GIG economy is the new Future

Ashok Ogra
From their start in England in 1830, railroads unified countries, enabled the growth of new industries, and thoroughly revolutionized life in every place they ran, and created fortunes. It facilitated the movement of labour from rural to places where factories were set up. Almost 100 years later, the advent of air travel followed by communication revolution- announced the ‘death of distance.’ (Cairncross’s phrase).It gave a huge fillip to the speed of trade between countries, and also boosted travel and tourism sector.
The birth of digital technologies and social media has now eliminated technical impediments in connecting the work-places and workforce across the continents. This is redefining existing organisational models and work culture, and giving birth to the ‘Gig Economy.’ The term Gig is a slang word for a job that lasts for a specified period of time.
The question is: how many of those born during the Brick-and-Motor business environment and analogue era fully comprehend what the Gig economy implies. One feels out of sync when confronted with new terms: Gig Attitude, Gig Lifestyle, Gig Personality, and Gig Functional skills.
However, a recently published book ‘SECRETS FOR THRIVING IN THE GIG ZONE’ offers relief as it succeeds in demystifying most of these new concepts and theories; it also provides practical tips and ready to use templates-useful to those willing to embrace this new Gig economy.
The author Ketaki Karnik has been a senior corporate executive who one day decided to do ‘something different’, ‘Something meaningful!’ The book is an account of her experiences in negotiating this transition, and her transformation into a different person: A Gig Zeitgeist.
She explains: ‘A gig-er literally does ‘gigs’ for an organisation. She/ he is an individual who works on a short term contract, or as a freelancer, on a temporary basis with an organisation. Consultants working on multiple projects too are considered gig-ers.’ While companies are scrambling to adapt, the impact is most severe at the individual level. ‘Rules of a full-time job do not apply any longer,’ she adds. The titles and designations are passé; so are fixed working hours.
The key defining characteristics of the Gig economy is a specified output rather than work hours. Though app-based businesses like Uber, Ola, Zomato etc…too fall in the category of gig-economy, however, Ketaki focuses on high skilled roles that require a certain level of education and intellectual expertise.
According to the author, one of the major benefits of the Gig economy is the high level of job satisfaction: time flexibility and better work-life balance, higher financial rewards. The gig model also allows companies to leverage and access specialised talent who otherwise will be expensive if hired on a long term basis: ‘they get access to global workforce, and thus global best-in-class.’
She cautions ‘the gig life can seem like a non-serious work retreat, particularly if you have recently transitioned from a conventional job…. But discipline is the cornerstone of the gig life.’
Ketaki makes a distinction between outsourcing and freelancing: ‘outsourcing is simply the act of contracting work to a third party, which could be an individual or a firm. A freelancer often works for herself or himself- for example, an author writing a book. This is in contrast with a gig-er who undertakes projects for an organisation.’
Being the biggest disrupter of organizational models, the Gig economy is transforming the traditional system of employment. More jobs are now being assigned to individual independent contractors. A new study by the Boston Consulting Group and Dell Foundation estimates that the gig economy has the potential to service up to 90 million jobs and transact over $250 billion in volume of work. However, given the conventional preference for a stable- preferably a government job, the uptake is slower in India. However, Covid-19 has accelerated this momentum. It has compelled organisations to reinvent themselves – work from home being one such example.
The key challenge is to allay the fears and the vulnerability of gig workers in the absence of assured work or social and legal protection – as seen during the current pandemic. This is particularly true in India where social safety net is almost absent in most industries and for most workers.
Few other concerns that stem from the gig economy relate to ‘loneliness pandemic’, ‘social isolation’ hitting the workplace, for which independent workers can certainly be at even greater risks.
In the chapter ‘Obsolescence Awareness’, the author emphasises the importance of keeping abreast with the latest. ‘Continuously assessing whether any of your offerings are heading towards obsolescence is critical. The speed of obsolescence of knowledge has quickened in today’s era. Given this, the correct question regarding obsolescence is, therefore, not whether but when.’
Published by Hay House, the book is a must read for those interested in embracing this new gig economy as exemplified by ‘platform economy’, ‘task-oriented service platforms’ etc….
For aspiring gig-ers, she provides ‘gig readiness’ test at the end of the book. To Ketaki ‘Gig is no longer the future; it is now’ and the future belongs to those who are willing to reinvent themselves and embrace Gig culture.
(The author is works as Advisor (MC) in reputed Apeejay Education Society.)