The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t only taken lives but has also caused a huge economic impact. Since March 2020, over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance. With that, economists expected a rise in the gig workforce, but not all participants will be there by choice and can earn enough income. So, in times of crisis, is there still value in the gig economy? Can the crisis shape the future of gig workers? And where do the government laws and corporate companies come in?
In 2020, there were more gig talents but fewer gigs to go around.
Though many states had eased lockdown measures, hundreds of people are still reluctant to go out. In turn, shared driving opportunities have dwindled significantly. This forces Uber and Lyft drivers to look for other jobs in the gig economy, such as driving for Uber Eats, Postmates, DoorDash, and Instacart. In 2020, online pet supply retailer, Chewy, was hiring thousands of workers to help meet the rising demand for pet food and treats delivery this pandemic. But whether the increased demand in these new jobs will be enough to offset the dramatic dip in ride-hailing rides and other gig opportunities remains to be seen.
Digital freelancing opportunities have been also on the rise. With more businesses turning online, there is a demand for web developers, social media managers, writers, and virtual assistants. But unlike Uber drivers who signed up to drive for Postmates or Uber Eats, unemployed people who want to apply for a gig online need to address some sort of “skills gap.” They may need to undergo additional training or secure certifications before they can land a freelance web developing job or social media marketing gig.
If unemployed individuals do get a gig these days, the next question is, will they be protected? Delivering supplies and meeting several people in a day put gig workers at risk of contracting COVID-19, after all. That’s even if they’re already vaccinated.
Will there be a rise in gig worker benefits?
There is still value in the gig economy in these trying times. Their value even becomes more apparent. Many states have classified delivery service as “essential,” and delivery workers are now hailed as “household heroes.” But because of the nature of the gig economy, gig workers lack protections, such as health insurance and sick leaves.
Undoubtedly, health and other insurance policies are crucial to have during the pandemic. Even gig workers who stay at home working on a web development project need these to feel secure and protected. So, now’s the perfect time to fight for those benefits. The country’s unprecedented attention to gig workers and the benefits of their services could drive legislation that favors the gig economy.
In the past, there were several attempts to secure benefits for self-employed individuals or gig workers. But Palak Shah, the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s founding director, said in an interview with Wired that the legislators didn’t see any urgency to provide these benefits. But he added, “With the coronavirus crisis, I think we’re going to see public opinion change very quickly.” This could push legislators to revisit the idea of providing workers’ benefits to the members of the gig economy.
In April 2021, there was a glimpse of hope for gig workers. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh stated that some gig talents must be classified as employees entitled to the “safety net” of benefits and labor laws. As the US economic recovery continues, Walsh believed the government must support and strengthen the employer-employee relationship, including among gig workers. He said companies, especially tech firms, make huge profits from the gig economy, so he wanted to ensure success trickles down to every gig worker. But for now, the entire gig population had to wait for that initiative to progress.
Gig work is here to stay—and companies should start putting a premium on this type of hiring.
As gig workers wait for protection from the government, they’ll continue to enjoy the flexibility. Many workers who switched to the gig economy now look at work and employers differently. The workplace is no longer attached to their identity; gig workers can have an a la carte approach to work. They can choose when to work and what to work on—they can handle a variety of work for a single employer. With that shift in dynamics, companies should begin reinventing and putting a premium on this type of hiring.
If you’re a recruiter, and you want access to a diverse pool of gig talents, you need to reevaluate the way you hire. Use an efficient recruitment marketing tool to sell the positives of contract work with your company. Keep in mind that gig talents often look for two main requirements: competitive pay rates and flexible options. In 2021, there has been an increasing demand for gig workers (particularly white-collar talents). So, you should have a trick up your sleeve to land a quality talent and reap the economic advantages of hiring short-term.
The pandemic will likely be a catalyst for significant changes in the gig economy. Let’s all hope that gig workers survive through the pandemic to enjoy the possible long-lasting changes in their work. After all, there’s a glimpse of hope that the government and companies might offer more workers’ benefits soon.