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Coronavirus And The Gig Economy : Planet Money : NPR

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CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

Hey, everyone. We know that these are uncertain and stressful times, and we here at THE INDICATOR feel really fortunate that we’re still able to get up every morning and do the work of informing and explaining and just helping you make sense of it all. And one reason we’re able to do that is because of your contributions to public radio stations. So we are asking you, if you can, to please donate to your local NPR member station. And to find out how, head to donate.npr.org/indicator. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, “WAKING UP TO THE FIRE”)

GARCIA: Candy Roberts lives in Clayton, Del. And about a year ago, she started working for Instacart, the online grocery delivery company.

CANDY ROBERTS: I’m raising my autistic grandson, and I was struggling a little bit trying to find work that allowed me to be available when he needed me.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

Candy heard about Instacart. She learned that she could be a shopper – take people’s orders, go to the store, get their groceries, drop them off. Best of all, she’d be an independent contractor, so she would not have set hours.

ROBERTS: And it allowed me to work the hours that I wanted to work, so I did. And it works – it’s been working great.

GARCIA: Candy is able to earn about a hundred dollars a day delivering groceries, and she gets the time she needs to be with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s pretty awesome. He’s the funniest kid ever. He has a lot of little crazy collections that he does. We collect M&M wrappers, and we collect cereal boxes. And he’s been doing that since he was about 4 (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Candy liked being an Instacart shopper. She liked her customers. And then, says Candy, about three weeks ago, everything changed. And going to the supermarket started to feel a lot different.

ROBERTS: The atmosphere is – I’ve never felt anything like it. It’s scary, and it’s emotional. I said, you know, I think I kind of have PTSD from shopping.

VANEK SMITH: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I’m Stacey Vanek Smith.

GARCIA: And I’m Cardiff Garcia. There’s never been a time when gig workers were more visible or more vital to people than they are right now. Instacart, Seamless, Uber, Lyft – a lot of these services have become lifelines to people in cities that have been locked down because of coronavirus.

VANEK SMITH: But gig workers are also in an especially vulnerable position right now. Many feel forced to work even though they don’t feel safe. Today on the show, we talked to Candy about her experience and look at what this moment might mean for workers like her in the future.

Candy Roberts says being an Instacart shopper has gone from a joyful job to kind of a blood sport.

ROBERTS: People steal stuff out of your cart. You know, you might’ve grabbed the last milk. Well, don’t look away from your cart because they’re going – somebody’s going to take it out of your cart.

GARCIA: There’s also, like, a kind of constant Darwinian struggle going on for the rarest items on everybody’s list – hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and, of course, toilet paper.

ROBERTS: There is no toilet paper to be found. I just don’t – I don’t know what people are doing with it. Where is it going? I can’t figure out the toilet paper obsession right now.

GARCIA: The job, she says, used to be a joy, but now it’s just overwhelming.

ROBERTS: You know, Instacart even reached out to us and said, you know, this is the busiest time in their history.

VANEK SMITH: Are you making extra money with this extra business?

ROBERTS: Absolutely not. We’re working harder and making less.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart has typically paid a flat fee of $7 per order, and then she makes the rest in tips. But right now, she says, Instacart is paying a flat fee of around 3- or $4 per order. We reached out to Instacart many times to ask about this. They never responded. But we did confirm with other Instacart shoppers in other parts of the country that they’re also getting a lower flat fee from Instacart.

ROBERTS: I feel like they’re taking advantage of us. So they’re making loads of money. They’re not passing that on to any of the people who are making it for them.

GARCIA: Meanwhile, Candy says, the tips have gotten a little spotty. A lot of people are just worried about money right now. And on top of everything, duking it out at the supermarkets has started to feel really dangerous. It just means being around people all the time.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart hasn’t supplied her with a mask or gloves or hand sanitizer, so she’s had to improvise. She uses Listerine to disinfect her hands and this bleach solution she made up to wipe down boxes. But it doesn’t feel like enough. Candy says she’s terrified. After all, she is the sole provider for her grandson.

ROBERTS: I’m always worried that, you know, what happens if I get sick? We don’t really have a big support system – or what happens if I get sick and then he gets sick? And that’s really scary.

GARCIA: So Candy has to do this awful calculus. In order to limit her exposure, she is doing fewer orders than she used to. But that also means that she is earning less money, which comes with risks of its own for her and for her grandson.

ROBERTS: Today is the first day ever since I’ve been working at Instacart that I don’t have my rent payment because of the way things have been going. And that’s scary, thinking that I might not have a home for him.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the thing. Workers like Candy might not actually have to work right now. The $2.2 trillion act that Congress just passed allows gig workers to file for unemployment benefits, which they usually can’t because they’re considered independent contractors.

GARCIA: That act included $600 per week for a lot of workers, on top of what they would normally get for unemployment. And that money would be a lifesaver for Candy. But actually getting that money is another issue.

Veena Dubal is a professor of employment law at the University of California, Hastings.

VEENA DUBAL: The last two weeks of figuring this out alongside gig workers has been really confusing, really frustrating and really scary.

VANEK SMITH: Like, you’re a lawyer, and you can’t figure it out.

DUBAL: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, it’s so confusing. I’ve been talking to unemployment insurance experts in the nonprofit world across the country, and everyone is really confused and scared.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the problem. Most companies, like Walmart, Microsoft – they keep records of their workers – how much they make, how many hours they work, et cetera. So if they lay people off, the government has a record of how much that employee made. And that worker gets paid a portion of their old wage in unemployment benefits from the state.

GARCIA: But companies like Instacart and Lyft do not necessarily keep track of how many hours people work or even who their workers are. So states which are already overwhelmed with unemployment requests will have to sort out how much to pay the gig workers who apply for unemployment.

DUBAL: And that means that workers are going to get this money weeks after other workers. And it is going to be really hard for these already, you know, stretched-thin state departments to create a whole new system.

VANEK SMITH: In the face of all that uncertainty, Veena says a lot of gig workers have just opted to keep working. They cannot afford to risk not getting money for weeks or not getting money at all.

DUBAL: Everyone that I’m talking to that is in the gig economy who is still working desperately wants to stop working. No one rationally wants to put their life on the line. Everyone who is doing so right now is doing so out of economic desperation.

GARCIA: Still, Veena says, this is a powerful moment for gig workers. She says they have been on the margins of the workforce for years. They were typically dispersed and isolated, so they couldn’t really organize. And now they are suddenly finding a community, a voice and a lot of public support and visibility.

VANEK SMITH: Instacart workers went on strike last week, demanding higher pay and protective gear. Instacart says it will provide kits with masks and thermometers and hand sanitizer, as well as bonus payments for shoppers.

DUBAL: And so people are thinking about the health of these workers in a way that they’ve never had to think about before because the health of the gig workers is intertwined with the health of people who are using and benefiting from their labor. And all of a sudden, we also are completely reliant on them. And we have the sort of time and space to think about what they are experiencing on an everyday level and why it is that they’re continuing to work when so many people are not.

GARCIA: Veena thinks gig workers will start to organize more and more and that they’ll be successful at getting what they ask for because at the moment, the companies that employ them really, really need them.

VANEK SMITH: For right now, though, Candy Roberts is just doing what she can. She’s taking on as many hours with Instacart as she can stomach. She’s trying not to worry too much about money, and she’s trying to enjoy the extra time with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s right now practicing for his – what they call classroom karaoke so when he goes back to school, he can sing “Joy To The World” to the class.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “JOY TO THE WORLD”)

THREE DOG NIGHT: (Singing) Singing joy to the world, all the boys…

VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Brittany Cronin and Darius Rafieyan. THE INDICATOR’s edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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How To Structure A Company To Use A Gig Platform

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In my previous blog, I talked about companies needing to structure their IT organizations so they are leaner, more agile and able to constantly use the world’s best coders with the rarest and newest skills that are dramatically scarce. To achieve these goals, I explained that they need to consider using a gig platform as an integral part of IT.

In the blog, I explained the benefits, especially accelerating the rebuilding of a business in the post-COVID-19 world. However, companies must understand the challenge in embracing a gig platform at scale: they must first restructure their organization. Here is a look at some important considerations and what is involved.

IT Skills Nightmare

Companies laid off many IT professionals during the COVID-19 crisis, so there is now a surplus of IT workers available. However, they lack key critical skills for new cloud-enabled technologies. Furthermore, third-party service providers struggle with the same issues. Legacy skills such as COBOL programming are difficult to find. And it’s almost impossible to find talent with critical skills in new technologies such as cloud applications, artificial intelligence and machine learning, API management, high-end custom app development and IoT.

I believe that the demand for the critical skills will increase, not decrease, after the COVID-19 crisis ends. In a recession, companies will look to pivot back to saving money as a way of being competitive.

Because of the current and continuing talent challenges, CIOs / CTOs face a nightmare in trying to maintain stability in their legacy environment while also basing development of new critical systems in a cloud environment. Gig platforms with access to freelancers with expert skills are a solution for this dilemma.

In the market for more than a decade, these gig platforms such as Topcoder, Field Nation, Gigster, Fiverr and others have proven capabilities at scale. Topcoder, for instance, is the world’s largest technology network and on-demand digital talent platform with more than 1.5 million developers, designers, data scientists and testers.

If your company decides to incorporate a gig platform to access top IT talent and create a flexible, resilient workforce, you will want to ensure you can use the platform at scale. Here are some of the necessary changes your company will need to make. 

Different Mindset Required

Incorporating a gig platform as a major component of delivering IT, it requires a mindset change. Consider the implications in the comparison of mindsets below.

Current Mindset: We have our own development teams and we also have consistent virtual development teams through our third-party service providers. This is how we create stability and effectiveness.

Gig Platform Mindset Change: There is a US talent deficit of 25% in supporting existing demand, and the demand curve for those skills is growing almost exponentially. Even if we can hire people, we cannot keep them. So, we most do something different. Using a gig platform seems to be the best solution, but the implications are significant:

·        If we develop the code using the gig platform, how can we maintain the code? How can we keep that knowledge?

·        Although we might be able to develop a specific component of code, how would we develop an entire working end-to-end system?

·        How will we support applications in perpetuity that we develop using the gig platform? Maintaining applications in perpetuity has always been a struggle, and now it is nearly impossible to find COBOL programmers to support legacy environments.  

Process Changes Required

In addition to the mindset change, your company will need to make process changes. First and foremost, you will need to ensure a consistent way that code is developed. You need to ensure that your internal teams, vendors and the gig platform develop against that standard.

Mike Morris, CEO of Topcoder, explained how his company worked with a customer in the healthcare industry to address this issue of consistency in the way the various organizations developed code. They set up the company’s CICD processes, its DevOps processes and tools.

“We set up the processes with existing internal mechanisms so that when work comes in, it always comes in the same way, regardless of whether it goes to the Topcoder platform or to the company’s internal staff or to a vendor,” says Morris.

If your company goes the gig platform route, you will need to consider such issues as the following factors that affect processes:

·        How will we transfer code from the gig platform into more traditional vehicles and then transfer them back again?

·        How will we ensure the various environments are secure?

·        How will we ensure data privacy across all jurisdictions?

·        How will we connect the gig platform into our agile planning and backlog vehicles?

Governance Changes Required

It is likely that your company will need to change its management philosophy and management tools to work with the gig platform at scale. How will you match the platform with your company’s existing tools?

You will also need to consider the overall architecture of the gig platform. Where should the gig platform architecture reside? Should your company own it, or should the third-party provider own it? And, going forward, how will you maintain continuity of the architecture?

Morris points out that many companies fear not having control over the gig workers. Where is the worker and what is the person working? Is the worker a bad actor? He says some of that fear is going away in the current reality of everybody working remote during the COVID-19 crisis, but it still exists when considering shifting to a gig platform.

Morris explains that Topcoder’s technology – especially artificial intelligence – addresses this problem. “Data drives our platform, and we know more about who is on the other end of the ethernet cable than a person badged in a 1,000-person organization. We track their behavior, when they work, when they submit things, when they fix bugs, when they start and finish a project and their security credentials.”

New Metrics Required

Companies incorporating a gig platform into their IT talent pool also need to develop new metrics. Today’s businesses are in a data-driven world, not a service-levels world. The new talent model will drive increased productivity; so, your company needs to develop new metrics focusing on three dimensions:

·        Velocity

·        Error rate

·        Alignment with the business (is IT doing the right work, or is it doing work that does not add business value?)

Using these three measurements together, your company can quantify its level of productivity with the gig platform incorporated into IT.

Winning Firms Use Crises For Opportunities

In a recent blog, I compared businesses enduring the COVID-19 crisis to racecar drivers that speed up and to “drift” a curve and win the race. Your company can accelerate its path to post-crisis opportunities if you take steps now to put the enabling infrastructure in place. The cloud and automation are two infrastructure components. Another is a gig platform for IT skills.

Yes, moving rapidly to incorporate a gig platform requires organizational mindset, process, governance and metrics changes. But I think the gig platform adoption is super exciting, as it provides a real option to dramatically improve the performance of IT in its ability to align with business goals, increase agility and maintain application estates in perpetuity.

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Gig workers unite while facing coronavirus risk

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By Eric Tegethoff, Oregon News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — — During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers for online platforms who shop for groceries and deliver food have become essential for many people stuck at home.

But they face an uphill battle for recognition, as well as remuneration.

Heidi Carrico is a Portland-based grocery shopper for the app Instacart and founding member of the Gig Workers Collective. She says she stopped shopping for Instacart and officially went on strike in March because the risk of contracting the virus wasn’t worth the pay.

“Being called household heroes and that sort of thing — that speaks to our heart and soul and what we want to do,” she states. “We want to help our communities. We want to. But that can’t take the place of being able to support our own families.”

The Gig Workers Collective is a collection of 11 labor activists, all women, across the country and has been organizing strikes against companies such as Instacart, GrubHub and Postmates.

The collective is calling for protective equipment, hazard pay and access to paid time off.

After a protest organized by the collective on March 30, Instacart responded by rushing out 10,000 kits of protective equipment. A representative for Instcart says the company has invested $20 million in the last few months to support the health and safety of shoppers.

The gig economy is a growing slice of the labor market. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2017 found about 1 in 10 workers is part of this economy. And ballooning unemployment numbers from the pandemic likely will cause numbers to rise.

Instacart has about 500,000 shoppers across the country and responded to increased demand by announcing in April a plan to hire 250,000 more.

But Carrico worries about how these workers will protect themselves.

“I’m seeing a lot of really clever and creative things that people are doing to stay healthy. But if you can’t afford it, then you’re kind of working without a safety net and hoping you don’t get sick,” she says. “I mean, crossing your fingers.”

The Gig Workers Collective has been active since Instacart changed the algorithm for its delivery payments, making working for the company unsustainable in the eyes of some workers. Carrico says this has been the case across the gig economy.

“All gig workers — regardless of the situation, regardless of whether there’s a pandemic or not — deserve a living wage,” she stresses.

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This SaaS startup matches gig workers with corporates, making hiring easier for the HRs

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As we have witnessed in the past, an economic downturn caused by a major event or otherwise can be hard on individuals. With pay-cuts and job losses, people struggle to make ends meet. In such unprecedented times, finding the right job is crucial, and most individuals depend on referrals and job portals to find a position that suits them best.

However, what if there is a platform that can help companies to identify the right talent for the job by outsourcing its technical interviews, and also help freelancers by giving them a push into the gig economy?

Bengaluru startup FloCareer helps with this by bridging the gap between employers and employees. Established in early 2016, co-founders Mehul Bhatt and Mohit Jain are helping in bringing the job community together.

FloCareer

Founders of FloCareer



Friends and neighboursMehul and Mohit used to work in the IT sector for over 15 years before they decided to start-up. The seeds for the startup germinated from their casual conversations about bringing the corporate and the gig economy together.

“Our dream is to create FloCareeras a platform that connects a community of job aspirants, skill assessors, and job creators,” says Mehul Bhatt, Co-founder, FloCareer.

The works

FloCareer offers Interviews-as-a-Service, remote hiring, automated BOT-based systems, and applicant tracking systems to its clientele. It has experts that help screen potential candidates for a particular job. However, this is where FloCareer differentiates itself. The startup’s platform enables corporate teams to focus on their core deliverables such as team development, rather than screening individuals.

When a company gives a requirement to FloCareer, the startup brings its experts to review candidates and then conducts video interviews. Once the first screening is over, the platform automates the scheduling of interviews with the right people in the company that wants to hire the talent.

FloCareer ensures that the applicants on its platform are regularly tracked, and eventually placed. It also claims to provide 100 percent transparency to its customers – starting from the selection process to the final placement.

“Most of the interviews we do are in Information Technology and Computer Science domain, as of today,” says Mohit, Co-founder, FloCareer.

The Bengaluru-headquartered startup currently has over 700 handpicked freelance interviewers who take technical rounds of interviews on behalf of the hiring company, using its SaaS-based video interview platform, which is part of the FloCareer stack. In the last 18 months, it has conducted over 25,000 interviews.

The founders believe that there are two key reasons why HRs should opt and continue to use FloCareer’s Interview-as-a-Service solutions – one, it offers a cost-saving service, and second, it provides a faster hiring process.

“Our initial set of clients were majorly startups where, either they did not have technical people to interview, or they didn’t have time to interview. Our first major client was Wipro Digital which we got through a cold email campaign. The vendor onboarding and payment were long, but it was all the worth since we have matured our product with them,” Mehul says.

FloCareer, which operates on a subscription-based business model, declined to reveal its revenue and pricing numbers. However, it had raised around Rs 3 crore through an angel round in 2018 from an undisclosed set of investors, the co-founders say.

Challenges and future plans

Detailing the challenges FloCareer faces, the co-founders say that the startup spends a considerable amount of time to convince the HROs the need to outsource the interviews and reduce their hiring time. They also have to explain to them that FloCareer is a tech-based startup that matches the specific needs of the clients by having the right talent outsourced.

“We basically work on the profiles provided by clients which include eliminating fake CVs, scheduling the interview (video interview), and providing feedback to the clients. This way, the HRs can straight away hire the candidate by reducing their time, as well as money spent on interviews. Our model for clients is a subscription-based and per interview, which is levied as per the number of interviews conducted,” says Mohit.

In the next 18 months, the startup plans to strengthen its clientele base in IT/ITES, financial/banking, and healthcare sectors in countries like the US, the UK, Australia, the Middle East, and the APAC region.

So far, it has helped companies and startups like Wipro, CRISIL, CitiusTech, Tencent, Rapido, Vision Net, ANSR, BYJU’s, Bigbasket, CSS Corp, and Happiest Minds, in finding the right candidate suitable for various jobs.

“Over time, we are planning to extend our B2C services, and hope we get into it down the line soon,” Mohit adds.

Moving forward, by the end of 2020, it is aiming to conduct 6,000+ interviews per month. At present, it competes with the likes of Talview, a US-based recruitment platform.

“Our value proposition is technology-driven interviews, enabling accelerated hiring for HR and distraction-free teams that help ramp-up the hiring,” Mehul concludes.

Want to make your startup journey smooth? YS Education brings a comprehensive Funding and Startup Course. Learn from India’s top investors and entrepreneurs. Click here to know more.



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