Want to be a gig worker? Consider these realities before taking the plunge

While the gig economy allows you to do what you love at your time and pace, it comes with its own set of unique challenges and frustrations

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Dec 26, 2018 11:54:40 AM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Gig economy is a significant trend emerging from the conversations about the future of work. Gig economy is a manner of work where people have temporary project-based jobs, and are paid separately for each one of them instead of working for a single employer. A gig worker is someone who participates in this model of working.

As someone who works as a gig worker and believes in the model, I want to shed some light on certain realities about the gig economy, for those considering the path.

A lot has already been written about the gig economy, but most of it is from the employer’s perspective and hardly anything from the potential employees' point of view. For employers, it's just as important to understand the mindset of the gig worker, to hire and manage them better.

At first glance, being a gig worker promises a life where your work helps you live with a sense of purpose. It seems like a perfect option for you, if you believe in doing the things you love and at your own time. Interacting with different people, companies, cultures and collaborating on various projects sans the office politics may even sound exciting. There will be times you think of yourself as an actor who gets to play many different parts and wear varying hats. The term gig economy has, in fact, been borrowed from the music industry.

While all these factors considered, may make the gig economy an interesting bet, the same tenets of this future of work concept leads to challenges. Here are a few:

Constantly refining your path forward
The best part of being a gig worker is attempting to stay true to yourself and your purpose. This usually translates into doing more and more of what you enjoy doing. You see, this gets very tricky. I have found myself work ardently and passionately towards something I love, and as soon as I achieve it, get good at it, and start getting lots of well-paying work around it, I find myself getting bored and want to move on to something more exciting. At this point, you need courage, conviction and clarity to either say no to the work coming your way or continue taking some of it. Always staying true to your heart may sound good in theory, but it is not always easy in practice; so it's not for the faint of heart.

Being comfortable with periods of no work
Even being able to pick and choose work you like doing may sound like a dream, but there will be times you find yourself with no work. Work or not, the bills are not going to stop stacking up, so you need to consider planning for these periods. During this time, I think it's the best for me to dabble into creative pursuits linked to work, like writing, doing videos, catching up on meetings that are relevant but not pressing, and strengthening my social media profiles to increase my visibility. You will need to have the courage to go through such lull periods knowing that maybe the unpaid work that you do now will lead to better prospects for business in the future.

What helps in productively at that point is being prepared for it, planning for it, and recognising what makes you comfortable personally. In fact, now when things get too busy, I schedule periods of free time for myself.

An ever-changing yet constant shift in the sense of identity
What we do for a living becomes a big part of who we are – what we and others identify us as. In the early stages, sometimes outsiders, potential employers, and even you, may consider yourself unfocused, fickle and unable to “find” yourself.

The fact of the matter is that to navigate and succeed in this work model, you cannot afford to be any of the above. You need to generate tremendous focus and clarity. The best way out of this is to see yourself as changing forms, like becoming water, ice or gas according to the outside requirements, but essentially remaining the same at the core. For this though, it's necessary to have a strong sense of who you really are, what your aspirations are, strengths, limitations, vision, and who you want to become.

Managing competition
Studies indicate that competition in the gig economy is growing as rapidly as the gig workforce; the usual supply-demand paradigm. You may struggle with others undercutting and willing to do the same work you do for lesser money. This will compel you to increase the number of gigs you go after, adding to the stress of the increased workload. To find your way around it, carving a unique niche is one idea. It will take more time and expertise. The other is building a solid reputation by doing exceptional work. The old-world word of mouth is making a great comeback in this area for sure.

Dealing with payment issues
Facing slow or no pay for your work is common. Chasing unresponsive employers is a pain. Negotiating payment terms because employers don't think you should be paid as much as a full-time employee or more, is disrespectful. Several marketplaces use payment methods and processing fees that undercut you. Learning to say no to attractive gigs where the people are not fair, is critical.

Your administrative work may actually increase
When being with one organisation, you need to understand their payroll, travel policies, contracts, and other rules and legalities. Imagining having to follow that for so many different clients that you work for.

The myth is that now you don’t need to deal with performance approvals and other non-core work-related processes if you are not married to one organisation. This is not true. I find myself on the Slack [chat-based employee productivity tool] channels of so many different companies across the world that sometimes it is hard to keep track.

As a gig worker, you are running a business (which is you) and all the frills attached to a business come with it. You are not going to be as free as you think you will. Your clients are your employers, and as a gig worker, the responsibility of all the areas of business like business development, marketing, managing client, contracts, finance, and so on, solely lies on you. Managing this takes time and upskilling – time away from work that you love doing and getting paid.

However, in spite of all the challenges, I would not like to give it up – at least not yet. To thrive, what you really need is courage and conviction, and lots of it. It's important not to lose sight of the fact that with all of the attractions of freelancing, struggles and challenges come in tow. Understanding them and being prepared will reduce their impact.

If employers understand this side of the gig workers and enable a work ethic which makes their life easier, it will be a win-win situation.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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