Five lessons to navigate uncertainty in the gig economy
Five lessons to navigate uncertainty in the gig economy
The gig economy is becoming the preferred choice for professionals and organisations. However, concerns about the inherent uncertainty of gig work loom large. How can individuals prepare and adapt to thrive in this booming economy?
The latest technological advancements and the swift expansion of digital marketplaces have actively opened avenues for white-collar professionals to engage in the gig economy across varied sectors.
'Gig work', generally, refers to task-based work where individuals take on specific or specialised roles on a temporary or freelance basis. Although it is not a new phenomenon and has traditionally been associated with artisans, craftsmen, and blue-collar workers, the latest technological advancements and the swift expansion of digital marketplaces have actively opened avenues for white-collar professionals to engage in the gig economy across varied sectors.
A recent report indicates the increasing acceptance of professional gig work by both professionals and organisations. More than 60 percent of professionals are opting for gig work, and over 50 percent of organisations are actively seeking gig professionals.
The primary appeal for gig professionals lies in the inherent flexibility and autonomy that they provide. Professionals can choose their projects, workplace, workspace, working hours, and so on, allowing them to balance their professional and personal lives on their own terms. Unburdened by the confines of an employer-employee relationship, professionals can explore diverse work arrangements, embark on multiple career paths, and generate income from various sources to meet immediate and future needs. Organisations also benefit from this arrangement, as they harness the potential of gig professionals to leverage contemporary expertise, exploit a diverse range of experiences, and achieve cost savings.
A surge in technological adoption in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic further facilitated the increasing acceptance of gig work among white-collar professionals and organisations. This trend is substantiated by the FoundIt.in report, revealing an 11 percent year-on-year surge in demand for white-collar gig roles in March 2023.
Nevertheless, the allure of the gig economy is shadowed by the uncertainty of employment, which worries every one out of three gig professionals. Five pivotal lessons are identified to alleviate these apprehensions and foster confidence among the professionals. These lessons are designed to equip individuals with the capabilities needed to adapt and flourish in both the current and future economic scenarios.
1) Acknowledge that lifelong employment is passe:
Traditionally, a successful career has been synonymous with a stable 9-to-5 job. Upon hiring, employees were trained by the organisation for a specific role that they were expected to carry for the next ten years. Employees expected a raise and stable career growth within the organisation. However, this lifelong promise of employer and employee is changing. Owing to the evolving technology, the current job market is changing at an unprecedented rate, with new jobs being created every five years, making some existing job avenues obsolete. Organisations have reacted to the uncertainties and dynamism of the market with an increasing preference for hiring flexible and transitory talent, as training employees is a slow process requiring colossal capital and time investment.
Thus, to navigate and build successful careers in today's fast-paced, changing environment, individuals need to let go of their desire to pursue lifelong employment and proactively take charge of their careers.
2) Prepare for Continuous Learning and Skill Acquisition:
The shift away from traditional linear careers necessitates professionals embracing lifelong learning to maintain relevance in a non-linear work environment. Rather than following a predetermined career path, gig professionals will succeed in fostering personal agility. For Instance, the introduction of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) has put to the test the agility of all professionals alike, motivating many to rethink their value in the job market. Almost 42 percent of business tasks are projected to be automated by 2027, per a Future of Jobs Report 2023. This necessitates professionals to reskill themselves, cultivating a digital mindset to leverage AI to increase their relevancy in the job market.
Professionals need to indulge in continuous upskilling and reskilling attuned to the dynamic digital economy. This will empower them to navigate a fluid career landscape with the scope of elevating and branching into multiple career streams. Also read: How the gig mindset can help organisations in a disruptive era
3) Adopt a 'π' shaped skill model:
Traditionally, professionals have been categorised into generalists—bringing diverse, transferable skills with flexible key performance indicators—and specialists—holding expertise in specific work domains. With changing work requirements over the years, generalists and specialists have held varying degrees of importance in the professional world.
However, in the gig economy, being solely a generalist or a specialist is insufficient. The gig economy necessitates professionals to become agile, encouraging them to have generalist skills and acquire expertise in specific domains. Professionals can further benefit by specialising in more than one domain. This shift represents a move away from the traditional 'T' model (where the focus was specialising in only one domain) to a more versatile 'π' shaped skill model. In this 'π' model, the horizontal line represents generalist skills and capabilities, while the vertical bars denote specialisation in at least two (or potentially more) specific domains. This model combines the attributes of generalists and specialists in multiple domains, ensuring that professionals foster agility and are well-prepared for the future.
4) Leverage social skills to forge connections and build networks:
Organisations evaluate gig professionals based on credentials such as work history, references, and task commitment, akin to traditional hiring processes. This necessitates gig professionals to prioritise the development of robust social and emotional skills, which are pivotal for forging connections and networks that yield future references and recurring clients. Further, social connections among like-minded individuals and peers can empower them to address emotional and social challenges inherent to independent work and remain updated, providing them with a sense of belongingness and support.
Gig professionals should employ both offline and online strategies to market their expertise and reach out to their peers effectively. This includes leveraging references and networks from past employments and maintaining a compelling online presence. They can extend their reach, enhance visibility, and formalise referrals and testimonials using digital platforms. Cultivating trust among past, present, and prospective clients is indispensable for gig professionals seeking to establish enduring independent communities. These communities offer dependable employment sources and avenues for sustained growth.
5) Develop the entrepreneurial discipline to build a brand identity:
Gig professionals need to craft a personal brand to market themselves to potential clients. This necessitates that they take charge of their work environment, cultivate their niche, create a brand identity, maintain it with constant marketing, and negotiate contracts. This is particularly important for women increasingly opting for gig work as it allows them to balance their professional pursuits with their caregiving responsibilities at home. Towards this endeavour, they must allocate time to complete the gig assignments, refine their niche, develop their brand, and make sales calls to potential clients. This allocation of time and space requires mutual respect and discipline from gig worker and their family members. In the absence of entrepreneurial discipline, individuals, particularly women, will lose out on the economic potential that the gig market offers.
The gig economy is growing at an unprecedented pace, underscored by the changing job markets, rapid technological advances and changing outlooks towards employment for both employees and employers. Individuals seek opportunities with more flexibility, autonomy, and a better work-life balance owing to the current employment landscape, marked by high unemployment rates, measly compensations, overburdened workers, and the looming dread of layoffs. As professionals, both new and seasoned, gear up to join the gig economy in some capacity or another, it is necessary to be prepared for the associated opportunities and challenges. They must recognise that pursuing more flexibility and autonomy gives away the certainty associated with traditional employment. Instead of worrying about this newfound uncertainty, they should use it as a driving force. It should nudge them to constantly adapt and evolve in response to the ever-changing market demands. Instead of being a source of concern, this uncertainty should become a catalyst for growth and resilience, enabling them to flourish in an environment marked by change and unpredictability. This approach gives the professionals more control over their work capabilities, enabling them to upskill and reskill confidently. They can work flexibly and autonomously, fully exploiting their skills to unlock their utmost potential to navigate uncertainty, nourish agility, and flourish with resilience.
Professor Saumya Sindhwani and Sudipta Shaw (Research Associate), Indian School of Business (ISB).