As the world welcomes 2021, there is high hope on the horizon for both employees and employers. Among many positive trends, one of the upcoming drivers for employment generation is the gig economy. There’s no doubt the gig ecosystem is all set to expand in 2021 and beyond. The moot point: how much and how fast will it grow. When it comes to India, the country has been a relatively late starter and currently has three million-plus gig workers. Conversely, the US has been the frontrunner and now has more than one-third of its employees on the gig platform.
Beneficial Business Model
The gig platform has been particularly beneficial in keeping BCPs (business continuity plans) going during the lockdowns and restrictions of the past nine-odd months. The gig model has benefitted enterprises by permitting great autonomy and flexibility in setting work schedules and deadlines as per mutual convenience. It has also proved to be an extremely efficient model for work-from-home and remote working regimens.
Incidentally, a crisis comes as a blessing in disguise for the gig ecosystem. While the model had been around for some years, the 2008 financial crisis in the US that reverberated worldwide led to the first inadvertent push for the gig economy. As companies sought to keep operations going while paring operational spends, freelance workers offered the best way of lowering expenses via a greater cost-benefit ratio. The 2020 coronavirus outbreak has done much the same. Whereas gig work was gradually gathering momentum, COVID-19 compressed the process of years into weeks.
With multiple sectors struggling to get operations back on track, the biggest benefit of the gig is it provides the most competent freelance professionals at lower or flexible costs as per the outcome. Some large firms have already experienced the advantages of having the best talent available at short notice at reasonable rates, unlike full-time employees who come with additional expenses and overheads. Given this scenario, medium-sized and smaller entities will follow suit once they understand the overall benefits of using gig workers.
Meanwhile, as millions of jobless employees contemplate their future, freelance work is the most promising option. The main advantage is the freedom to work from anywhere, anytime while adhering to contracted timelines. Gig workers have realised they no longer need to live in the metros or Tier-II cities. Thanks to the choice of working from their native towns, workers find living with parents an extremely cost-effective option. While high city rentals are removed, they also save or limit F&B and other spends as the cost of living in Tier-III and Tier-IV towns is much lower than the metros. Moreover, they also get the opportunity to upskill themselves since no time is lost on daily commutes.
As telecom and tech tools have penetrated pan-India, it is easy for people to work for city-based companies remotely. This working model offers societal and employer benefits too. People no longer have to worry about wasting a few hours commuting to and from traditional workplaces. As a result, the lack of daily commutes means a minimal carbon trail through lower vehicular pollution. Comprehending the benefits, companies will be more willing to shift some roles to gig workers in the coming days. But those reluctant to do so may lose out on the competitive advantage.
Other Riders and Drivers
From an employee’s perspective too, the needle is swinging from reluctance to acceptance. Although circumstantial constraints could be the motivator in a few cases, others who have been freelancing are enjoying its flexibility. There is, however, a more practical reason why people should no longer expect decades-long tenures in companies.
The growing shift to digital is triggering a greater need for specialisation as the age of automation and AI requires new skills. Yet, swift technological changes have also shortened the half-life of specific skills. Therefore, the best recourse is for employees to periodically keep reskilling and/or upskilling to make sure they always stay some steps ahead of the redundancy curve.
Significantly, the new Labour Bill passed by Parliament in September makes it easier for companies to relieve workers when necessary, which can act as another trigger for a shift from full-time to freelance.
Finally, a major misconception requires clarification. The gig worker no longer denotes people working for Ola, Uber, Zomato, Swiggy, Amazon, or other new-age entities. The pandemic has proven that even complex top management roles and tasks can be performed equally, or more, efficiently from home or while working remotely. Technological tools such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, and others have ensured real-time communication can be done daily from anywhere and anytime. In short, technology has made geographical barriers redundant. In 2021 and the decade that follows, demand will be the main driver, not proximity.
For companies too, the focus on employee retention may not necessarily be the best operating model. While full-time, long-term roles may be essential in select segments, the flexibility of gig professionals can keep the workforce and allied expenses lean. In the ultra-competitive times of today, tomorrow, and thereafter, this can be the difference between the leaders and also-rans.
Sahil Sharma is the Co-Founder & CEO of GigIndia. Views expressed are the author’s own.