38% of U.S. workers currently work as freelancers, and perhaps even more striking, the freelance workforce is estimated to grow to as much as 50% by 2020 (depending on who you ask). We have officially entered the age of the gig economy.
Many experts are calling the gig economy (sometimes referred to as an agile workforce) the future of work. It’s all about building lean and nimble businesses and encouraging the “If you want it, all you have to do is go get it” hustler attitude America is known for.
But is the gig economy all it’s cracked up to be? Because Don’t Panic is part of the gig game (our team of assistants is largely comprised of contractors), it’s important to examine the good, the bad, and the ugly of today’s freelancing landscape.
What Is the Gig Economy?
The gig economy is a term used to describe a professional landscape increasingly defined by short-term contracts and on-demand freelance work instead of permanent job placements. It’s inclusive of everyone from freelance writers to Lyft drivers to Etsy shop owners to carpenters—and, yes, most virtual assistants.
Do you get paid by the project or task instead of by salary or hourly shifts? Are you a contractor instead of your company’s employee? You’re probably part of the gig economy.
The Problem With the Gig Economy
The gig economy is great for businesses because it streamlines costs in many ways. For one thing, your tax obligation to contractors is much lighter than it is to employees. For another, outsourcing can reduce real estate costs (What up, remote workers!) and increase productivity. Plus, when you pay your team based on the projects they complete, you only ever pay for work that actually gets done. It sounds like a win all around.
Not so fast.
Where companies benefit, many freelancers take the hit. This recent article from The New York Times examines how the gig economy is fueling income inequality—freelance workers don’t have much room for upward mobility where they work, and they are rarely offered the same workplace protections as employees. The work can be inconsistent, and, of course, gig economy workers aren’t eligible for basic benefits like healthcare or vacation and sick days.
Even worse, a paid-per-gig lifestyle often exploits workers and encourages burn out under the guise of hustling and unlimited earning potential. In this episode of the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You, Gals in the Gig Economy, hosts Emilie and Bridget examine one particularly nasty advertising example from task-based company Fiverr where the company lauded a lack of eating and called sleep deprivation the drug of choice for “doers” (or, you know, gig economy workers).
Don’t Give Up! There’s Good News, Too.
But if the gig economy is so terrible, why is it thriving? Because it does have some pretty awesome benefits for a certain type of person (no shame to those who would rather hustle it out in a full-time employee position!).
You are your own boss.
As a contractor, you are the boss of your own career. You decide who to work with, when and where to work, and what rates you want to charge your clients.
You have increased flexibility.
All that decision-making means your job can be as flexible as you want or need it to be. For this reason, women are on track to become the bulk of the gig economy workforce. Working on a gig-by-gig basis can (for some) offer the work/life balance women, in particular, are always in search of.
As TyKecia Hayes, a freelance filmmaker in LA told the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when she’s between filmmaking projects, she picks up gigs that include working as a personal assistant, helping people move, and making deliveries. “I’m able to work when I need money and take off when I need to. That’s the beauty of it.”
You experience greater variety in your work life.
Depending on what kind of gigs you do, you can fill your career with variety. At Don’t Panic, for example, we have assistants who edit the audio for podcasts, write blogs about digital marketing, then book a flight overseas for their clients — all in a single day.
It might just make you happier than the 9-to-5 grind.
According to the Freelancers Union and Upwork’s Freelancing in America 2016 report, 54% of freelancers made more money within a year of leaving their full-time jobs. 79% said freelancing is better than working at a traditional job, and were more likely to report feeling excited, respected, and empowered at work. (h/t to our girl Julia for the infographic find.)
Not All Gigs Are Created Equal
Because contract work can mean literally just about anything, not all gigs are created equal. The pay can vary significantly, as can environment issues like physical safety. A freelance web developer simply isn’t going to face some of the same obstacles of a Lyft driver working a night shift. The “good” in the gig economy doesn’t apply to every job — but neither does the bad.
If the gig economy truly is the wave of the future, it’s up to society to push legislation that protects freelancers and contractors as much as it protects employees (by that’s another post for another day). In the mean time, if you find yourself ditching a traditional job in favor of gig work, it’s important to get connected with reputable companies who encourage work/life balance and agree to pay a fair wage. With the right support from your clients, you can be living the gigging good life in no time.
Interested in joining the gig economy by becoming a virtual assistant? We can help! Join our bad ass team today.