Tech Opened the Door to the Gig Economy, But Is It Here to Stay?
by Larry Alton
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Technology brought us into the gig economy, which is now flourishing. In case you aren’t familiar, the “gig economy” refers to economic conditions where companies tend to hire people for “gigs,” or short-term, flexible work, and people are more interested in taking on many different contracts, clients, and opportunities, rather than working for a single organization.
Tech continues to develop, with advances in the apps and gadgets we’ve known for years, as well as the introduction of new innovations. But will these continued evolutions keep advancing the gig economy, or has this been a temporary pit stop on the road of economic development?
How the Gig Economy Started
Let’s start by examining some of the root causes of the gig economy, as well as the platforms that keep sustaining it. Independent contract work became more common as soon as the internet became accepted as a means of mass communication. With even basic technologies like email and instant messaging, people could feasibly do work remotely, and from anywhere in the world—which meant companies could hire people for short-term contracts without having to bring them into the fold of the physical office.
Next came the emergence of platforms designed specifically to connect people with others who might require their products or services. Commerce platforms like eBay stand out here, but the big push came from platforms designed to help skilled or passionate people find gigs; for example, through AirGigs, vocalists and musicians can find opportunities to record vocals for paying clients. Ridesharing apps like Uber allow amateur drivers to set their own hours and pick up fares as they see fit. And plenty of other platforms like Fiverr establish a miscellaneous freelance marketplace, where people can provide almost any service for a fixed fee.
It wasn’t long before companies realized they could save time and money while simultaneously increasing their range of options by relying on contract workers and freelancers more than full-time hires.
Advantages of the Gig Economy
There are some advantages that will keep the gig economy sustainable for many years to come:
Cheaper labor for businesses. First, small business owners and corporations alike have the potential to save money on the labor they require. Instead of paying someone a full-time salary with benefits, they can pay someone only for the work they’re doing. This means they don’t have to pay someone to sit around and do nothing when there isn’t something to do, and they may get to pay a lower per-project rate.
More options for workers. Instead of choosing a high-profile employer and working exclusively for them for the indefinite future, workers have multiple options. They can try to work for a wide range of different employers and clients, stick to a handful of lucrative opportunities, or aim for something in between.
Extra cash opportunities. “Side hustle” has become a popular buzzword because the gig economy is flourishing, allowing more people to take on a bit of extra work in addition to what they earn in their mainstream career.
Independence and autonomy. People have more control over their work in the gig economy. They often get to choose their own hours and their own workloads, and can leave easily if an employer isn’t meeting their needs.
Cheaper, more immediate services for consumers. One successful byproduct of the gig economy is that consumers have access to cheaper, more immediate services—such as low-cost, immediate rides that are cheaper and more convenient than most conventional cab services.
Disadvantages of the Gig Economy
However, there are also some factors pushing lawmakers, engineers, and freelancers to try and dismantle this system:
Less job security. Low job security is associated with stress, and in the gig economy, no temp worker truly feels secure. The app you use or your favorite client could disappear tomorrow, leaving you without an income (or a significantly reduced one).
Benefits dilemmas. The gig economy allows companies to avoid paying benefits to their workers, which can also be problematic. This can make it hard for gig workers to find or afford reasonable health insurance, and even harder to save for their retirement.
Problem resolution. There’s no collective bargaining power or expectation of loyalty in the gig economy. If you try to bring attention to a problem with the system as a gig worker, you may easily be let go or dismissed—and someone new can quickly replace you. This makes it hard to resolve problems with employers in a secure way.
The gig economy has a ton of momentum, and it’s likely to continue influencing employees and employers alike for many years, if not decades, to come. However, there are some major weaknesses and points of criticism that need to be resolved if tech developers are going to keep pushing for new tools in the gig economy, and if lawmakers are going to continue allowing it to exist. While the initial explosion of popularity of the gig economy may fade away, the increased accessibility of gigs and freelancers will likely stick around indefinitely.