The Gig Revolution: Changing Work Forever
November 19, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

Gig work is going mainstream. What began as a means for the un/under-employed to make ends meet in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis is now the staple for millions of people worldwide. Gigs are no longer just side-hustles but a major source of income.

So big is the gig economy today that most people either directly or indirectly participate in it. It is gig workers that make e-commerce work when they make deliveries even in the most remote regions in the world. It is also gig workers who make a lot of the apps we enjoy today through freelance software projects.

I’m tempted to say that gig workers make the world go round but honestly, we are not quite there yet. There is still a lot of ground to cover.

What is for sure though, is that the gig revolution is well underway. The question to ask now is the impact this revolution is going to have on the global economy. With more than 30% of the global workforce now considered gig workers, the workplace is slowly but surely undergoing a monumental shift.

Here is a brief outline of some of the key trends following the gig revolution.

1. Smaller Companies

Gig workers are hired on-demand i.e., they are onboarded to work on specific projects and offboarded after their completion. The result of this setup has been smaller companies where there is a small core team of employees surrounded by a huge network of freelancers.

Take Uber, for example, there are hundreds of thousands of drivers all over the globe working gigs for Uber. The company however only has about 23,000 nominal employees. This is the same for other gig giants such as Glovo, Lyft, Doordash and even in the IT sector with platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr.

2. Death of the Office

With smaller teams comes smaller offices and in most cases no office at all. Most people attribute the death of offices to the pandemic but in fact, the trend began earlier with the advent of the gig revolution.  

The pandemic did however accentuate the trend with the lockdowns. Businesses were forced to close the office and work from home. Most did not return and never will, further expediting the rate of office closures.

The high rate of office closures in recent months has brought to question the utility of the office. Are offices necessary in the age of the gig revolution or are they a relic of an old model that is outdated? The next few years are key in answering this question.

3. Change in Employment Law

While gig workers enjoy the flexibility and the freedom that comes with this model of work, they still do not enjoy the same perks as those in traditional employment. For most freelancers, perks such as health insurance, overtime and pension schemes are self-sponsored i.e., employers do not offer any of these benefits whatsoever.

Why? Well according to employers and platforms such as Uber and Lyft, gig workers are not technically employees and as such not eligible for any of these benefits.

Uber, for instance, maintains that it does not employ any drivers or own any vehicles. Instead, it merely provides a platform that connects drivers and passengers. The result of this mindset is that no driver can claim to be an Uber employee.

Fortunately, however, employment law is slowly changing to cover this loophole. In the UK, an employment tribunal last year ruled that Uber drivers are ‘workers’ and not self-employed contractors as stipulated in their contracts.

In the US, despite the passing of the controversial Prop 22 in California, gig giants such as Uber, Lyft and Doordash are facing increased pressure to provide more benefits to their ‘contractors’.

Proposition 22 classified app-based workers as independent contractors, generally not covered under the state’s labour laws. Additionally, it instituted a minimum wage for app-based drivers based on their “engaged time,” provided some mileage compensation for drivers, set caps on work hours, prohibited workplace discrimination and harassment, and required gig companies to provide healthcare subsidies and accident insurance. The new law also limited local governments’ abilities to set additional rules on rideshare and delivery companies and required a supermajority of the state legislature to amend.

Although these benefits are still short of those under traditional employment, they are a step in the right direction and significantly better than zero benefits at all.

Gig work is here to stay, permanently changing how we work and with it the size of companies in the future, the size of offices, employment law, how we recruit and much more.

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