The crucial thing about the Gig Economy is that it is very much a part of an evolution in the way that we live and work. As with every evolution, there is an element of trial and error and there can be teething problems, in this case, ones that have been widely discussed.

The basis of concern is the issue of worker rights in an unregulated method of working. From there a catalogue of details have emerged about the way in which we monitor and support individuals who choose or find themselves in a gig style of working. Many of the problems come from the way in which the Gig Economy came about, a conception which is rapidly evolving into something more significant, more stable and more interesting for the long term, so long as Government and mindset can adapt with it.

In a general context there is a lot of change going on. The Gig Economy has been described as the fourth industrial revolution and is a change that’s carrying us en route to a machine oriented age of working. The pace of change for both individuals and companies is extremely challenging – keeping up with innovations and changing skillset requirements can be both daunting and draining, so it is unsurprising that there have been hiccoughs along the way for those pioneering change. “Is the Gig Economy working?” asks the New Yorker amidst a plethora of headlines that question its validity – well, it’s evolving is really the honest answer.

Worker rights and where the Gig Economy started

For example, this year we have seen the likes of Uber and Deliveroo, famed advocates and literal drivers of the Gig Economy in its original guise, coming under fire by a parliamentary committee over the companies’ working conditions, including job insecurity and employment rights. The criticism is not unjust as it seems it is possible for gig workers to earn well below minimum wage at the moment as they are not seen by the companies they work for as employees but contractors — though a court ruling against Uber disagreed in 2016.

This has been the big issue so far highlighted within the Gig Economy – the fact that our wider infrastructure is not yet fully prepared for it, and for this reason some employers have fallen foul of employment laws – which is the reason to approach it with a considered proposition, ensuring you’re fully informed and so too are the workers you engage. It is crucial that this way of working is done in the right way with the right kind of gig worker – a fact we have already touched upon in previous chapters.

The concern over worker rights lead to the Taylor Review in July 2017 which calls for a new category of worker, which gives those in the Gig Economy some employment benefits and ensures a decent wage. Given the rapid growth of this way of working and the increasingly White Collar implementation of the practice, it is reliably projected that this is a big part of the future of work, and so governmental and institutional change is required in order to stem both real and feared problems with it. After all, do we want to build a future in which either perceived or practical job insecurity is a significant factor?

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about the future of the Gig Economy, which again stems largely from its genesis, is that it is about app-based platforms that dole out work in bits and pieces. We have already progressed beyond with both more traditional businesses employing on the gig basis, as well as more of a contractor style of working being part of the gig landscape. Meanwhile, zero hour contract working has been lumped into the emerging Gig Economy, having its place as part of the changing way of working – paid hourly, but with no set minimum – part of companies trying to cut or limit staffing costs.

The need for meaningful human endeavour

Meanwhile the machine age looms large as AI and robotics threaten the way we not only work but also the skills required at work and the way we perceive our working lives. As algorithms are developed that can write articles indistinguishable from those written by people, and machines can take over tasks such as administration and even moving into white collar roles, the quest for meaningful human endeavour raises a catalogue of questions. For example, what will be the disruptive impact of driverless vehicles considering that driving is the single largest occupation of US men today?

Again, Uber sits ready and waiting as a pioneering example having launched the first fleet of driverless cars in Pennsylvania – an interesting move that places it ahead of the curve with major competitors and industry leaders technologically. The human role will move from driver to technician. Meanwhile, big corporations such as EY have taken the changing demands of world business and have identified the future skills that are in demand in the world moving forward, which include problem solving, creativity, cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence and collaboration – inherently human skills in effect.

The changing perception of the Gig Economy

The problems with the Gig Economy are not things to sweep under a rug and forget about. For all the flexibility it brings, there are those who say the roles “aren’t as flexible as they seem, as workers are incentivised or pressured to work when the companies need them.” It is true to note that some companies have taken the opportunity to seemingly be both negligent and exploitative in their employment approaches – for example, Hermes was accused of failing to pay the minimum wage to delivery drivers operating on a gig basis. However, it is not a case that ‘gig’ should become a byword for exploitation, as it begins to broaden and deepen as a concept, with new versions of it appearing all the time.

The things that are negative, frightening, problematic and incomplete in terms of formal process however, are the same things that herald a time of opportunity and innovation. The Gig Economy is not the final destination in changing world business, but the skills and processes that we develop within it are destined to be be a vital part of the roadmap moving forward.

More importantly, the gigCMO approach is not part of the Gig Economy’s past but its progressive future – the changing perception and the new way in which it can be used to benefit both individuals at a certain stage in their career, and companies in need of experienced input.

Key points

  • There are many businesses that have fallen foul of employment laws with gig workers, highlighting the importance for a carefully considered HR policy.
  • Look to the future and consider how changing robotics and AI will alter your company’s needs in order to create meaningful human endeavour.
  • It’s important to think of the Gig Economy as part of an ongoing change in the way we work, and an opportunity for you and your HR department to reconsider future policies.

READ CHAPTER 10: How attractive are you?

©gigCMO First published  April 2018