As a gigger (someone who works in the ‘gig economy’ – my own definition) for the past three and a half years I have formed my own views as to its success and relevance in the global work structure.
While definitions of the ‘gig economy’ remain loose, its understood as a system of freelancing where skills are sold on a project basis. This has given rise to online work sites such as Upwork, Freelancer.com and PeoplePerHour.
As with every situation there are pros and cons. For the independent contractor there is nothing better than managing your own time. Work when there’s work, play when there isn’t. Of course, the downside is that money is less certain and one’s ability to make it even less so.
Work and Play
There’s no protection in terms of labour law which means you can be thrown out at any stage of the assignment, so you always have to be marketing your skills.
However, having said that, Toy’s ‘R Us closure in the UK will see 3200 people unemployed. In South Africa, large-scale job cuts are a daily feature of the business news. Stability is never a given.
I recently interviewed for a job that would have me return to corporate. When I looked at the expanse of open plan offices and dull grey walls, I made up my mind that my days of structured work were truly over. Not that it’s easy. I read just the other day that to be a successful writer, my output should be 13 pieces a month. I’m a long way from that, but it’s not impossible.
Earlier this year, I was involved in an assignment with a large corporation. I was conscious of the incredible waste of time and resources. For example, high-level managers would sit in five-hour long meetings which proved to be nothing more than a sounding board for each of the directors to push their own agendas. These meetings included a range of consultants, billing by the hour.
In the end, the project must have cost the company a fortune, paying for hundreds of hours of staff to be unproductive while consultants sat by to observe idle time. Add to this a sizeable support staff, elaborate coffee stands, high-rise buildings and the associated running costs.
What is driving the Gig Economy in South Africa?
In Ian Mann’s review of The Gig Economy by Diane Mulcahy, he says,” Full-time employees have become the workers of last choice for many companies and this is even more pronounced in economies with strong labour laws. They are the most expensive and least flexible source of labour for companies. Despite this, companies are eliminating the full-time jobs they do have through retrenchment, downsizings and reorganisations. When companies purchase the labour they need by the project, task or by the hour, they can realise greater efficiencies.”
It’s a no-brainer that much can be done with a computer and a phone. For the communications industry which chiefly requires the skills of a writer, designer, media liaison person and event manager – the gig economy is definitely the answer.
Any consultant can operate from home, at any desk-hire facility or at any of the many Wi-Fi zones around the country. Any of the business owners can support their skills with the others listed, with a relationship that is managed by mobile tools. Set-up and running costs are minimal.
For the corporate enterprise, talent management is simplified to the essential organisational needs for any given time, and specialists need only need be hired on a project base. This will go a long way to cutting costs and putting much-needed funds back into the economy. It’s the smarter option.