The disembarkment of the 'gig' phenomenon

Friday, 6 october 2017 | Brenda Rodríguez López

The years that followed the global crisis were decisive for the professionals of today, especially for those young generations that were just entering the labor market. Creativity, ingenuity and astuteness became their most valuable allies, because to play in that uncertain work scenario, it was necessary to establish new rules. Freelance, occasional workers, sporadic collaborators, professional cooperatives,... People now play different and alternative roles compared to the traditional ones. The work has gone from being stable and strict, to becoming sporadic and flexible. The gig economy is disembarking at the port of the working world. Are we ready for its arrival?

 

Constantly looking for new performances, moving with instruments and the equipment on their backs, maintaining and establishing contacts with showrooms and performers, attending auditions,... Earning a living by working as a musician is not an easy task. Neither it was, in the golden 1920s. American jazz performers who did not have a steady job, were forced 'to jump from one gig to other' to try gathering a salary. In many occasions, these musicians were hired to act along with other interpreters of a band, although just occasionally. This practice was called 'gigging', a word that would give rise to what we know today as gig economy. This is the new work modality which is characterized –like the activity of both today and yesterday's musicians–by the temporality, independence and specialization of the professionals who exercise it .

Working from a coffee shop taking an espresso, deciding when and how to start a project, having a working day only for a few hours, deactivating the clock alarm, working with different teams and in different companies, choosing customers or becoming the boss himself/herself. These are the particularities of the work of an increasing number of professionals. It seems an ideal working model, but like the popular phrase says:

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The gig professionalization

The gig economy grows alongside the collaborative culture and is driven by the proliferation of digital platforms like Uber, Deliveroo or Freelancer. The crisis was its breeding ground. Professionals and entrepreneurs decided to combat the economic recession with ingenuity; developing new digital platforms, exploring other work alternatives, offering their services as  freelancers, or, even, exchanging their job services for the ones from other professionals. Nowadays, drivers, delivery people, journalists, translators, photographers, carpenters, musicians, graphic designers, software developers or programmers are just an example of some of the workers who join to the 'gig' phenomenon.

The services for which these professionals are hired are temporary, but they are also characterized by their high degree of specialization. Temporality was common in artistic sectors, seasonal jobs and works related to the construction world. However, job instability has also contributed to other professionals with a high educational background adopting this trend. Increasingly, engineers, lawyers, architects or journalists choose to work by projects and independently, because the incomes they get are high, because they have greater flexibility, to overcome obstacles that they find in their traditional sector or as a complement to their wage. Is this the beginning of a new paradigm of professionalization?

 

The disembarkment of the 'gig' phenomenon

How will the future work look like?

The media launches headlines about collaborative economy, struggles between traditional sectors and new platforms or attractive digital companies, they barely mention the arrival of a new labor paradigm that the sharing culture brings about, the gig economy. However, 72% of Spanish Human Resources directors believe that the 'gig' or 'sporadic' economy will prevail in the future, according to an Oracle study. In fact, 46% of them point out that it is already a widespread practice to hire independent professionals to perform highly qualified tasks.

They are not the only ones who think that this new paradigm is beginning to take force in the workplace and can mean a significant change in the work model. A survey carried out by Mckinsey Global Institute in the United States, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom indicates that between 20% and 30% of the population of these countries is composed by independent workers –freelancers or temporary workers–. According to this report, government agencies often lower the figures because they do not take into account the percentage of workers who use these formulas as a complement to their usual incomes.

This new employment of the future does not establish clear boundaries between leisure and work; the professionals can work one day offering a transport service and another, editing a photo shoot; they have no fixed office, they can work in a house, an airplane or a cafeteria; the potential clients range is extended, from the fifth floor neighbor to a marketing company in Colombia; Internet is  their engine and the freedom their best ally. The model change is just around the corner, are we ready?

If the future that holds us seems increasingly temporary, specialized and independent, the framework where it is developed must evolve with it, otherwise the work will be at risk of becoming precarious: labor informality, 'false freelancers' increase, unfair competition, lack of legal protection,... A discontinuous and independent professional development exposes professionals to situations of defenselessness about their labor rights, like the impossibility of taking vacations or of requesting sick leave. The ability of an independent worker to carry out a financial planning is much lower than any other. These temporary workers do not have easy access to credit. In addition, the lack of stability can cause in independent workers a sense of permanent distress.

For some, the 'gig' work is an opportunity to break free from the mundane bounds of traditional work. For others, the only solution that they have to overcome the obstacles that they find along the way. The world of HR has an exciting journey ahead.