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Welcome the Growing Tribe of Gig Workers- Business News

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Vidhya Anupkumar has an MBA degree and is a Six Sigma certified professional who used to work with GE in Bengaluru. These days she lives in Bharuch (Gujarat) and works remotely as a program manager for a company based in Delhi. She puts in about 9-10 hours a day of work with some flexibility built in. She is a gig worker.

Seema is an engineer, lives in Shimla and runs a crochet store online. She is also a part-time coder and splits time between her education and passion.

Asha is a commerce graduate. She owns a blogging and travel start-up, which she runs with another friend. This two-person set-up employs other bloggers across the country and the two spend their time travelling, blogging and building the business.

Aditi is an engineering graduate. She is a defence wife and her husband is often away. She takes care of her two kids and works as a quality assurance (QA) analyst from home. Aditi often picks up the night or early morning shifts to work.

Nitin moved to Goa a couple of years ago. He is an internet content professional and runs a website owned by his employer, who is based in Mumbai. He works 6-7 hours a day, producing content, editing videos and co-ordinating with his colleagues.

Shona is a doctor, who logs in to a website twice a day to offer consultations to patients via video calls. She lives in Trichy (Tamil Nadu) and her employer is based in Delhi. She works based on a roster and is able to do a few other projects on the side.

Lata is a housewife and lives in Meerut. She sources sarees and jewellery from an online wholesaler and sells them among her friends. She works for about four hours a day split between sessions. She has never worked before this and is earning her own money for the first time.

Seema, Asha, Aditi, Nitin, Shona and Lata are all gig workers.

Did you use that food delivery app and chat with that customer support person behind the chat window? There is a fair chance that he or she is a gig worker. Ever booked a home facial appointment or hired a driver for a day? You have probably taken Uber and Ola rides too. There is an ecosystem out there which sits on the shoulders of people who are connected to these organisations somewhere between an employee and an entrepreneur. That is the growing tribe of gig workers that we all meet and are supported by every day.

No other decade has brought in as much change in how we live, work and engage with the world as the one that is getting over. More people are going to be engaged in work outside the formal workforce than inside it. The predictability on business cycles is decreasing and the degree of uncertainty is increasing. Technology is changing faster than people are building it or using it and that is reflected in how work will take shape in the decade to come.


Getting Ready for the Future

  • Women stand to benefit from gig work in a big way in an increasingly marketplace-led, entrepreneurial economy.
  • Most gig workers do not get benefits or health insurance or pensions. Companies need to think through these gaps with empathy and long-term goals of their businesses.
  • Retention of gig workers and their engagement is an equally important metric to track when a large number of workers are gig workers.
  • Smart financial incentives and fair wages are the bare minimum a company looking to benefit from gig work would do.
  • Organisations need to offer space to their gig partners and workers to grow their skills, financial well-being and find support via mentoring.

More and more forms of employment look like gigs – short pre-defined stints or work set-ups in entrepreneur-led environments. Employment formats now look like an aisle of a mall with something for everyone. Almost all businesses are now Result Only Work Environment (ROWE) and that determines deep modularisation of work units but not so much of skills, since flat, generalist skill-sets topped with deep specialisations seem to be the winners.

Micro-entrepreneur: From work being a pre-defined pre-managed entity, it has come to be a unit of entrepreneurship for everyone. In today’s economy, all of us are micro-entrepreneurs, negotiating new, constantly evolving contexts and business variables much like in any business. The resources are limited and competition to gain them is high. In this environment, winners are those who have drive, ingenuity, resourcefulness and consistent performance.

Staying connected: We cannot live without food, water, shelter and the internet. Being disconnected is a form of exclusion in the age of digital work, payments, marketplaces and online identities. Remote work, off-location work, on-demand work, skill marketplaces – all these forms of work means one is constantly connected and able to work via the internet or a platform to connect with work peers or stakeholders.

Learning mode on: These professionals are constantly pushing themselves to stay aligned and updated with their fields and often with the upcoming fields of their choice or even dictated by the market. Learning is the new level-playing field, with newer technologies and platforms making it a welcome field for newcomers.

Specialist inside generalist: As a gig worker, a generally high level of competence, credibility, trust and capability is assumed. It is assumed that you will bring a sense of commitment, along with above-average skills, ability to time and manage stakeholders and not get bogged down by complex evolving situations. And on top of that, if there is a super skill you own, that puts you among the top one percentile of gig workers.

Remote as default: While a lot of gig work is locational, remote and on-device connectivity along with system access and other workflow automation tools make it as remote as it possibly can be. Even a plumber or a makeup professional is connected via an app or device to be able to connect to work or customers on demand.

Diverse: As the surface area of the gig economy grows, more and more workers from the margins of geography, society and polity find a way into the income opportunities around them and into the economic mainstream eventually. Gig work by design is built for all, though it is still not as open for women in some areas as it can be. Women stand to benefit from gig work in a big way in an increasingly marketplace-led, entrepreneurial economy.

Lead with empathy: Being a gig worker is lonely and community is often missing. Being able to offer a community and a safety net to this growing tribe will be a decisive factor in making gigs valuable socially too. Most gig workers do not get benefits or health insurance or pensions. Companies need to think through these gaps with empathy and long-term goals of their businesses.

Retention of gig workers and their engagement is an equally important metric to track when a large number of workers are gig workers. Smart financial incentives and fair wages are the bare minimum a company looking to benefit from gig work would do.

Safety nets and benefits: Gig workers stand a chance to be marginalised in the mainstream workforce since their presence is emerging and less weighty. Organisations need to offer space to their gig partners and workers to grow their skills, financial well-being, find support via mentoring and similar initiatives. Gig workers are precious since their bottom-line impact is immense and ever-growing. Companies need to realise, out of sight is not out of mind.

If we have to make gigs core to the economic mainstream, certain elements need to be kept in mind as more and more people enter the gig workforce.

Sairee Chahal is Founder & CEO of Sheroes



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Workers

Denver’s Gig Economy Workers Share Their Stories

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Photo by Victor Xok on Unsplash

Caught between the new coronavirus and earning a living, the Mile High City’s independent workforce opens up about how Lyft, Amazon, Instacart, and others are supporting them (or not) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In many ways, gig economy workers have become the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 crisis, often facing frontline exposure to the virus without the protections—including health and unemployment benefits—provided to traditional employees. Some companies have made efforts to support workers during this time, such as offering two weeks of sick pay for those diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. But even workers ordered to stay at home by local governments have experienced challenges getting the companies approve their claims.

Last week, which began with Instacart and Amazon employees and contractors striking for higher pay and better safety measures, several Denver gig workers talked with 5280 about their experiences during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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*Full names withheld at the request of the subjects. 

Nate*: Instacart

People are desperate, but that’s good though. Customers, they feel so bad for us, so a lot of the time they’re tipping us like crazy high. I could work seven days a week nonstop and make a ton of money, but I don’t want to do that because there’s a chance that I could be infected at anytime. Amazon and Whole Foods, their workers are going on strike because they don’t feel safe in these conditions.

The thing is, the last time people tried to strike against Instacart, it backfired on us. We used to have this quality bonus—every time a customer gave you five stars you got an extra $3 on your order. So it was a big incentive for us to give really good service. But when that strike happened, they completely removed it. They said they were going to implement new ways for incentivizing us with promotions, but that didn’t happen until—honestly until the coronavirus started to come into effect. Promotions are like, if you work from noon to 5 p.m., every delivery you do in that span you get an extra $3 per delivery. They don’t care. It’s that simple. They know they can exploit us and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Sherrie Salazar: Lyft, Instacart, Postmates

I have always done the express rental program through Lyft and Hertz, but the rental is $250 a week, and I haven’t been making that the last two weeks. Ridership is down. Grocery shopping and food deliveries are through the roof, which is what’s saving us gig workers right now. I just started with Instacart and Postmates during the pandemic. Postmates isn’t a big tipper. Instacart is. My Postmates stuff has all been food delivery; I think maybe customers think they’re paying too much for their food so they’re not going to tip the driver. It’s like, we’re out here making sure you get it. And it’s still warm—or cold, or whatever it’s supposed to be.

I’m a high-risk [patient] if I were to get COVID-19. My heart functions at 74 percent. I have asthma. I have kidney disease. I’m pre-diabetic. I’m still doing my job. I’m being safe about it.

JL*: Lyft

I’m pretty sure I had or still have COVID-19, and I self-isolated the moment I started having symptoms. My children have had it as well. I immediately contacted Lyft to let them know that I would be returning my rental and isolating. I then contacted them to see what relief would be available to me. They indicated that without a positive test result, I get no help. But no one can get tested in Colorado unless they are admitted to the hospital or meet the criteria for high risk. I contacted my primary care physician, and they indicated they would not issue a request for a test because I do not meet the criteria.

I’m convinced Lyft knows that not many people can get tested so they made that a requirement for helping drivers, thus limiting their need to help drivers. This is a crock of shit. I have been driving full-time for Lyft for a year with over 3,900 rides. I would estimate Lyft has made in excess of $40,000 from me. Still, they can’t help me even though I did the right thing and stopped driving. 

Steve*: Amazon Flex

Amazon has said it’s hiring 100,000 workers both in warehouses and as flex drivers. I guess my perception is that they’re trying to bring in a lot of new drivers to increase the pool of people who are picking from available slots so Amazon can avoid surge pricing. My personal opinion is everything Amazon is going to do is going to be in its favor—which is going to decrease the amount it has to pay to do deliveries.

I can certainly understand why people are [striking]: It’s the low pay. It’s all these packages that are coming in from all different locations and you just don’t know if the virus is on any of them. How long can it survive on cardboard packages? With this coronavirus, I’m hoping it does compel some of these companies that are providing gig work to provide better [personal protective equipment]—not only for the drivers’ protection but also for the customers’ protection as well

Stephanie Ramsey: Uber, Lyft, Instacart

I’m not someone who has a savings account that I can fall back on. I’m grateful that I at least have something, because if I didn’t have [Instacart] I would be in a bad position. But yeah, I certainly feel forced into it. There’s not another option, really.

I don’t want this to wreck years of my life financially. I don’t want to get buried. I could stay at home and probably call all of the billing companies, and they would put it off for a little while but—yeah, I’d rather risk going out and getting sick than have to worry about my finances. Definitely.

At this point in time, my tips have been 50 percent and more of my overall earnings. If I was strictly relying on what Instacart is willing to pay me, this would not be worth it. It’s only worth it because there have been a lot of generous people.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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WEBINAR: Demystifying Unemployment for 1099 and Gig Workers

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I’m a single owner of an LLC – should I apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment benefits, or both? I haven’t been eligible for unemployment in the past, but I think I might be now – how does that work?

The Colorado Small Business Development Center is pleased to announce a webinar tomorrow, Friday April 10, aimed at independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers.

Get your questions answered about who should apply for unemployment, how to do it, when to expect funds, and more during this webinar hosted by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

When: Friday April 10, at 10am

Register for this Online Zoom Meeting at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_osmdiJb4SeSqh6S8rKCs0A

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Ask SAM: What the heck are “gig workers”? | Ask SAM

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Q: What the heck are “gig workers”? I keep seeing that phrase turn up.

J.W.

Answer: That is a phrase for freelance and contract workers who work short gigs, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, temporary workers especially ones hired for a specific task. According to Investopedia, a business news website, “the gig economy is based on flexible, temporary or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform.”

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