I’ve been writing about the Gig Economy for over a decade. One of the trends I’ll be watching closely is how gig workers come out of the coronavirus economic shutdown compared to traditional workers.
Of course, gig work is what’s helping traditional workers survive during the shutdown. Gig workers are delivering groceries, prescriptions, takeout from restaurants, and online retail purchases. So many online retail purchases. (Target reports its online shopping business is up 275% in April over 2019 figures, and online pet retailer Chewy is hiring between 6,000 and 10,000 employees at its fulfillment centers to handle a spike in orders.)
Traditional workers are also turning to the Gig Economy to earn cash while furloughed or laid off. According to an AP article, some app-based delivery companies have announced hiring sprees to cope with a surge in online shopping. “Instacart, Target-owned Shipt, Philadelphia-based startup goPuff and New York-based FreshDirect are hiring. Amazon is also adding independent contract drivers through its Flex program.
DoorDash has launched a “priority access program” to help laid off restaurant employees sign up for delivery work. Uber has an internal app that helps its ride-hailing drivers find work for Uber Eats and other jobs. Lyft is partnering with government agencies, nonprofits and health organizations to help its out-of-work drivers find jobs delivering essentials to people in need.”
This kind of basic gig work is hard work, made even harder by social distancing guidelines. Shoppers have to wait in long lines to get into grocery stores and it takes much longer to shop and check out. There’s always a risk of contracting the virus from being out in public. And the pay is low – but you are getting paid.
Professionals who do gig work have taken a hit as small businesses cut back on non-essential expenses or close their doors completely. But having a diverse portfolio of gigs means you have a better chance of being able to earn income. A massage therapist I know lost three out of four of his income streams: university athletics, private clients, and his corporate clients. But he also works in a medical practice on seriously injured patients, and his medical work was deemed essential, so he’s still able to earn.
The pandemic is amplifying the advantages gig workers and nimble companies have when conditions on the ground are changing rapidly. Independent workers in essential industries like transportation are able to take on more work and charge more based on demand. Contractors and small companies with the ability to pivot quickly to online service delivery will continue keep customers. Those who did not invest in technology will struggle to survive.
This crisis could be the turning point for gig workers in the greater economy. They were included in the federal unemployment relief bill, and their contributions are being recognized as essential to meet the needs of people forced to stay home. More traditional workers will turn to gigs as a means of mitigating the risk of losing all their income and a way to be able to work from home.
If you’re thinking about exploring the idea of gig work, you’re not alone. FlexJobs, a site that connects workers with contract, temporary, remote and telecommute jobs, has seen a significant surge in activity to its website in the past month relating to job seekers using “remote job” search terms (49% increase) and “work from home job” search terms (126% increase). Overall, traffic to FlexJobs’ site in March 2020 grew 58% over March 2019, demonstrating a notable rise in the number of people interested in finding remote jobs. In response, they’ve lowered their subscription rates (Enter the code JOBS at checkout) and created a free, comprehensive guide to help professionals who want to start working from home.