The ‘gig economy’ is often used as a catch-all term for flexible working. But with the world of flexible working being as wide and varied as standard fixed employment, why is the term so often regarded with such disdain?
Barely a week goes by without another headline about zero-hour contracts or the practices of Uber, Sports Direct and other large corporations; we hear of countless legal battles over workers’ rights. This negative attention has meant that the gig economy has acquired an unenviable reputation. Bad press has led to the gig economy acquiring a shady reputation, synonymous with exploitation and malpractice.
However, this kind of exposure focuses exclusively on one side of the coin, when in reality it’s not just one big gig economy. It’s a bit like saying all full-time jobs are the same in terms of employee engagement, satisfaction and remuneration.
The gig economy we see in the digital marketing sector is a world away from the zero hours, low-skilled employment sector that we see on the front pages. We’re actually dealing with highly skilled remote digital marketers who work on specific tasks for a multitude of campaigns and clients across the globe. And they do this to their own tune, in their own time and for a wide variety of hourly rates, which they determine themselves.
Though these tasks primarily involve recurring manual work like QA, daily checks, and search query reports, increasingly freelancers are being called upon for highly technical tasks and for more strategic work, – everything from technical SEO audits and recommendations, to web development and graphic design, to media planning and high-level strategy.
With our industry so labour-intensive, the very least agencies can offer employees is the right to choose how and where they want to work. What’s more is that this way of working has huge benefits for agencies too. Having a global network of freelancers capable of providing 24/7 coverage, 365 days of the year, not only increases reach and efficiency, but also opens the door to micro-localisation and local market insights.
Agencies need access to the best talent for each client and campaign, in addition to fresh creative and strategic vision. The gig economy and technological innovations have made it possible for agencies to find the right person for the right task at the right time, without the constraints of traditional account teams or having to go through timely and costly recruitment drives.
There is one but for this to work properly, freelancers categorically needn’t – and shouldn’t! – be treated as second-class citizens. There’s no reason why they should be hidden away; the industry needs to embrace these different ways of working to maximise the potential. This has taken a while, but it feels like attitudes are finally starting to shift.
Technology has facilitated a totally new way of working, accounting for those individuals who – for a variety of reasons – are unable to make it to the office, or simply chose not to do so. It’s a lifestyle choice; a two-way street that is advantageous for all parties.
Though historically this kind of innovative approach to work has been more prevalent in start-ups and SMEs, those times have changed. Just last month the UK’s number-one graduate employer PwC introduced a scheme allowing new recruits to work the hours they choose in an effort to attract skilled workers who don’t wish to be wedded to the traditional 9-to-5.
This flexible working set-up is like anything new; it’s a frontier economy. This means unscrupulous employers looking to exploit the system and make a quick buck choose to operate right on the cusp of what’s deemed acceptable and ethical. Yet in forward-thinking, conscientious and considerate businesses, those working remotely should have the same rights and respect as anyone else – just delivered differently.
We need to stop our gross generalisations of the gig economy. There’s a monumental difference between specialist digital marketing work and taxi drivers or warehouse workers.
The worst thing that could happen now would be for the gig economy’s benefits to become counterintuitive. Removing this flexibility by forcing employers to tie remote workers to the same terms as their permanent employees would be an obstacle to greater innovation and progress for all involved.
The digital gig economy is changing the face of our industry and it’s for the better. Marketers wanting to hire and retain the best talent should wake up and act on it. In a recent survey from flexibility experts Timewise, 87 percent of the UK’s workforce either currently work flexibly or would like to do so. Failure to embrace remote workers as a core part of agency business could mean losing out in the increasingly competitive race for talent.