The “Gig Economy,” or freelance work, has grown tremendously in the last four years. The gig economy is often, but not always, based in technology. In a 2016 Pew Research study, 24% of American adults used some sort of digital commerce platform to earn money. By 2018, a Gallup poll estimated that 36% of U.S. workers were part of the gig economy. It had been predicted that by 2019, the gig economy could make up 43% of the American workforce. In this Astronology® we will review how this expanding workforce affects traditional Human Resources and how the current COVID-19 pandemic affects gig-work availability.
Gig HR and the Changing Roles of HR
With automation, and more digitized responsibilities, the role of Human Resources has adjusted over time. Certain HR responsibilities will never disappear, however. Understanding and implementing appropriate trends in compensation, performance evaluation, and the overall employee life cycle will always require a human touch. In addition, Human Resources is front and center in developing strategic plans for gig workers in various capacities. This means Human Resources must be aware of the gig economy’s growth and how it may affect their organizations.
This awareness of the gig economy has necessitated that Human Resources develop robust methods in properly recruiting, assessing, hiring, and maintaining gig workers. The fluctuating nature of gig work requires Human Resources to be aware of the legal requirements and best practices in building policies for areas often involved in “gig” occupations. Primary among these areas is remote work. In some unique occurrences, Human Resources also develops effective ways to measure and provide feedback to long-term freelance workers. While the gig economy continues to grow, we will continue to see Human Resources evolve and develop best practices to appropriately handle this unique workforce.
Covid-19 and the Future of Gig HR
During troubling times, Human Resources is heavily involved in navigating organizations through challenges. We see this now during the COVID-19 pandemic. In our current fluid circumstances, Human Resources is front and center in informing the workforce of organizational and legal tools available to keep everyone safe. For those that have been able to continue working entirely remote, Human Resources is heavily involved in maintaining a healthy and engaged work culture by providing constant helpful and insightful communications to its workers. Human Resources also is involved in strategizing the best practices on implementing “return – to – work” plans.
It is undeniable that our current global health crisis has negatively impacted most all industries globally. Gig workers especially are in a vulnerable position. Due to COVID-19 necessitating many to “stay-at-home,” thousands of gig and non-gig employment opportunities have disappeared. Although gig work directly tied to delivery services did see a surge in demand following the spike in COVID-19 activity, it also had its share of challenges. For instance, Time magazine noted, “Though more people are having food delivered, receiving packages from Amazon and searching online for their graphic design and customer service needs, the surge of new workers has upended the law of supply and demand in the gig economy. Put simply, with at least 36 million newly jobless people in America alone as of mid-May, there are now too many would-be workers to make the gig economy viable for many of them…” Does this spell the end of growth for the gig economy?
If we review history, the answer is no. While we are all bracing for another recession, courtesy of COVID-19, it is important to remember that the gig economy rose during the previous 2008 recession. A 2019 article from Digital Information shares that “Many of the biggest gig startups were created because of the Great Recession of 2008, with 7.2% unemployment after it, the demand for temporary and quick to start jobs rose by a huge number.”
We are beginning to see the light at the end of the current tunnel. Some businesses have begun cautious re-entry and as the days continue, we anticipate a bounce back. The specific impact of America’s economic reopening on the gig economy is uncertain, as there are many unknowns as of this writing.
The gig economy’s growing presence will never completely disappear. If history is to repeat itself, more growth is coming for this special line of work. This means HR has the opportunity now to be progressive in preparing how to best handle potential gig work in their organizations.
Start brainstorming now on what potential opportunities your organization may find with gig workers. How will your organization enact policies and create a work culture that will allow these workers to feel included? If you already have a structure in place for gig workers, what is it? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.