestic consumption has shrunk, industrial growth has flat-lined, private investments have declined, and market volatility has hit drivers of employment. Though it’s not suitable for all, many, including undergraduates and diploma holders, look at the gig economy as a stop-gap solution.
Considering all the pros and cons of the gig economy, there are mainly two reasons for entering the gig economy:
One, due to lack of work, you can’t find a job suiting your qualifications and in the meantime have to take on short-term gigs as a way to earn a part-time income. For instance, there are many who take up a job as an Uber driver. The next time you call for an Uber, ask the driver if driving is his full-time job or a side gig. Do not be shocked if he is a recently graduated architect waiting for replies to the resumes he sent out, or perhaps a freelance graphic designer currently working on a project who had to take up this job to supplement his income.
Two, you want to explore new options before you settle for a full-time job. Or you want to remain a freelancer and not be restricted to any one company or rigid work schedules. You wish to make your own decisions about the type of work you do, who you work with, and how much work you take on.
In either case, entering the gig economy is the best option. But before you make the jump, there are certain things you need to know.
Firstly, you’re your own boss, so self-discipline is key. Some people need structure and the pressure of an authority figure to stay motivated. But if you’re a self-starter, the gig life could be a perfect fit. Just remember, with greater freedom comes greater discipline.
Secondly, if you’re a young creative just starting out, gig work can help you get a foot in the door. It allows you to pay the bills and also gives you the time to pursue your passions. Visual artists can supplement freelance design work by driving for Uber or Ola, aspiring novelists can freelance as copywriters, etc.
Next, you have to make your own arrangements to get traditional work benefits. Every day you don’t work is a day you won’t get paid. There are no paid sick leaves, no vacation days. So the entire burden lies on you. This shows that gig work isn’t some magical solution to the tedious 9-to-5 job. It comes with its own hurdles.
And the most important thing to remember is to continue up your skills and knowledge. The workforce is becoming more advanced and educated day-by-day. There are over-qualified candidates entering the market and you have to constantly educate yourself, for example by taking online classes, to maintain a competitive edge. It is important to stay relevant.
Gone are the days where one had a job that lasted a lifetime. The pace of change in the global workforce is accelerating. Young people today go into the workforce knowing that their career will likely be in flux. Thus, to succeed in the gig economy, it is important to adapt just as quickly or we’ll find ourselves out of work. So hustle hard!