Nick Nooren: Welcome to the age of the gig worker

By Nick Nooren, Head of Proteus Marketplace

Self-employment isn’t a new phenomenon. The ability to be your own boss has always been attractive and the self-employed have played an important role in the economy for years. But what is new is the way this role is fundamentally changing. The employment models of freelancers and contractors that seek to reduce employment risks are fading away. They’re being replaced by the gig worker, who will prioritise their time and skills however they may chose.

As our priorities shift and digital capabilities expand, the working world is moving to a new iteration of non-permanent labour. The traditional model of freelancers has always been one of confinement: viewing freelancers as suitable only for certain industries and treating their skills as lesser than their permanent counterparts. But now we’re seeing a new era of flexible work, supported by technology, which repositions freelancers as gig workers. This new era involves the use of digital platforms to connect gig workers with projects, combined with a conceptual shift that values their work and the benefits they bring. The new gig worker relationship centres on choice and even sectors that have historically been wedded to the in-house model, such as the diversified energy industry, have begun to usher this new era in.

When we stop seeing self-employed workers as a second-rate option, we start realising their ability to navigate financial challenges and help companies grow. Gig workers allow you to streamline your business as you only pay for the exact labour you need and can precisely match operational costs. They empower you to say ‘yes’ to last-minute requests, knowing that you can quickly get an extra pair of hands to help out.

Shaking up the way you engage with talent also opens up a wealth of opportunities. The pandemic has proved that remote working doesn’t equal a decrease in efficiency and tools like video conferencing software are commonplace and cost-effective. This means that companies who go down the gig worker route now have access to the global community of talent so they can pick world experts for their projects and aren’t confined by locality. Companies can have a diversity of skills and experiences at their fingertips.

The benefits aren’t just for corporates. The gig worker revolution plays into the push for more flexible work patterns that makes jobs more accessible and protects workers’ mental health and wellbeing. Gig workers are able to pick and choose the projects that interest them and that align with their goals and beliefs. This new way of working is all about giving both companies and gig workers freedom of choice.

Of course, the gig worker revolution is founded on a fundamental shift in the way companies engage with talent and manage their work. Finding, appointing and on-boarding gig workers takes less time than a months-long search for a permanent employee, but it’s still a messy and inefficient process. And then there’s the project coordination to consider. If businesses are to increasingly rely on gig workers, we need to find solutions that maximise efficiency, ensure quality of work and simplify the relationship. Businesses need an easy way to liberate talent.

Technology can help provide some of these solutions. There are already a number of online jobs boards for gig workers but what’s needed are more sophisticated ways to boost connectivity and engagement. There’s a demand for transformational digital platforms that offer businesses access to rated gig workers with skills that perfectly match project needs, saving time trawling through online searches or relying on haphazard word of mouth. There’s also a need for digital tools that can automate crucial paperwork including contracts, expense forms and invoices, so businesses aren’t continuously buried under a mountain of forms. These solutions help attract and retain the best talent too – even if the work is interesting, frustrating processes and slow invoicing will put off gig workers who have the freedom to take their time and skills elsewhere.

The age of the gig worker is upon us and denial won’t make it disappear. If businesses don’t adapt to this new way of working, they won’t survive. The increased efficiency and global expertise offered by gig workers will separate the corporate wheat from the chaff and leave the slow behind. It’s a simple case of evolve or die.