The New York Times has recently published several articles about the gig economy. Last month the Times reported that Uber uses video game technology to incentivize its drivers to work long hours and accept more fares to expand company profit. This week, a longer piece appeared including the likes of Lyft, Handy and other businesses that rely heavily on a gigger workforce. It attacks the lack of contractual protections offered to giggers, and notes how most of them work full time hours without industry-standard compensation and little or no benefits. The issues the article described are correct, but the conclusion, in our opinion, is shortsighted.
Entrepreneurship is at the core of the gig economy
Giggers use the resources they have at their disposal to make money. Got a car? Become a driver for Lyft or Uber. An extra room? Rent it out on Airbnb. Spare time? Become a tasker, providing help around strangers’ homes for a few hours at a time. At the beginning of the decade, gig work was brand new and its future was bright and buzzy. How ingenious to leverage available resources for a bit of extra cash, after all? We even considered our ‘smithies, our large force of freelance writers, designers, digital experts and strategists, as members of the gig economy, although increasingly the freelance economy and the gig economy are evolving differently.
There has been a dark turn, but we’re waiting for the light
As the New York Times have pointed out, things have taken a dark turn. Gigs are no longer activities done during spare time or in between full time employment. Giggers are increasingly treating this work as a full time job, relying on it alone for wages to support themselves and, quite often, their families. Companies in the gig economy rely on low wages and minimal benefits to sustain their business model, but giggers need steady work to make a living wage. These two goals are increasingly at odds.
Gigging might be having a dark moment, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. The companies listed in the article, and more, must take action to protect the rights of their workers, and treat them more fairly and equitably. But they also offer a variety of benefits that were completely overlooked in the article. Giggers can choose their own hours, a benefit that many other businesses and corporations cannot or do not offer employees. There is also a greater range of flexibility in the type of work chosen; for instance, Tasker allows its giggers to select the types of assignments they take on, and Uber and Lyft drivers can choose which jobs to accept because they know the customer’s destination before agreeing to a ride.
Challenge is change
The nature of the gig economy is changing. It is no longer just a way to use extra time or resources for a little spare cash. The companies that offer gigs as a service need to recognize that more and more of their giggers are working full time, and change their business model to accommodate this type of workforce. But like all new concepts, things take time to change. We think the gig economy still holds a huge amount of promise for the flexibility and resources it can, and does, provide. However, we also hope that holding companies accountable- in any industry, with any business model- for the treatment of their employees will galvanize change. We’ll keep watching the space to see what happens in the future. With all the attention on the gig economy, we expect these changes to be seen rapidly. We hope they’ll be for the best.