The gig economy challenge

I have never been a big believer in and much less a huge fan of the gig economy.

My analysis has been pretty straightforward : A few get rich or richer by taking advantage of the misfortunes of many.

Maybe it’s time to be a bit more nuanced. Because the gig economy is not one thing; it is several. I count at least three variations, and then the question becomes which one of the three should we progress given that there are some flexibility elements in the gig economy that are appealing to many?

Let’s briefly look at the three versions:

In the privileged version you enable people to get the most of their experience and expertise by helping them build upon their personal brands and get it out to more people, who pay for the privilege of special access.

Think Substack and what they enable content providers to do through paid niche newsletters.

In the convenience version you agree to a marriage of convenience a la “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”, where you get something for your troubles, but it’s not the main thing for you.

Think Uber and their drivers, where many of the latter get an extra income whenever they want to top what they do elsewhere, and Uber gets a flock of mechanical turks to make their service work, until we have self-driving cars or some other form of non-human door-to-door transportation.

It works until it doesn’t anymore. And that’s ok. It’s life.

The final version is the exploitation version. This is the unfortunate fundamentally unsustainable business model in a modern society, where clever people with a certain kind of moral compass use the misfortunes of other people to build a business and enrich themselves.

Why is it unsustainable? Because it does nothing to even the playing field. On the contrary it expands the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ in terms of income and prosperity, and looking at it through a historical optic it seldom ends really well for society.

This is where we have services such as meal delivery service Wolt whose business model IMHO is centered around a beautiful UX – or if you prefer; lipstick on a pig – a sizeable fee for participating (typically low margin) restaurants on every transaction and very little ending up with the ‘partners’ (i.e. not ’employees’ with any rights whatsoever) who do the brunt of the actual work.

This last version of the gig economy is what is giving the gig economy a bad name in many quarters. It may sound nice and flexible, but in reality its implications are poisonous over time to a lot of people. And potentially to society at well.

Looking forward we IMHO need to ensure that the development of a sustainable gig economy focuses on providing opportunity and access to the privileged version of it, for those who seek a more flexible lifestyle related to work and living their lives the way they see fit without in effect nesting at the bottom of society.

We can start that by developing services and programs that help these people deliver enduring value that they can actually capture the brunt of themselves.

(Photo: Pixabay)

A special Labor Day

Today is Labor Day and for people in the West you can argue that there hasn’t been a more relevant time in decades to take stock at work, how we work and how we want work to be like going forward as this year.

We can start by the people who have lost their jobs in droves during the last 6-8 weeks. And then we can add a labor market that looks very bleak. Both for as long as the lockdown remains mostly in place but also afterwards as we need all those big and small gears to fall in place again and work before we can really start work again.

On top of this we can add all the gig workers who are now finding out the hard way what it means to be a ‘partner’ of a non-employer. The word ‘flexibility’ is taking on a brand new meaning every single day. And not necessarily in the best possible way.

Then throw in all those essential workers who are working super hard to make sure that things as food supplies, warehousing, logistics, supermarkets can still operate and add some sense of normality to an abnormal every day life. Some of them are really being pushed hard – in some cases too hard.

And then finally add all those who have been forced to work from home. Who are fighting an endless battle between random internet connection, unstable video platforms, people out of reach for various reasons, kids running around in the background, disruptions, lack of ability to focus – and no real end in sight as to how long this situation will last.

And then you have plenty to spend contemplating the viable future of on Labor Day.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Lipstick on a gig

Starting today, food-delivery company Deliveroo will no longer be delivering meals from restaurants in Germany. While in itself there is nothing spectacular about a business exiting a market, it is spectacular that the notice to the companies delivery people – riders, as they are called – was only FOUR days.

Variable low-wage pay, unclear working conditions and – as it turns out – non-existing notices of termination are some of the flip sides of what is being called the Gig Economy. And while – again – there is nothing wrong with a flexible work environment presenting new opportunities to people looking for something else than ‘a regular job’, we need to be aware of the fact that every coin always have two sides to it.

We are so accustomed to hearing all the stories about innovative new ways of doing things, sharing things etc, and how it is all the rage for the future. We need to remember that there may be some other truths behind the stories essentially driving the need for glossy narratives. And we need to have an open discussion about these things in order to avoid creating a future society with too much tension between those who have a lot and those who have very little. That tension NEVER ends in a good place.

Hat tip: @tveskov for the headline

(Photo: Pixabay.com)