The Gig Economy: What Does It Mean for the Future of Work?

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What does it mean for the economy, Singapore and the Future of Work with gig workers on the rise? CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, Nicholas Goh offers his insights.

There have always been part-time workers and freelancers that contribute to the economy. With new apps like Uber, the gig workers are on the rise.

In London, the gig economy has grown by 72% in the transport and storage sector since 2010. What does it mean for the economy, Singapore and the Future of Work? CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, Nicholas Goh offers his insights.

The gig economy — one where organisations contract with independent workers on a temporary basis — is the latest buzzword these days. It goes by other names, like the peer-to-peer, on-demand or collaborative economy, and is fast becoming a growing trend across sectors all around the world.

“The gig economy holds the potential to create tremendous impact — in the global economy, Singapore and the Future of Work,” states CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, Nicholas Goh. He examines this emerging trend, and offers his insights below:

Reported on bbc.com in December 2016, the number of self-employed individuals in the UK has risen to almost five million, while 54 million or a third of the US workforce partook in some form of contracted work. PeoplePerHour, an online platform for freelancers estimates that one in two people in the US and the UK will freelance by 2020. And consultancy firm PwC predicts that by 2020, the global market for gig economy organisations and services will be worth about US$63 billion — a large leap from its total value in 2014 (US$10 billion).

This trend isn’t just one that emerging in UK and the US — it’s becoming increasingly prevalent in other regions too. In Linette Lim’s article on Channel NewsAsia on How remote working companies are bidding goodbye to the office grind, Adecco indicates that five in 10 private sector organisations in Singapore offer formal or informal flexi-work arrangements, up from three in 10 employers about five years ago, while HR consultancy Robert Half states that 60 percent of organisations here have a formal policy in place for managing processes for employers on flexi-work arrangements, compared to the global average of 47 percent.

Individuals are also increasingly drawn towards becoming gig workers, and it’s not hard to see why. The flexibility is a huge plus: they are free to break out from the usual 9-to-5 work schedule, may choose to work from home or in an any environment that they find conducive and comfortable (minus the tedious work commutes!) and are able to pick out projects that they find interesting — rather than performing routine tasks that fall strictly within their job scope.

This flexibility also extends out to individuals who would typically encounter difficulty in securing full-time positions, such as workers with disabilities, caregivers with multiple family demands or new moms looking to re-enter the workforce.

The gig economy offers opportunities for full-time employees seeking extra side jobs to supplement their income too — from being a driver for Uber to doubling up as a freelance graphic designer or writer.

While it remains an emerging trend at the moment, the gig economy holds the potential to bring about ground breaking changes to traditional job structures and employment practices. As an employer, here are three key factors one will need to consider in keeping up with rising work trends:

1. Adaptability is key

Just as businesses continually adapt to create consumer experiences that satisfy the demands of their customers, it’s equally important that employers keep up with shifts in employment trends so as to enhance their employee experience.

If employees increasingly value flexibility at work, there’s plenty of ways to introduce procedures or work arrangements to cater to their needs. Take a leaf out of the books of remote work companies like Automattic and Buffer — both of which have done away with work offices, replacing it with virtual teams that provide employees with the freedom to work from locations all around the world.

Or follow the footsteps of organisations such as DBS, OCBC, Citibank, CapitaLand and National University Hospital by offering flexible working hours for employees.

2. Ensure that the right processes are in place

Before taking the leap towards promoting greater work flexibility or introducing freelancers to the workforce, check that the right processes are in place.

A variety of systems and procedures are needed to keep operations running smoothly when freelancers or remote workers join a company — without which work coordination may escalate into a mess.

Review the following factors:

  • What types of data are you sharing with your freelance workers? They could be working for your competitors too, so how can you ensure the confidentiality of valuable company information?
  • If one is considering introducing a virtual team to the company, one could be hiring individuals located across the globe. How will one validate their work experiences and qualifications to ensure that they are a good fit?
  • The devil lies in the details — particularly when it comes to keeping your work processes smooth and efficient. One would need to consider myriad factors, starting from how one can establish open communication channels and outline expectations clearly at the start of every project, to implementing procedures that’ll allow one to check in on the progress of freelance or remote workers easily.

3. Invest in educating your workforce

Investing in your people adds on to your competitive advantage. Yet few organisations are committed towards doing so — particularly when it comes to equipping employees with skills for long term progress, and not just to meet the short term demands of the job.

It is a tricky issue to grapple with for most companies, and even more so for SMEs working with resource limitations. Is it worthwhile to invest resources in training a workforce (comprising of gig workers) that may not be working for extended periods of time?

But the benefits of having an educated workforce outweigh the costs, especially as technological advancements demand that workers augment their abilities to keep up with rapid changes.

As indicated by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam during a dialogue at the McKinsey Innovation Forum in October 2016: "The future jobs, the most rewarding jobs, are going to be those that involve thinking and making, thinking and designing, being on the production floor at the same time that you are leading strategy in an organisation.”

We recommend considering the following when making plans for investing in your employees:

  • Tap on government initiatives:

In Singapore, SkillsFuture, the Enhanced Training Support scheme and Skills Development Fund is a government initiative that can be utilised to support employee training programmes.

  • Create a culture of learning:

Juggling work and learning demands is a tough balancing act for working adults, and employees require support that go beyond financial subsidies.

Encourage your employees by creating a workplace environment that supports lifelong learning — through providing subsidies for online courses and certification exams, setting collaborative learning goals, offering study leave or acknowledging personal achievements — and one will reap the benefits of having a productive, educated and motivated workforce.

About the AUTHOR

Nicholas Goh is the CEO of Verztec Consulting Pte Ltd, a leading global content consulting company. Verztec assists companies around the world to design, develop, localize and publish their global communication messages in over 100 languages across various channels.

For more information, please visit http://www.verztec.com.

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Nicholas Goh
Verztec Consulting
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