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How the gig economy is revolutionising the workplace

The evolution of the gig economy is “probably as big as the industrial revolution” in terms of how it changes the landscape of traditional working conditions and environments, a key speaker at the 2017 RCSA conference in Fiji told attendees.

Marina Pullin, Managing Director at MCBI, a business improvement, resourcing and project delivery organisation, was emphatic that the gig economy – where staff are employed on an as-needs basis– was only going to get bigger.

And staff, recruitment and employment organisations who ignore it, do so at the own peril.

Marina offered the following definition of the gig economy: “A labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs”.

She explained that both the workforce and workplace were in perpetual states of change with the gig economy just one of the latest iterations of this.

Outsourcing and technological developments have supported the development of the gig economy and facilitated organisations to move some tasks out from under their own roof.

At the same time, staff are choosing jobs which offer them flexible working arrangements, including the ability to work remotely or part-time.

Marina said recent data indicated that almost one-third of US employees are currently in “contingent” arrangements such as being employed by temp firms, in part-time positions or as day labourers. This is expected to increase to 40% of the US workforce by 2020.

Without realising it, many of us are already trading in the gig economy through online platforms and apps including Airtasker, Airbnb, Upwork and Uber.

And as with all major changes in the structure of the workplace, some will thrive in a gig economy while others will struggle.

“For people who are competitive, and I put up my hand and say I like competition, the volatile nature of the gig economy suits someone like me,” Marina explained. “I think it helps people like me to flourish.

“However, not everyone is competitive and not everyone likes pushing themselves. Some people find it really traumatic and at different stages of your life, you don’t want to be pushing yourself to the edge all the time.”

Marina said the emergence of the gig economy was helping to drive efficiencies and cost savings while offering freelancers and contract workers scope to be the best professional versions of themselves.

She also said that as the gig economy carves out a place for itself within recruitment and hiring, it is even more essential that we re-think our expectations of staff and employers alike.

“A lot of our work structures now have a safety net [leave, compensation, protections] around them and I think if our whole workforce transforms into a gig economy, we will have to respond somehow,” she added.

“I think it’s a big thing. Negative discussion around the gig economy is a repelling conversation which doesn’t drive collaboration and problem-solving.

“I think there are enormous issues around safety for workers, minimum wage, all that side of it [within a gig economy], but I don’t think it will be solved by emotional talk and scaremongering.

“People need to calm down and find a way to work through the problems around this because it’s actually too important for us not to figure it out. This is probably as big as the Industrial Revolution in terms of change.

“Corporations and business need to maintain their evolutionary and adaptive nature.”

There is no doubt that potential giggers have done just that with the emergence of hustlers or side giggers, career giggers and substitute giggers.

Marina told the RCSA conference that in Australia, the largest category of freelancers (giggers) was web, mobile and software development (44%), design and creative work (14%) customer and admin support (13%), sales and marketing (10%) and writing (8%).

Data shows that around 4.1 million Australians – or 32% of the workforce – undertook some freelance work between 2014 and 2015, she said.

Research released by Deloitte Access Economics (2014) showed:

  • 55% of Australians would accept a 20% annual pay cut to work from home

  • 22% would sacrifice 10% of their income in return for working flexible hours

  • 85% of Australians believe working nine to five office hours are inflexible.

Another notable change Marina has seen in the workforce in recent years is a move away from traditional thinking that “the boss knows everything” to a belief more focus should be placed on the collective knowledge of staff.

“The collective brain of your organisation recognises that we’re not all cookie-cutter factory workers,” she explained. “Everyone has a native genius which might be writing and mine might be data or what have you, but we have to bring out the native genius in people.

“A ‘servant leader’ is someone who serves those geniuses and we then turn it into something that can be acted upon for the benefit of all. A servant leader is one who is able to get the best out of people and create an outcome, by serving them.”

While there is no doubt a gig economy allows organisations to find efficiencies and reduce costs by only employing staff only when it needs them, there is also a duty of care towards employees which needs to be addressed.

“Worryingly, nearly one in three young Australians are currently unemployed or underemployed,” Marina told the conference. “Entry level roles for young people are disappearing and 70% of youth are currently undertaking training for jobs which will be lost or radically affected by automation in the next 10-15 years.

“This is supported by the OECD who notes that although technological innovation is positively associated with employment in all groups of occupations, artificial intelligence is already replacing mid-level skilled jobs.”

There is no doubt the gig economy has the potential to radically change the way we work. The challenge for the recruitment and employment sector is to adopt this model to entice the brightest minds while acting ethically. How this will be done is yet to be fully realised.

The 2018 RCSA conference will be held in Noosa in September. For more information, click here.

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