This article by The Washington Post‘s Robert Samuelson dismisses the “gig economy,” turning on a definition based on using the internet to match supply and demand. That capability is the product of the emerging availability of distributed logistics, which are changing the economy much more deeply than just the on-demand job. Contingent labor is a well-established phenomenon, and we are now seeing investments in making work an on-demand commodity. Of course the gig-by-wire definition is small part of the contingent workforce. It hasn’t succeeded in the first round in keeping labor engaged.
However, I agree with Samuelson’s assertion:
The new reality is how the old reality is being remade.
While disagreeing with the one that follows:
We don’t really know why this happened.
Work overall is certainly becoming more project-based, flexible and increasingly mixed with our non-work world. Those transactions happen locally and on-demand, in the sense that the first to offer a solution to a buyer in a certain location may be the default customer choice, while in other situations the cheapest or the best product will win out. The article turns on a false distinction.
Contigency is rising and finding more forms, legal and economic, because logistical and measurement technology is connecting engineered solutions to customers more efficiently. That is changing the range of available options, as well as making it more efficient to deliver niche options. In our recent history, you can see this in the rise of new youth cultures which become established industries and the apparently infinite variety of television programs that can be made for audiences of a few million or even a few hundred thousand.
Increased specialization in high-wage work, distributed specialization in managerial and professional roles, and the rapid advancement in data collection (through sensors and direct feedback from user activity, among other elements of metrics that could potentially astonish us, but are more likely to annoy us if they don’t serve our needs) — all these contribute to increasingly compact product production and delivery processes, making work more specific to the context in which it is delivered.
We know why this is happening.
The “Gig Economy” is not the right name for what is happening. It ignores the power of customers and workers, who make the final-mile connection or final few inches a personalized experience. In Round Two of the local, on-demand economy, marketplaces will need to do more than prove they can lower prices for consumers. They’ll need to facilitate the relationships that keep revenue flowing.
Customers will want value and the ability to trust a company, whether it makes cars or delivers fruit, as well as its representatives in their lives. That calls for a living wage, a social services infrastructure funded by all the beneficiaries of the creation of new markets, and a focus on talent, skill and communication, expressed from the top to bottom, across every segment of every organization in every transaction.
If you want to sell nail polish, you may need to start thinking about the beautician who’ll paint it on nails as a facet of your brand. How would you ensure they add value? Does that take training or just a story to tell about the choice of polish? Both options require providing some kind of information to that beautician. Does that need to come through a local rep or a mobile app? What if you need both to get 40 percent of all nail salons in a market to adopt your polish? And if you get 40 percent of the salons, you can ignite your viral marketing to consumers. You’re not necessarily going to hire those beauticians, but how will you engage them, and incent them to sell the benefits that make your nail polish different, better than the competition?
Instead of thinking about labor as undifferentiated, think of it as the hand that conveys your product or service. It must be a clean, healthy hand. Connected to a thoughtful person who smiles, shows concern or quietly delivers as necessary to different customers based on their preferences.
Marketers talk about wanting preferences, but they never think to ask customers how they can make their lives better. That includes making their communities safer, prosperous and ready to grow. Then, they’ll get very specific feedback and should act on it.
In 2015, these unconventional jobs represented 15.8 percent of the U.S. total. That’s almost one in six. What’s more, these “alternative work arrangements” are growing rapidly; in 2005, they were only 10.7 percent of all jobs. Some industries have long relied on subcontracting (construction, trucking) or temporary work (retailing) instead of traditional employment. But now these job-types are spreading into health care and computer science. They vastly outnumber “gig” jobs by more than 30-1. (Gig jobs were defined as relying on the internet to match buyers and sellers of services; non-gig jobs use conventional methods.)