Thriving in the gig economy
“My Uber driver is earning ridiculously well,” I thought as we cruise down empty highways past dimly lit skyscrapers and starless city skies. I cannot remember how we ended up talking about the economics of his gig, as it is rude to talk about money. But the wee hours of the morning were conducive for conversing about anything. He was also so very candid about it.
A couple of months later, in business school, I learned about this term: unicorn. Coined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, a unicorn is a start-up company reaching and surpassing the $1 billion benchmark. It is an elite group, as mythical as the figure it represents. Without a surprise, Uber is a unicorn.
That a start-up like Uber is doing so well may be indicative of many things: the need for fast and convenient commute, the bridging of technology and a basic need, or the overwhelming desire for a solution to traffic.
But a huge factor is attributable to the rise and size of the gig economy. This business model, once nameless but now growing roots, worked and flourished mainly because of the number of participants who tested and proved its feasibility. It’s not just Uber that has a success story.
But what is a gig economy? Bill Wilson of BBC writes that it is defined as a labor market characterized by short-term contracts or freelance work. Investopedia says the gig economy differs from the traditional economy in which employees rarely change jobs as they pursue lifetime careers. In the gig economy, jobs are more flexible and independent. Laborers find it more convenient to work from home, or to juggle several gigs and earn more. The gig economy is not to be mistaken with contractualization, although the distinction is thin.
The gig economy is making waves, especially in developed countries. A third of the American population are considered gig workers. LinkedIn predicts that by 2020, this number will rise to 43 percent. Products offered vary from ride sharing and accommodation sharing to service platforms and delivery of goods. Gig workers can work on their own time, at their own pace, in their preferred venues. Make no guess about it: 71 percent of them are happy, according to a survey by Time magazine.
Many of us shared similar aspirations in the past—study hard, earn a degree, work in a good company. This was the framework that we thought would work. Until it didn’t. Financial crises and economic twists shook the foundations of our institutions and the corporate setting. Younger members of
the workforce are more mobile. Older ones desire to take control over their careers. Work-life balance has become a priority. And technology will be rendering some occupations obsolete.
Interestingly, gigs don’t just involve creatives. Neither models with their portfolio nor bands with their repertoire. The gig economy is transcending administrative and support services, professional and technical services, healthcare, plus real estate. It is attracting the best and brightest.
Statistics on its impact in the Philippines are yet to be published. Somehow, I consider myself a participant of this gig economy. I find it liberating to be able to work on my own terms. It almost feels rebellious, having not known the typical 9-to-5 cycles. But looking around, one sees that plenty are on the same boat. And everyone’s mostly happy.
It’s not all perfect, however. The consistency, the benefits, and the training common in traditional workplaces are absent. To be this flexible makes it seem out of control. But many earn very well as Uber drivers or Airbnb hosts. We do office work in al fresco cafés or by the beach, regardless of the time. We are at the helm of our careers, and for that we feel in control.
Nick Wells of CNBC writes that the gig economy is rising faster than the traditional payroll employment. In the next couple of years, there will be a reorganization of the way we do work. Our academic institutions must prepare students for it. Our government must foresee regulating it. As for us, we don’t just expect to survive in this gig economy. We shall thrive in it, too.
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