Administrator2020-09-24 at 10:52 am
We’ve all been affected by the “gig economy” one way or another. This might be through the way we travel (Uber or Lyft), buy our groceries (Instacart) or hire any number of other services. Or, for an increasing number of workers in the United States and around the world, the gig economy may contribute to some or all of their income.
The “gig economy” started to be called by that name as early as 2009 by Tina Brown of The Daily Beast. It was meant to describe the idea that fewer people were taking full-time jobs, and more were taking short-term, task-related “gigs” and making a living from them.
These gig employees have continued to proliferate, as Lyft, Airbnb, Taskrabbit, Fiverr and many other platforms have popped up to turn almost anything into a “gig.” In addition to this very short-term work, there are growing numbers of self-employed, contractors and freelancers who are turning down full-time work for the flexibility and lifestyle that being independent can provide. I refer to this contingent as the agile workforce.
With Covid-19 and our current economic crisis in full swing, we seem to be headed toward another surge in freelancers and independent workers flooding the market.
Companies will need to adjust to this new reality because the idea of a full-time job being synonymous with stability and security is continually losing its credibility. As we saw in 2009 and are seeing again, the idea of independence is making more and more sense to even those who have been in the full-time workforce their entire careers.
Let’s explore the characteristics that make up the agile workforce and its impact on the future of work.
The agile workforce isn’t looking for full-time jobs.
While some might still think of freelancers as those who are simply in between full-time jobs, a growing number of professionals are finding that they are comfortable with a lifestyle that has them finding their own work.
We’re on an upward trajectory of such people, and it is moving fast. In 1977, self-employment in the United States was at around 7% and only rose to 11.4% by 1990. Now, there are over 57 million freelancers working in the United States alone, comprising over 35% of this country’s workforce, this number is set to reach 50% by 2027.
The growth of freelancing marketplaces, starting with the launch of Elance back in the late 90s, and then oDesk (and their subsequent merger, Elance-oDesk, then relaunch into Upwork) has helped this proliferate, as has each successive financial crisis, first in 2001, then in 2008, and now in 2020 with Covid-19 still wreaking havoc on our economy.
The distinction can now be made that there are many looking for full-time work, but fewer and fewer are looking for full-time jobs. What’s the difference, you ask? Making a comfortable living is still a priority, but the method for how it’s done is shifting, as evidenced by the self-employment statistics mentioned earlier.
The agile workforce works remotely.
According to Gallup, the number of people remote working either “always” or “sometimes” in April of 2020 rose to about 62%, from only 31% in mid-March of 2020. With Covid-19 causing drastic changes in remote working policies and practices both temporary and permanent, remote work is here to stay for many.
Companies can greatly benefit from this because it means they don’t have to source all of their talent from the immediate vicinity. While offshoring has been commonplace in many areas for decades, the idea of hiring employees who live within the United States but in areas with a lower cost of living means that companies can adjust their salary requirements. It also means considerable savings in commercial real estate costs, when your entire staff isn’t coming into the office every day.
Those companies that are shifting to a more contract and freelance workforce could save nearly 10% on their staffing costs versus hiring solely full-time W2 employees. This agile workforce is growing more comfortable with the idea of freelancing for multiple companies versus a single full-time position. Part of that shift is due to the idea that full-time employment might not as stable as how it is perceived. Just take a look at the number of layoffs and furloughs due to the coronavirus, and even as far back as the 2008-09 financial crises. Both of these periods are evidence that the stability and security long associated with salaried positions is only as dependable as the economy happens to be at the moment.
The agile workforce values lifestyle above most things.
In fact, according to Statista, 70% of the gig economy and freelance workers consider work-life balance as “very important.” This means that some of the more traditional office perks and incentives might not be enough to keep them commuting to a single location every day, even when Covid-19 restrictions are completely lifted.
These lifestyle needs and work-life balance requirements can take many different requirements, from a desire to travel while they work, a need to take care of children, a partner, or parents, or many other factors. Traditional employment restrictions have long been a barrier for many talented individuals that just so happened to have other priorities in their lives besides work.
The agile workforce is positioning itself to be adaptive to their employers’ needs as well as their personal needs. This means a true work-life balance that allows the life part of that equation to get the attention it deserves.
With well over 40 million people in the United States filing for unemployment in recent months, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of reasons for people to consider a more agile work-life balance. Just as we saw 11 years ago, this financial crisis will surely accelerate the need for a more flexible workforce. Successful organizations will embrace this need and find better, more efficient ways of building their workforce without the risk of relying on a primarily full-time employee base.
by Greg Kihlstrom
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