Approximately 16% of Americans have earned money from an online gig platform. The gig economy is rapidly changing workplace norms and the American employment landscape. Although the typical image of a gig worker usually involves your friendly neighbourhood Uber driver, the reality is that gig work has redefined traditional work structures and has begun to permeate corporate America. And as a freelance software engineer and technical copywriter, I have found that gig work is taking over the tech sector too.
One reason gig work has increased in popularity is because of remote work and the flexibility it provides. Today, individuals can take on gig work remotely. In fact, 58% of Americans have the ability to work remotely at least once a week. Likewise, 85% of managers believe this will be the norm, as the benefits are just too hard to pass on. Proponents of gig work also suggest that the system offers workers more free time, more job opportunities, and more financial freedom.
Here’s a deep dive into what gig work is—and why it’s taking over corporate America.
WHAT IS GIG WORK?
Gig work, in its most distilled form, refers to flexible and temporary jobs, often conducted on a per-project basis. Independently employed, gig workers are paid per “gig,” which can vary greatly in nature—from delivering food or designing a logo to developing a software application or offering business consulting.
The gig economy, a term now well-etched into the modern lexicon, is the broader market system encapsulating these short-term contracts and freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs. It has largely been driven by an ever-growing need for flexibility in work arrangements due to nonprofessional obligations, such as caretaking responsibilities. Simply put, people don’t want to be forced to choose between their families and their careers anymore.
In addition, many Americans are looking for extra side gigs as a means of supplementing their income during a time of rising inflation.
The growth of the gig economy
Many believe that the gig economy’s massive leap into mainstream consciousness began with companies like Uber, DoorDash, and Airbnb in the early 2010s. Uber, particularly, catalyzed the gig work movement by creating a digital marketplace that connected part-time drivers to potential riders, thereby revolutionizing transportation.
I would argue that Uber’s business model marked a paradigm shift—it democratized the taxi industry by providing virtually anyone with a car the opportunity to work as a ride-hailing driver, and now even as a legitimate worker. Furthermore, the convenience and affordability offered to customers proved disruptive, causing ripples in the traditional transportation industry.
The gig economy has of course expanded far beyond Uber’s realm. Airbnb has replicated Uber’s model in the hospitality industry, turning homeowners into temporary hoteliers. Likewise, platforms like TaskRabbit and Fiverr have empowered workers to offer varied services from handyman tasks to digital marketing to a massive, interconnected clientele.
Today, the reach of the gig economy has significantly broadened to remote work, permeating diverse sectors beyond the usual app-based service providers. This transformation has been fueled by the combination of technological advancements, changing societal norms, and an increased desire for workplace flexibility and autonomy. And many workers are grabbing the opportunity with both hands. Just this year, the Pew Research Center reported that 14% of adults in the U.S. are working remotely, amounting to 35% of all workers who have the opportunity to do so.
Moreover, gig work is no longer limited to lower-skilled tasks. High-skilled industries, such as IT, management consulting, healthcare, and legal services, are also seeing a surge in the engagement of gig workers—professionals seeking more control over their working conditions and hours.
The advantages of gig work
The gig economy offers numerous advantages including flexibility. Many workers value the ability to choose when, where, and how they work, a luxury most often not available in traditional 9-5 roles.
Likewise, gig work can be akin to a pilot version of entrepreneurship. Gig workers are in control of their hours, don’t have a real superior in the workplace (at least in the long term), and depend on their expertise, discipline, and constant ambition to improve for succeeding—a lot of the same can be said of entrepreneurship. Being a gig worker gives people the necessary skills to be a successful entrepreneur, such as time management, crowdfunding, and invoicing.
Gig work also offers opportunities for workers to increase their income by managing multiple projects simultaneously and to select the projects that they are most passionate about.
For businesses, the gig economy provides access to a diverse talent pool on a need basis, reducing overhead costs associated with maintaining a full-time workforce. Additionally, hiring gig workers allows companies to be nimble and innovative in responding to changing market dynamics.
The difficulties of the gig economy
There are also significant challenges within the gig economy. For workers, the lack of job security is a critical concern. Plus, gig workers often miss out on benefits that regular employees enjoy, such as health insurance, paid leave, and retirement plans.
And while we’re already seeing organizations embrace tools like AI assistants, there are unsettling potential consequences for gig workers. Many gig workers fear that AI might make them obsolete—and that they won’t have a full-time employer to offer the upskilling necessary to benefit from AI.
Businesses are also facing dilemmas. Many are eager to downsize and automate, but are afraid of multiple things that could go wrong. From a business perspective, managing a dispersed and independent workforce can be a daunting task. Concerns include maintaining consistency in product or service quality, preserving company culture and productivity, and issues of confidentiality and legal compliance.
Overall, the gig economy has disrupted the traditional understanding of work, forcing corporate America to adjust. As the tsunami of the gig economy reshapes the work landscape, we have both benefits to savor and challenges to tackle along the way. And though the gig economy brings along a unique set of challenges, I believe the opportunities it manifests—for workers and businesses—are undeniable.
BY NAHLA DAVIES