The gig economy. It’s one of the hottest topics around these days. But what exactly is it? What’s gig working versus regular work? And who’s doing it? These questions are all under debate in the UK. And while some would say gig working is merely a new term for self-employed freelancers, we think there’s more to it. Here’s our take.
What is “the gig economy”?
“Gig” is a term coined by jazz musicians in the 1920s. Back then, it referred to brief, paid engagements and the meaning hasn’t really changed much since. Here, “economy” refers to the market for labour. So, together, the “gig economy” describes the higher-than-usual proportion of short-term engagements in the current labour market – as opposed to long-term permanent jobs.
Who are gig workers?
The government has a view that hasn’t quite yet caught up with changes in working practices. As far as any official categorisation goes, gig workers are considered those in self-employment. But it’s a pretty broad generalisation. What we’ve seen is that people with all types of skills are taking on short-term gigs. Companies like Uber, Deliveroo and AmazonFlex tap into on-demand talent in the form of drivers and couriers. But gig workers can also be found among the dog walkers, writers, virtual assistants, IT supporters, videographers and people offering a whole range of skill sets.
What work is considered gig work?
At White Label we’ve noticed a few things that characterise gig work. While on their own they may not constitute a gig, together they make the case for a new type of work:
Short duration: a gig is of a relatively short duration. Delivering a package would count. So would writing a report in a week. But joining a 12-month project wouldn’t.
On-demand: digital platforms connect workers directly to buyers. Sites like Fiverr and TaskRabbit connect an enormous pool of versatile talent with gigs. Companies like Uber, Deliveroo and AmazonFlex use their own platforms to tap in to on-demand workers.
Task, not role: there’s a task to complete rather than a role to perform. Roles are about working within a social structure. They come with various responsibilities that include looking out for the good of the organisation. Tasks, like producing a video, focus on the work itself. And the person completing the task is focused on the quality of the work.
Choice: with gig work, taking on a job isn’t mandatory. And declining work comes with no repercussion.
Flexibility: while employees are often under direction about when, where and how work is done, gig workers have a much larger degree of choice as to how jobs are delivered.
Risk: whereas employees are protected from risks – injuries on the job or equipment failures, for example – gig-workers take on most of the risk associated with doing the work.