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Bye, bye gig economy.
Or is it hello, hello gig economy?
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Today’s topic is a topic I’ve been torn about ever since I first heard the term gig economy. My ambiguity is probably reflected throughout the article.
If you disagree with me, shoot me an email. I’d really like to get more perspectives on this as there probably are more to it than I see.
That said, let’s get to it.
Bye, bye gig economy
Pre-pandemic, it was rare to find an HR conference with no talk about the gig economy. Alongside employer branding, gamification, and EVP, gig workers and the gig economy were among the biggest buzzwords of the last decade. We were all supposed to become gig workers, one way or another, and it would forever change our organizations.
The narrative was usually brought by someone with a vested interest in the space. Either someone who had a gig working platform or someone who had an epiphany, quitting their old 9-5 job and becoming a gig worker.
One question one might ask is what is even a gig worker and what's the gig economy?
Depending on who's talking about it, you get different answers. Usually, the gig economy is described as relying on flexible, temporary, or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform.
A gig worker, then, is someone doing these tasks. The typical examples include Uber, where the app serves both customers - aka me who wants to ride somewhere - and the driver who gets assigned each ride through Uber's interface. Uber, in this case, doesn't employ the driver but leverages their capabilities.
The gig economy stretches beyond the use case of riding (or delivery of food, another famous example) and now includes professional services in almost all categories. On gig platforms such as Upwork, Toptal, and Fiverr, you'll find everything from social media management to legal advice. And yes, there is an increasing number of HR Services offered on both platforms.
But wait, aren't I a gig worker myself?
One could argue that the difference between a traditional consultant such as myself and a gig worker is small and slim. But where gig workers mainly find work through platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr, consultants find more traditional ways. Gig workers are precisely what they sound like: they work a short gig somewhere, whereas consultants like me usually do longer projects.
And if we take me specifically, what we are trying to build at The Talent Company is a dedicated consultancy service. We employ all our people, and we want them to be part of The Talent Company. We usually take on longer projects that have a significant strategic impact on the organizations we work with.
One could always argue around this. But as a side note, what is a fact is that when the pandemic hit, the talk about gig workers stopped.
But did the gig workers disappear?
Not really. Upwork grew its revenue by 24% last year. Fiverr grew its revenue by 77% year-over-year last year. These are not perfect indicators about where the space is moving, but it's a strong signal that the gig working space is growing and that more people are finding value in utilizing gig workers. There are also more gig workers available for work.
If the gig platforms see an uptick in revenue - why don't we hear more about this?
The obvious answer is that we're busy writing shitloads of articles about remote work and what that will mean for organizations. It's the new shiny thing that we all like to talk about.
I also believe that the urge to become a gig worker has diminished for many with the recent changes in the corporate landscape. If you Google the top reasons for becoming a gig worker, one thing Google will tell you is that you "can work from wherever you like."
Becoming a gig worker was a sure way to get flexibility in your life. As more organizations move to a distributed form of working, there's less of a push to become a gig worker for that reason.
More organizations also offer flexible pay options, aka the opportunity to withdraw your salary whenever you need.
Where are we heading?
In a recent survey done by McKinsey, 62% of the gig workers surveyed said they would rather not be gig workers. Worth mentioning is that this includes many different kinds of gig workers, but still, it's a clear indicator that people would opt out if there were other opportunities.
In the past, I've been very bearish on the gig economy, thinking that there has been an unreasonable amount of focus on an area that, from the broader perspective, has little impact on organizations as a whole.
When building a company, I'm also a firm believer that it's better to have people employed. It's usually cheaper in the long run, and you create more stable and mature teams. You don't need to get people up to speed all the time. The list could go on.
But with all that said, I can see the benefits of being a gig worker (once again, one could argue that I am, in fact, a gig worker), and I see the benefits it can provide to an organization.
Especially when we need to constantly learn new skills and traits, bringing in a highly skilled gig worker to help transfer knowledge and almost mentoring team members could be way more effective than sending people to a course.
But will we all become gig workers? I doubt it; there will always be people longing for the safety that a full-time job provides. But, and this is almost a forbidden topic, we've seen people working multiple jobs during the pandemic.
Perhaps that's something we should embrace further? No, not ripping companies off like in the example above but are you really productive 100% of the time you work? And as mentioned in The Great Resignation, if organizations need to be clearer in what they want to be done, doesn't that open up for more gig workers who work in multiple organizations simultaneously?
And that will perhaps mean that the shamans of the last decade's HR conferences will be right - the gig economy will forever change our organizations. Or maybe it will not. As you probably can tell, I'm torn.
What's your view on the gig economy?