Gigging Is Changing Work, And There’s Work Needed To Make Gigging Better

Sarah Kessler, author of  “Gigged: The end of the job and the Future of Work,” appeared on PBS’ NewsHour this weekend. She offered some interesting and cautionary words about the future of work that contrast and reinforce ideas expressed by  Louis Hyman in The New York Times on Saturday in a piece, “It’s Not Technology That’s Disrupting Our Jobs.”

Kessler told NPR’s Hari Sreenivasan: “…what I found is that there is a world in which like this story that startups pitch about this being like wonderful and independent and all you need. It really exists but it exists for people who have skills like programming computers versus some of the people who I followed who were trying to make ends meet on the lower end of things.”

The hyping of gig work is relentless. Yes, it can work. Yes, it is hard to make ends meet, but there is not sufficient connectivity to work, yet, to deliver on the promise of flexibility because too often gig workers are left hustling for low-pay alternatives to a good job.

What’s missing? Benefits and a commitment to shared prosperity, as well as greater scale to enable one person to conveniently move between earning from the skills they possess. We must organize our society so that people can thrive. That’s on all of us, employers and workers, to debate and codify, whether in contracts, regulations, or both.

Louis Hyman’s opinion article in the Times provides an apt answer: “The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.”

Platform marketplaces, such as Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and others, have focused on their success relentlessly, forgetting about their workers’ prosperity and, in some cases, the worker’s humanity. This is why we need clearly articulate laws about the relationship between company and worker, regardless of the form that relationship takes. Kessler’s comment, that “there’s really no clear definition of what makes and employer or what makes an independent contractor” is emblematic of the ongoing evolution of work.

Hyman’s take is that we’re mistaking governance for technology, allowing startups to dominate the economic and legal debate because we are distracted by technology:

Internet technologies have certainly intensified this development (even though most freelancers remain offline). But services like Uber and online freelance markets like TaskRabbit were created to take advantage of an already independent work force; they are not creating it. Their technology is solving the business and consumer problems of an already insecure work world. Uber is a symptom, not a cause.

He’s suggesting, if I may interpret him broadly, that we are being gaslighted into thinking that technology is changing our lives while the real culprits get away with outlandish profits by defining unfair work relationships. And he is correct to the degree that contractual terms are changing labor power, but he is wrong that Uber is a symptom and not a cause. Uber is an organization that found an efficient way to drive more temporary work by implementing technology with built-in unfairness.

First-movers always set the new terms of a business in a nascent industry, yet they are almost always superceded by organizations that bring both quality or efficiency to market along with fairness for the consumer, worker, and society in which they operate.

Most analysts focus on the pace of technological change, but now we are at the cusp of a massive socioeconomic change based on the potential for completely new ways to organize using technology. Hyman is correct that it is corporate leadership and political pressure that actually shapes economic fairness. The overwhelming force that will change work is visible in the sometimes wild-sounding speculation by crypto-currency promoters and  blockchain experimenters, who have some of the answers.

Everyone needs to look past the technology to the people, who are our fellow humans and citizens, as well as the customers we count on to drive economic activity that supports business. They come before the business, and the businesses that become indispensible to people will thrive whatever we call these new work relationships.

 

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Gig Fairness Is Critical To U.S. Economic Success

Information asymmetry has been the basis of the Gig Economy to date. Marketplace providers know so much that the worker cannot possibly negotiate a better deal. Consequently, we see that millions of people who earned far more as full-time employees are now scraping by on one-third or one-fifth the pay they used to earn when gigging in similar jobs.

Regulation could solve this, but so could a new business model in which platforms partner with workers to build sustainable independent businesses. That means they can earn enough to live and retire, take care of their healthcare costs, and have the flexibility that a full-time job cannot offer. Business would do better to lead than fight this evolution.

Gig and full-time jobs are converging on the question of compensation and benefits. We just have not seen the leverage needed for workers to differentiate their offerings and market them.

What is that leverage? The ability to differentiate services, which is primarily a sales and marketing issue. When platforms allow workers to differentiate what they do, treating them as unique local options instead of commodity-priced infinitely replaceable cogs, the opportunity for fairness will follow. And, I believe, the marketplaces will be poised to earn far higher revenues.

Creating a labor market that supports everyone who works requires extending the benefits and protections awarded to full-time employees to all workers. It’s a monumental undertaking, but a necessary one if we want to walk the talk of supporting entrepreneurs and if we want to maximize the potential of our increasingly self-employed and independent workforce.

Source: How U.S. Law Needs to Change to Support the Self-Employed and Gig Economy, Harvard Business Review, July 23, 2018.

How Gig Economy Consolidation Happens

Postmates is working with Instacart, a competitor, to deliver groceries in the Bay Area during peak-demand times. Here are two home delivery companies, who probably have overlapping workforces (many giggers use several marketplaces to keep work flowing) with largely unique customer bases (if standard brand thinking holds and consumers do gravitate to single-brand relationships for convenience and to simplify their decision-making.

Postmates, obviously, has offered delivery-as-a-resolve for merchants and brands since its inception, and some of those brands, such as Walmart, offer their own delivery services. But this marks the first time that Postmates has offered delivery-as-a-service to a business that itself is already a delivery service. – TechCrunch

At some point, apparently this week in the Bay Area where all this gigging started, marketplace platform companies run into the unavailability of human resources when they have consumer demand for those resources. Then, they will start to partner to find local people to do similar services, as Instacart has with Postmates. Now that they began a financial relationship Instacart will likely explore acquisition to improve margins in the geographies where delivery services are in highest demand. The Bay Area is just the first example of the emerging trend in deilvery, but it will spread to other on-demand segments.

Logistics services, mass transport-scale driver-manned or autonomous vehicles, and a variety of home-focused services will discover improved profitability — and deliver their service at lower prices — through mergers & acquisitions. One bet about which I’m confident is that local selling capabilities will be distributed to , for example, as brands seek influential sellers who can sell their communities products and services.

Just imagine the mind-bending antitrust questions that will come up as the personalized relationship with consumers could be monopolized by a platform.

Source: Instacart taps Postmates to help with deliveries in SF during peak demand | TechCrunch

Gigging Gains Influence At Full Employment

Gig work is gaining credibility, according to Inc.com, and it is changing the expectations for regular full-time employees who see the flexibility of gig work as a benefit they would like to use, too. As I’ve written for Gig Economy Group, every company faces new demands from workers, ranging from workplace flexibility using excellent technical tools to moral and environmental alignment between the employee’s views and those of the company.

Customers set the stage for change in product and services when their expectations evolve and the same goes for workers and the shape of employment. Flexible, well-paid jobs will come, though it will take firm organizing on the part of labor to drive this change home.

“Now, with the economy in better shape and unemployment rates at a low, it’s an employee’s job market. Companies are starting to realize that to compete with non-traditional jobs, they have to start paying competitively, offering flexible schedules, and actually listening to what employees want. That puts employees in a position to be selective about the gigs they pick up, the hours they work, and the people they work with–and it’s an exciting time for companies to take advantage of that shift.”

Source: How the Rise of the Gig Economy Is Boosting the Social Status of Temp and Flex Workers | Inc.com

The Gig Economy Is Bigger Than We Admit

Quartz@Work provides a solid analysis of why the United States cannot agree on how many gig workers it has, which I’ve covered elsewhere. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counts only people who dedicate themselves to gig work, not the millions who work a side gig along with a main job.  The Federal Reserve gets the numbers more right than the BLS.

PwC partner Mike Boro summarizes: 

There’s no question that the gig economy is changing the way we work. In today’s complex business environment, it’s not enough to focus only on your own staff. Contractors and freelancers who supplement your workforce need to be a key factor as well—no matter what the numbers say.

Source: The gig economy is bigger than US government data makes it look

5 Tips for Keeping Remote Employees Engaged and Effective | CIO

Platform-based apps as work glue. The new new thing that’s coming.

…when teammates are spread across locations and time zones, work management apps that provide real-time insight into project status — and potential dependencies and blockers — can keep everyone on the same page. Remote workers can also use the platform’s mobile app to track and update the status of projects in real time.

Source: 5 Tips for Keeping Remote Employees Engaged and Effective | CIO