Radical change reaches even the most unlikely corners of life in the most unexpected ways

549883cb 9b1a 47ea 9d45 f2c830bfed43
31/07/2017

Plugging the gap.

It’s not written as in-depth reportage on a socio-economic trend, but The Economist recently published an article that is in fact a fascinating insight into the ‘you can buy anything’ attitude, expectations for service on demand, and the power of the internet to connect customers and suppliers. Even in the far reaches of services that were once the domain of religious institutions like the Catholic Church. The article reports that the church has neglected exorcisms for a long time despite strong demand from the public. There are some 100 exorcist priests licensed by the church in France, according to the International Association of Exorcists in Rome, but most are inactive. So into the breach have arrived a new breed of self-employed exorcists having spotted this gap in the market. This new job role (outside of the bounds of the church) exemplifies an extraordinary shift in attitudes towards supply and demand, and would surely have been barely imaginable even a few short years ago.

It seems there is no corner of life not open to disruption, re-invention and subject to the power of market forces. Certainly the idea of freelancing, consulting or contracting is not new, people have been doing it for decades. What is new, is the breadth and mindset with which it’s being adopted and accepted as the ‘norm’ in the new gig economy where entrepreneurial spirit reigns and consumer demand rises.

Gig economy: good vs evil

The word ‘gig’ probably arrive in the 1920s. The phrase was mostly used by jazz club musicians, travelling from one gig to another. More recently however, it re-emerged at the height of the financial crisis as people cobbled together their own careers by ‘gigging’ on a variety of part-time and freelance jobs, frankly, to make ends meet.

Then came industry disrupting and game changing brands such as Uber and AirBNB. Followed by accusations of exploitation and legal challenges on their new business models. For good or bad, the net result has been a seismic shift in work styles and a jolt for both the taxi industry and the hotel industry, which continue to evolve, both providing new opportunity for individuals to earn whilst also giving conventional businesses a sharp nudge to reconsider their market position.

The gig economy has been described as a jobs market characterised by short term contracts and freelance work instead of permanent jobs. But there is more to it than that.

New gigs new choices

“Over the past 20 years, the number of gig economy workers…has increased by about 27% more than payroll employees” reported CNBC at the end of 2016.” In some industries that growth escalated to as much as a 44% increase. In 2016 the BBC reported a 72% increase in gig workers in the transport and storage sector since 2010, and McKinsey Global Institute found that 20-30% of the working-age population in Europe and the United States “engage in some form of independent work”. In 2017 that escalated and Fast Company reported that “findings from Adobe revealed that as many as one-third of the 1,000 U.S. office workers they polled had a second job and more than half (56%) predicted we would all have multiple jobs in the future.”

McKinsey divided gig workers into the following categories: “free agents, who actively choose independent work and derive their primary income from it; casual earners, who use independent work for supplemental income and do so by choice; reluctants, who make their primary living from independent work but would prefer traditional jobs; and the financially strapped, who do supplemental independent work out of necessity.”

What’s interesting is that the trend that was born of necessity in a labour intensive job market has been adopted by other industries including marketing and finance, compounded by members of the workforce who are entering it with different principles and expectations of working life.

An ideology that has gained both credence and critics since recession in 2008, it has now moved up the ranks and found its way into the C-Suite, where it has been legitimising itself as a valid form of employment and recruitment. Its roots remain in the idea of being paid for the specific ‘gigs’ that an individual is recruited for, but the make-up of the gig varies from company to company, project to project, ranging from those who really are in situ for a few days or weeks to a catalogue of ‘permanent temporaries’. Suffice to say that as our collective understanding of, and confidence in the concept grows, so will the innovation with which individuals and businesses use the concept to their advantage at all levels of the organisation.

Re-thinking business impact

The gig economy is also making itself a byword for cutting out intermediaries. It’s a world of purpose, without space for tail spend, but it’s also a place without smoke and mirrors, making the employee minutes and office square footage work for their place in the budget. A more flexible workforce supported by remote access technology reduces the need for large physical locations, increasingly prohibitive for even the most successful of corporations thanks to the cost of real estate.

In turn, the reduced and flexible office space helps answer the increasing issues of economic and environmental sustainability. As Unilever’s Geoff McDonald has been quoted saying – big business can no longer “afford to turn its back on society”.

The bricks and mortar structure of businesses has been changing for some time. Hot-desking and remote working are all taking the place of large, expensive offices with a view of the city. For example, hot-desking can cut the costs of running an office by up to 30% according to a report from the BBC. The changing ratio between permanent (reducing) and temporary (growing) employees is all part of this evolution.

No going back

The main thing is that our mindset has changed. Once upon a time our parents, cousins and siblings all found work in the same big corporation and dedicated their lives to it. Today a multiplicity of experience is viewed as an asset to career progression. Savvy brands value the experience of people who have absorbed knowledge from a variety of organisations to bring fresh perspective and innovative ideas to the table, bringing nuance as well as know-how into the arena.

Short term contracting to garner the benefits of a variety of skills are the order of the day. Or as one Google VP put it on LinkedIn: “build a mosaic of a career. Just like a Monet is better when you stand back and you see all of the different colours form the picture. Up close, it just looks like dots and blurbs and blobs of paint, but the majesty is sort of all of it together.” Who wouldn’t benefit from a touch of Monet in their team?

Meanwhile, businesses are finding that tightening budgets means that firms are also not seeking to pay large salaries for more senior and economically onerous roles on a permanent basis. So not only are there less permanent roles now in the job market for highly qualified individuals, but there are less people willing to fill those roles in a full time capacity.

Expectations on transparency are also high. Businesses operate in an environment that is less forgiving and more open to criticism than ever before, and therefore the value of an external opinion has gone up. Critical advice, alternative perspectives, diversity of thought from multiple viewpoints – all of these are key to avoiding myopic decisions. A regular influx of ‘outside-in’ thinkers not wedded to the inherent job structure of your business is one way to ensure that what seemed ‘obvious’ on the inside doesn’t land as a PR disaster on the outside.

Call it a moment in time, call it a phase, but the indicators are all pointing in the same direction; the traditional business model is evolving fast. While some roles are still best served by permanent employees, there’s now an entire ecosystem of approaches available to choose from and keeping relevant and connected to your customers, community and employee needs is key.  If the Catholic Church can lose their market-leading position on exorcism by just failing to provide what the customer wants, it can also happen to you. Embrace the new mindset.