The gig economy is reshaping careers for future generations. Some people prefer gig work for flexibility, freedom and personal fulfillment.
Since the dawn of time, humans have found ways to collaborate, share, and consume as communities whenever faced with the treachery of economic inequality. Trade by barter is an example… I’ll exchange some crops and time on my farm for animals for reproduction and grazing…while they fertilize the soil. Collaborative consumption can be traced back to feudal times as communities began to organize.
Communication and the interwoven nature of our present world has bolstered collaborative consumption as a means to eliminate waste while turning idle capital into revenue sources. Your home, car, truck, van, couch, boat, tools, parking spot, and even your internet connection all fall under idle capital that you could easily convert into revenue sources.
“Gig” or Gigging is a term was used by Jazz musicians as early as the last century c. 1905, hence gig workers are nothing new. In a sense, the future of work is the past.
As our identities and values become increasingly tied to our work, any digression from those valued identities often results in social or existential anxiety—the emotion associated with foreboding future harm (O¨ hman, 2000). Our social anxieties are related to the potential harm to our social standing, such as rejection (Baumeister and Tice, 1990) or status anxiety (Gill, 2015), while our existential anxieties are related to potential harm to the coherence and continuity of oneself (Tillich, 1952), such as freedom (Fromm, 1942; Schwartz, 2000) or death (Becker, 1973). Self-esteem, relationships, and worldviews are believed to protect people from those anxieties (Baumeister, 1998), however illusory those protections may be (Knights and Willmott, 1999).
For this reason, unpredictable economic volatility, existential anxieties, rising costs & income inequality, and technological change, however, have led more people to look beyond such strong contexts, as independent workers loosely connected to structured organizations. Gig work promotes personalization of work and identity. It disrupts and raises productivity focus while creating a need for a personal holding environment, resulting in a viable work identity.
Is gig work new?
“The gig economy is not new – people have always worked gigs… but today when most people refer to the “gig economy,” they’re specifically talking about new technology-enabled kinds of work.”
–Ms. Molly Turner, Lecturer, Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley and the former Director of Public Policy for Airbnb
Over one-fifth of U.S. workers labor outside of traditional employment—that is, outside of full-time positions in traditional organizations. The fraction is higher in other countries (Cappelli and Keller, 2013; McKinsey & Co., 2016). Recent surveys suggest that ‘‘all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements’’ (Katz and Krueger, 2016: 7).
Since the gig economy is purely based on a meritocracy, traces of capitalism still abound. If you’re renting a particular service, a community can rate a particular service. Users rate providers, and users are rated by buyers. Finding services within the community is easy, and people are more inclined to trust someone with established service and good reviews. This mutual feedback mechanism ensures quality, while the market stabilizes pricing and value. Notwithstanding, those with the highest reviews will command most of the good gigs, and vice versa. This often results in the best equipped service providers taking the lion’s share of the gains. Arguably, some of these platforms socialize the costs while privatizing the gains.
So, what is the future of the gig economy? Growth by the numbers, and technological innovation that will further bridge the gap and democratize access to labor and services, in addition to automation and a continuous feedback mechanism of self-governance.
Gone will be the days where aggregators told you where to go or who to hire for services. Combining empowered consumers, Artificial Intelligence, automation, access to labor, mobility, and self-determination will result in an interconnected ecosystem based on your social credit, i.e. ratings as a service provider, or consumer.
Disaggregation coupled with broadband connections, cloud computing, and mobile technology, means jobs can be conducted anytime, and anywhere.
A McKinsey Global Institute survey found that in the US, Japan, and France alone, despite Jobs in these advanced economies increasingly being for high-skill workers and rising educational attainment, 30 percent of companies had positions open for more than six months that they could not fill. Furthermore, by 2020, the United States and France would each have at least 1.5 million too few workers with college or graduate degrees and at least 2.3 million too many workers who lack that degree.
Today I can order food, have my laundry picked up, request a ride to the airport, book a dog walker, schedule item pick-up and delivery all on the same day and paid for by the guest I’ve rented my spare bedroom to before leaving for the office. In that 30-minute transaction, I have helped put 5 gig workers to work and fulfilled multiple needs while earning an income myself. That was a true story!