More than 56 million Americans freelanced last year, according to the Freelancers Union.
With the increasing amount of workers turning to part-time, freelance, and contract work for a variety of reasons, a growing number of businesses are now based on the gig economy model.
The E-Commerce Times spoke with several experts familiar with the ins and outs of the gig economy to find out what’s evolving and changing in this burgeoning field.
“The gig economy is characterized by independent workers who perform temporary jobs while on flexible schedules,” Will Eadie, chief revenue officer at WorkJam, explained to the E-Commerce Times.
“Typically, gig work has been made available to workers through apps that have increased demand. Hallmarks of the gig economy are that the work is flexible. Workers set their own hours, and workers are independent contractors, which is the case in most municipalities.”
Compromise for Flexibility
Expansion in recent years of the gig economy marks significant changes in the labor and employment market, as well as in the business models of companies.
“The gig economy has grown due to the labor market’s demand for flexible working hours and quick access to earned wages,” said Eadie. “For years, workers in the gig economy have enjoyed autonomy when creating their own schedules and tech-enabled communication that they are familiar with through their smartphones.
“Since traditional employers have been slower to roll out operations that enable flexible scheduling, earlier access to earned wages, and tech-enabled communication, [workers] have flocked to gig work for alternative employment or supplemental employment.”
Despite the typical lack of benefits and consistency of gig work, the workers appreciate its flexibility.
“Also, it’s usually possible to do gig work remotely, and this is attractive to many. One other benefit of the gig economy is that if someone is considering making a shift to gig work, or would like to do something part-time, to make a little extra money, this option provides those opportunities and can be as much or as little as someone needs.”
Whether they’re doing freelance design work or driving kids to soccer practice, gig workers are, to a great degree, in control of their own work-life balance.
“More and more people are supplementing their income by choosing to grow their own businesses, on their own time,” Miriam Ravkin, senior vice president of marketing for HopSkipDrive, told the E-Commerce Times. “More of today’s workers want flexibility.”
Much of the growth of the gig economy has to do with the development of new apps and other technologies that connect gig workers with companies and clients.
“The advances in technologies allowing for people to easily communicate when not collocated has helped,” explained Frana.
“Often times, this allows people to be able to work and offer their services from anywhere in the world — and it opens the doors for companies to be able to have flexibility with office space and a potentially wider applicant pool when bringing on gig workers. In addition, gig opportunities typically grow during economic downturns, even as traditional employment opportunities decline.”
Such technologies are even starting to be used by traditional businesses that seek to offer a similar level of flexibility to their employees.
“Traditional employers in industries like retail, hospitality, and food service are beginning to offer gig-like flexible scheduling through digital workplace technology,” explained Frana.
“I’ve been encouraged by how traditional employers have responded to the changing labor market by building out benefits that initially attracted workers to the gig economy. Flexible scheduling has made early movers the employers of choice.
“As more traditional employers get on board, seamless shift swapping, advance pay options, and open shift pools will continue to become more mainstream. Workers are the beneficiaries of this competition.”
Opportunities for Professionals
One significant way the gig economy continues to evolve is by expanding to include more professional and highly-skilled workers.
“In recent years, a wider variety of professional-level jobs have increased opportunities for gig work,” said Frana. “In particular, top freelance job categories on FlexJobs right now are Computer and IT, Accounting and Finance, HR and Recruiting, Editing and Proofreading, Writing, Administrative, and Project Management.”
There’s been an erosion of the idea that work must be 9 to 5, in the office, for one particular company. Increasingly, even professional workers are being drawn to work models that give them more flexibility and control, even with the drawbacks of not being full-time employees.
“I think a lot of the focus has been on relatively rote jobs being replaced by gig workers — taxi drivers, food delivery, etc. — but I see a future where the high-skill workforce is more and more dispersed, and less heavily-weighted toward full-time,” Josh Zywien, chief marketing officer at Paradox, told the E-Commerce Times.
“Some aspects of software development are already trickling into the gig economy. The same is true for accounting and legal, or FP&A roles. For e-commerce, we’re already seeing shifts to gig workers for call center and customer care tasks, and in some cases even distribution and fulfillment.”
Ultimately, the gig economy’s model is likely to continue — and to grow even stronger in the future. “The gig economy is constantly evolving, and no matter what the future holds, it is here to stay,” Brad Rollo, CEO at GoFor, told the E-Commerce Times.
“It’s important that businesses treat gig workers as professionals and entrepreneurs as the gig economy grows. Across the last-mile logistics industry, we’re seeing the emergence of micro-businesses that embody the entrepreneurial spirit of delivery drivers.
“Traditionally, delivery drivers are limited to one vehicle. But with the shift towards scalable fleets and independent owner-operators, drivers have the opportunity to access new and innovative methods of transportation, such as electric vehicles, and ability to grow their own business. Allowing this level of flexibility to gig workers will help businesses grow their reach and improve their customer service.”