What is this “gig economy” I keep hearing about? Is it just Uber and Upwork, or does it apply to all freelance jobs? What about all of the temp and contract workers out there? Even if they are hired offline, are they now considered giggers? The answer is “Yes!” to all the above.
Of course, there is still some understandable confusion about what the gig economy really is. This is because the gig economy is very diverse: it can include temporary workers, contract workers, consultants, and even freelance CEOs, as well as freelance workers, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs.
The gig economy—defined as project-based or on-demand services that can be provided by anyone—is an amazing force that normalizes all types of project and temporary work and changes the concept of the workplace for everyone in and out of it.
The bulk of my statistics come from McKinsey Global Institute’s 148-page report “Independent Work: Choice, Necessity, and the Gig Economy.” MGI surveyed roughly 8,000 respondents across Europe and the United States, asking about their income in the past 12 months—encompassing primary work, as well as any other income-generating activities—and about their professional satisfaction and aspirations for work in the future.
MGI found that 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population in the U.S. and the EU-15 (or up to 162 million individuals) engage in independent work, and that 10 to 15 percent of the working-age population relies on independent work for their primary income.
The numbers are growing, year over year. MGI sees “significant growth potential in the years ahead, based on the stated aspirations of individuals and growing demand for services from consumers and organizations alike.”
Have you ever heard of the parable of the frog slowly being boiled alive? The parable starts by warning that if you boil the water first and then put the frog in the pot, the frog (a.k.a. your lunch) will jump out of the hot water. The solution: put the frog in cold water, then slowly turn up the heat, and it won’t even know until…delicious frog sandwich time! In this story, we are the frog, and we haven’t really noticed that the gig economy has been slowly boiling up around us. Now the good news: unlike our favorite new parable, instead of us all being boiled, we will be forced to understand how to use this new working world order to our advantage.
I am no exception to both the opportunity (and the anxiety!) that this change has brought. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I started seeing an interesting trend start to swell all around the blog I have written for years for small business owners: the meteoric rise of the freelance economy.
We all feel the perpetual whitewater of change all around us. There is no standing still in today’s work environment. No matter how fast we paddle, the current of change will keep rushing past.
Nothing is speeding up that change more than the technology in your phone. The year 2017 marked the 10th anniversary of Apple’s game-changing iPhone. The smartphone revolution has (almost single-handedly) fueled the remarkable change of the workplace as we know it.
Today’s workers are “digitally enabled” by having computers in their pockets. When you consider that the first iPhone was released in 2007 (with zero apps), the amount of growth in on-demand products and services since then is nothing short of staggering.
So, does this new economy really cater to everyone with a smartphone: teens to seniors? Again, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Contrary to popular belief, independent work is not dominated by millennials; in fact, they represent less than one-quarter of independent workers. In the United States, the average age of digitally enabled independent workers is roughly 40. In actuality, “the independent workforce by and large resembles the traditional workforce. Independent earners come in all ages, education levels, incomes, and occupations.”
Overall, the outlook for the gig economy is good. According to the study “Freelancing in America: 2016” conducted by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, “freelancers say perceptions of freelancing are becoming more positive (63%) and respected as a career path (60%). Nearly half of full-time freelancers (46%) raised their rates in the past year, and more than half (54%) plan to raise them next year.”
Of course there are challenges, too: lack of stability (i.e. unpredictable income), negotiation for fair wages, and access to health insurance and other benefits. Even so, it seems that the pros outweigh the cons. According to the FU study, “the majority of freelancers say that a diversified portfolio of clients is more stable than having one employer.” Other benefits include feeling more respected, engaged, and empowered, as well as having freedom and flexibility.
With the winds of change blowing as they have been, it seems as if it’s high time to get into the game, as you can succeed in the gig economy, no matter what your age or occupation.