Many who were once ambivalent toward working in the gig economy reconsidered their stance in 2020 as the pandemic wiped out many traditional jobs even as it added accelerant to the gig worker fire.
One of the more unexpected results of the pandemic-related lockdowns of last year was that many discovered they could get more done by working remotely. Freed from unnecessary meetings and workspace distractions, more than a few found their removal from the office routine liberating.
Additionally, a corresponding rise in reputable businesses creating freelance jobs encouraged many to give it a go. Employment websites responded quickly by catering to the needs of those searching for side hustles out of curiosity or necessity. In research conducted in December 2020, Monster found that a whopping 92% of respondents felt that the time was ripe to begin looking at gig work either full- or part-time.
No one can predict with any certainty what a return to workplace normalcy will look like. That said, it’s safe to say that ongoing advances in technology coupled with shifts in perceptions about work/life balance have secured a stable spot for gig workers. Now that people realize that it is possible to achieve financial security as well as flexibility, many are choosing to stay in this sector post-pandemic.
The traditional office setting may not be a thing of the past quite yet and, while it likely will never vanish entirely, it won’t stage a full comeback, either. Here are five trends to keep in mind as we emerge from the pandemic-driven scattering.
1. Fewer workers will go back to a 9-5 routine.
Employees who were able to meet or exceed workload expectations while working from home found fewer and fewer reasons to return to their previous work setting. Employers, for their part, scrambled to find ways to keep their top-tier performers safe, satisfied, and productive.
Google helped lead the way toward reshaping the American workforce in July 2020 when it announced that approximately 200,000 of its employees would remain remote workers until the summer of 2021.
Now that businesses and employees have both discovered the benefits of remote work, it stands to reason that many uprooted workers will push back when called to return to their cubicles. While a mixture of in-person and remote work seems likely for many, workers not given the choice to stay at home may well take their skills elsewhere.
2. The perception of gig workers will improve.
It wasn’t that long ago that the phrase “gig worker” was thought by many to be synonymous with an Uber or Lyft driver who couldn’t find real work elsewhere. The common perception was that anyone working in the gig economy was either between jobs or earning extra money on the side.
The credibility gap between “freelance” and “gig” seemed to be one of prestige. Freelance workers were thought to be highly skilled veterans of the workforce who parlayed their years of expertise into an ability to pick and choose when and where they worked. Gig workers, on the other hand, were delivering pizzas, running shopping cart orders for grocery stores, or picking up drunks with their cars at 3 a.m.
Now that high-power executives have begun entering the gig economy, this inaccurate preconception is on the fast track to change. As the gig workforce continues to grow, diversify, and encapsulate workers from every level of labor, we can look for any remaining stigma to evaporate quickly.
3. More companies will move to “online-first” (or online only).
More than one business owner was surprised to find that it was possible to retain customers without offering an in-person presence. Many of those same employers might never have chosen to shut down their stores had pandemic lockdowns not forced their hand.
Today, everyone is seriously re-evaluating the need for expensive retail or office space. Some have chosen to abandon brick-and-mortar altogether. Others have found it advantageous to prioritize an online presence as those revenue streams offer 24/7/365 income and open up products and services to previously untapped markets. Connecting online saves customers commute time and related expenses. Once our priority to stay physically safe was added to the mix, the speed with which consumers were ready to give up a Saturday afternoon at the local shopping mall caught our attention.
4. The market for providing worker benefits will evolve.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for those reluctant to join the online workforce has been the acquisition and administration of traditional benefits such as healthcare, 401(k) plans, and life insurance. Predictably, the need created a demand that fueled innovation. Financial planners, healthcare providers, and insurance companies have all taken notice and begun rolling out new products and services designed to serve online workers. As the gig economy grows, look for the cost of new benefits packages to become an ongoing consideration as workers negotiate their rate of compensation.
5. Legal protections for remote workers will become a priority.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, abuse of employees was traditionally countered by the rise of worker unions, whose chief weapons were strikes and picket lines. While collective bargaining on behalf of those in the gig economy seems an unlikely prospect, our online world has brought other pressures to bear.
For starters, technology has given rise to a new form of collective bargaining in the form of social media, user reviews, access to legal information, and a previously unthinkable ability to interact directly with advocates. Whole new areas of law practice are opening up on behalf of gig economy workers who have been treated unfairly, and established brands are keen to avoid bad news going viral.
While employers are seeing the economic advantages of doing right by their workers, legislators are also stepping into the fray. Still reeling from the economic impact of Covid-19 lockdowns, lawmakers will increasingly work to protect their constituents who earn their livelihoods (and pay their taxes) as gig economy workers.