Gigs aren’t new. In fact, gigs have existed for over a century. Today, with the proliferation of the Internet and smartphone apps that instantly connect providers and consumers of services, the gig economy has skyrocketed. In just over a decade, Airbnb, Uber and other digital platforms have opened the gig world to a multitude of workers looking for side hustles. Since then, the gig economy has taken on a persona of its own, slated seemingly for a promising future.
Alas, the unexpected Covid-19 pandemic had other plans. When the silent coronavirus swept through the world in just months, its trail of destruction was visibly clear. Economies bled, businesses shuttered, and many were left jobless. The world was not ready for a stumbling block of this magnitude. The sudden loss of full-time employment further flooded the gig market with unemployed people seeking alternative sources of income. Already a crowded marketplace, the gig economy now appears to be at risk of oversaturation. Even the big boys of the gig economy are succumbing to the coronavirus effect. Airbnb has cut 25% of its workforce. Uber rides have decreased 80 per cent according to the Washington Post, and reported to have sheared off 25% of its workforce.
There is also a trepidation that automation will ultimately replace some of the jobs produced by the gig economy: driverless cars taking over human drivers and robots performing repetitive tasks with little or no downtime. The allure of the gig economy was flexibility and freedom, but now gig workers are as vulnerable as employed workers in terms of opportunities.
Despite a short term slowdown in revenue growth at the start of Covid-19, a global report by Payoneer revealed promising signs of recovery in the freelancing economy mid last year, with revenues picking up by 28 per cent since the beginning of the year. In fact, the report observed that in the months following the Covid-19 crisis, not only was there an increased demand for freelancers, many countries were experiencing a surge. India for example, saw a whopping 46% increase in new freelancers from Q1 to Q2 last year.
CNBC reported a 25 per cent increase in freelance job openings during the second quarter of 2020 - compared to the first three months of the year. A recent Gartner survey reported that 32% of employers are replacing full time employees with contingent workers for greater workforce flexibility.
Just like the 2008-2009 global recession where we saw businesses tightening their belts and focusing on cost control which ultimately resulted in shrinking full-time employment; the Covid-19 situation is accelerating the rise of the freelancing market with increased demand. The pandemic has reshaped the future of work, pushing remote working as the new norm as a result of global lockdowns and social distancing measures. Businesses are now beginning to realise that outsourcing quality talents is a flexible solution to control costs and boost agility in order to ease them through uncertain times.
From the employers’ perspective, hopping onto the gig wagon allows them to have a sharp focus on cost control without the need for additional full-time headcount. Having an on-demand workforce makes organisations more proactive as they can better respond to cyclical demands in their businesses - supporting rapid scale ups when they experience sudden growth spurts. More importantly, engaging the services of outsourced talents allows organisations to tap on specific expertise that may be beyond the capabilities of their current workforce. For some organisations, using gig workers have helped to overcome an entrenched resistance to change in an otherwise traditional work culture.
For gig workers, access to virtual portals and technological advancements have made it easier for them to gain access to alternative job opportunities. What excites these job seekers is that there are now avenues for them to feed growing aspirations and work on their own terms. Gig seekers believe that there is a greater variety of work out there, instead of being bound to a 9 to 5 role. The desire to do what they like to do, when they choose to, and the autonomy that comes with freelancing, drive many to seek out the gig economy. Besides supplementing incomes, the prospect of doing multiple things at the same time is a reflection of both progression and independence.
The world is changing, and we are now seeing the wide-spread adoption of a contingent workforce. In order for the gig economy to be ‘pandemic-proof’, both employers and gig seekers need to adjust and fully embrace the flexibility of the gig economy. Upskilling and having an open mindset will facilitate a smoother transition for gig seekers. Organisations will have to consider including gig workers in the same ways as regular employees, such as meting out employee benefits like paid vacations or sick leave etc. Facilitating such crucial conversations will play an important role in shaping the future of the gig economy and make it a sustainable future of work.
There’s a better way to grow. And it’s not the traditional way.
It’s about rethinking traditional employment archetypes. Can we progress from an economy built on full time employment habitually enslaved by unemployment fears, to one where individuals have greater autonomy and are self motivated to do work that inspires them? And as a result, benefit the economy as a whole?
You can’t own full time employees. But you can build a winning team with talent management companies. As businesses demand more, external talents are emerging as the sure forerunners of an agile workforce. At Chance Upon, we partner businesses to get a head start over competition by creating collaborative work between companies and the right talents.
Bobby Allyn, Airbnb Cuts 1,900 Jobs, 25% Of Its Workforce, As Pandemic Freezes Travel, NPR (5 May 2020)
Faiz Siddiqui, Uber lays off 3,000 more staffers, shutters dozens of offices, Washington Post (19 May 2020)
Sara Ashley O’Brien, New Uber report shows it slipped on Black representation after layoffs, CNN Business (20 November 2020)
What pandemic? Demand for freelancers increases, India sees second-most surge after the Philippines, Economic Times | Panache (1 October 2020)
Karen Gilchrist, The pandemic has boosted freelance work — and hiring for these jobs is booming, CNBC (6 July 2020)