25 March 2019

The Gig Economy is Not Just About Uber!

Toy cars, in and out of focus, with "Uber" and "Lyft" tags above them

Our world continues to evolve and change at an increasing rate of pace. I joined the workforce in 1991 and since then, I believe the working environment has evolved more in the last five years than in the 20 years before that.

As an HR professional, I now deal with questions and scenarios that would have seldom been seen in 1991 that they would not have even required a paragraph in a textbook!

Our world continues to evolve and change at an increasing rate of pace.  I joined the workforce in 1991 and since then, I believe the working environment has evolved more in the last five years than in the 20 years before that.  As an HR professional, I now deal with questions and scenarios that would have seldom been seen in 1991 that they would not have even required a paragraph in a textbook!

 “The gig economy involves the exchange of labor for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment by task basis.” 

Today, I speak with clients across the globe that want to know how they can cope with a rapidly changing workforce where many people will have multiple periods of employment with the same company over a short period of time.  At the same time, these employers want to understand how they can communicate with their gig workers who can be in widespread locations and still ensure they are available to the other team members.

A staff meeting isn’t just about booking a room and letting everyone know the start time.  If you have engaged a gig worker do you really want them to attend a meeting (remotely or in person) or do you simply want them to deliver an outcome?

I saw a post today on LinkedIn asking for a referral for a copywriter; I hope that LinkedIn user found someone! Although I don’t know any of the details of the assignment, it’s a classic case of needing some short-term expertise. 

Giggers need to be experts in leveraging their networks to find and secure the next gig. Equally, people like the LinkedIn user can benefit from this as they use networking sites such as LinkedIn to find the talent they need. There are other sites where membership is required to access a range of opportunities. I’m part way through the joining process of one such site that is only possible where a recommendation has been made. I’m sure there are many others that I’ve not even heard of!

Every day my LinkedIn feed is full of people who have set up a business either as a side ‘hustle’ or as part of their portfolio of work. Some people announce two or three new roles on the same day and one contact had nine roles listed as ‘Present’.  So this got me thinking.  Could I use the gig economy to get my ‘hustle’ started?  Nothing too difficult.  Just to set up ‘AJD HR Consultancy ‘Services using Fiverr and the gig expertise that exists on there?

Here’s my shopping list from top rated sellers:

  • Logo - 2 Professional Logos 300DPI high-quality JPG and PNG Transparent in 7 hrs. £47
  • Website – 5-page design, including content upload, with support for a week and available in 7 days. £115
  • Website copy - 8 SEO pages of website content (4000 words) and delivered in 11 days. £358
  • Business cards – With full stationery, source files, unlimited revisions, 2 concepts, print ready in 4 days. £55
  • Marketing – a marketing plan, manage social media (content creation, posting) - Google ads (Search/ Display/ Ecom) in 5 days. £120
  • Tax returns – Premium UK Company and Corporation Tax return in 7 days. £140
  • Business coach – 1 hour of support to start to outline my business plan. £35

So for £870, I can get a collection of 5* rated gig workers to help me build my company.  I’ve not left my house and I can do all of these actions over the next two weeks while still in employment. Or why don’t I just sell my services directly through sites like fiverr or completely change focus and sign up for an Uber/Lyft account? I have options and so do your employees. I’ve talked before about the shift in the power balance between employees and employers and the gig economy offers a backup plan to many people.

I worked with a customer who was going through a digital and HR transformation project. From the outset, it was clear that only a small number of the existing Payroll, HR and Analytics teams would be required. For many, this was devastating news and others were more relaxed about the opportunity it gave to them.  Warren (not his real name), a talented analytics expert, decided this was the push he needed and with the redundancy payment he received he had the confidence to change the way he worked.  He became a freelancer and sold his services far and wide.  He worked with multiple customers whether it was for an hour, a day, or a few weeks at a time.  He picked where he wished to work and took the holidays he had missed over the previous years.  A year or so after he left the company, I returned for some follow-up consultancy and sat in the office was Warren the experienced gig worker.  He was just finishing three days work with his previous employer and was looking forward to working for a merchant bank in the City for two days. He was going to stay with family only a few miles from a Tube station so he considered this a great plan to work and catch-up with his cousins at the same time.

But it’s not for everyone.  Media coverage sometimes portrays that every one of us has a gig interest that we follow at the weekends or outside of our ‘normal’ jobs. Would it surprise you to know that in the UK there are only around 4.4% of the population that has worked in the gig economy in the last 12 months, but in the US it was slightly higher at 7%? The most obvious measure of difference of gig workers and traditional workers is the reassurance that they will be paid on time.  This remains the greatest difference between the two groups and for many, the inconsistent cash flow is the main reason why some people don’t consider the gig economy as a full-time option and see it only as a side line.  That said, in the US, 6% of gig workers have more than two gigs.

The research of both BEIS and Gallup shows that gig workers are motivated by the number of hours they can work at a time that suits them and the type of work they can undertake.  Contrary to popular belief, the gig economy is not just about Uber!  There are many other platforms such as PeoplePerHour, Deliveroo, iFreelance, Rover, Mechanical Turks, and many more which offer the ability for people to promote themselves and secure a range of work. 

Why are these gig sites important to traditional businesses?

Some of you will have thought that these gig sites are not important to a traditional business. Let’s reconsider this for a minute. If you have an immediate need for expertise and don’t want to go through some lengthy process of hiring a temporary worker, why can’t you use a gig site? Your competitors may already be doing it and therefore, gaining a competitive advantage over you. Sometimes, the speed of acting warrants a very different approach to that normally taken. There is risk involved with every option, but the blend of permanent employees, fixed-term employees, zero hours workers and gig working has been with us for many years. Maybe the use of gig workers allows you to spread that risk and as we saw with Warren, still use their skills for a short period of time.

I was working in the US in February 2019, just after the end of the Government shutdown. The hardcore Uber drivers were still bemoaning how the shutdown had hit them as countless Government employees had sought work through Uber to fill the void of the paychecks they would normally have received.  Was this the ultimate gig economy example where a Government’s action had pushed its own employees to find short-term work and therefore, saturate a market? Or does this reflect the nature of a fluid workforce that will increasingly have multiple gigs available to them to mitigate their own employment risks?

Finally, here are 5 questions for CEOs and CHROs to discuss:

  • Do we really understand how the gig economy can help our business?
  • Do we know how many of our people are already engaged in the gig economy?
  • Which areas could easily make more use of gig workers to provide expertise?
  • Do we have a blended workforce?
  • Do our competitors use gig workers to gain a first mover advantage over us?

Please post your responses or approaches to gig workers in the comments box.

Find out more about the gig economy in our blog The Gig Economy: the Good, the Bad and the Future

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Andy Davies

As an expert in human resources and a member of the CIPD, Andy is now responsible for developing the implementation strategy for People First partners. Passionate about the future of HR, employee engagement and performance management, Andy often writes and offers best practice advice on the need for archaic HR practices to evolve in order for organisations to stay relevant within the ever-changing world of work

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