Category Archives: Gig Economy

Work, Jobs and the Gig Economy

As I work on my book, Thriving in the Gig Economy , I have had the opportunity to talk to many experts, from CEOs to futurists about the future of work.  I was thrilled last week when one of them shared my pet peeve, one that is all the more acute in an election year --  the fact that so many Americans equate work and jobs.  Work is so much more than a job, or more precisely a "regular full-time job".  work encompasses all sorts of pursuits, from part-time work, to self-employment to gigs to volunteering.

If you look at the definition, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/work, it is "an activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something:"  In fact in all 11 definitions cited, the word "employment" never appears.

work-and-jobs-a_18209594_fdcad04d8230cfe920d0951aeac865c14aa12b44

 

None the less, we constantly hear our politicians talking about how important it is to create jobs.Yes that is important, but as the world is changing with technology and new work models.  What is unfortunate about this focus on jobs and not work is the attachment of social infrastructure to employment. Employer provided  health and retirement benefits are great for current employees, but leave all of the other workers, from part-timers to gig workers potentially at a disadvantage.  Moreover, the employment oriented fringes may constrain an individual's entrepreneurial path; it will be tougher to become an independent consultant if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

That said, the government has a vested interest in bolstering traditional  employment structures, and that interest is not in benefits but in taxes.  It is a lot easier to collect employment taxes from companies than from a myriad of individuals. As such, the argument that we need to revise our vision of employment, can fall on deaf ears.

Charles Handy, an Irish economist and expert in the world of work, said in his new book, The Second Curve, writes, “The strange truth is, if you have a so-called proper full-time job today, you are in the minority.  The world has changed and few have noticed.”  We need to take notice and enable opportunity accordingly.

Yet Another Research Report on the Gig Economy

Albert Einstein once said, "If we knew what we were doing we wouldn't call it research." How fitting in this case.  Yet another report came out this week estimating the size of the gig economy. Pymnts.com released their research http://www.pymnts.com/gig-economy/2016/gig-economy-growing/ done in conjunction with Hyperwallet, which attempts to define the the size of the independent work marketplace.

This is on the heels  of the recent McKinsey Global Institute  (MGI) study, "Independent Work: Choice Necessity and the Gig Economy."http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/independent-work-choice-necessity-and-the-gig-economy.  In that comprehensive report, the authors had a significant disclaimer about the problem of data collection in this area. The annual contingent labor study done by the Department of Labor was discontinued in 2005, so thee are no government statistics about participation. Various entities,including companies in the space, academics and think tanks, have launched efforts  to explore the subject.  So there is no dearth of data about the gig economy, the problem is each study has been  done with a slightly different approach. In fact the MGI study even included a great graph comparing the size estimates emerging from these disparate research projects. It tried to isolate the specific industry segment which was being addressed by the researchers.  For example, it  listed 5 different studies, including their own,  that sized the independent workforce in the US as a percentage of the working population.  The results were broad ranging,  from as little as 16% to as high as 27%

So given that the numbers don't quite jive, who is right? Since I am working on my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, I have been wrestling with this issue quite a bit.  I have decided that  potentially they are all right; you just need to be cognizant of how they have framed the question. MBO Partners, for example , provides the best ( and only) historical perspective, having issued its report on the State of Independence in America  for each of the last 6 years. https://www.mbopartners.com/state-of-independence/mbo-partners-state-of-independence-in-america-2016 They focus on independent consultants in the professional services space and estimate the market size at just south of 40 million participants. They define 3 primary categories of independents: full time, part time and occasional.  MGI, on the other hand, has a higher size estimate based on four categories of workers, including two groups, who are working in this way out of financial pressure rather than personal choice. They include some categories of workers, like doctors and therapists, who may or may not be captured in the MBO Partners data.

One area that has very limited data available is the use of digital talent platforms by gig workers.  The new PYMNTS report is targeted specifically at this.  In fact, they specifically don't include the group of "freelancers" who may get their work from intermediaries, like M Squared Consulting http://www.msquared.com or Business Talent Group. https://businesstalentgroup.com/business-strategy-consulting-google/?gclid=CLLwv-vy-c8CFUKTfgod6t8HGA.  Given the exclusion of this key population, the graph which showed the type of professional services procured through the digital talent marketplaces was telling.  The professional service in the highest demand was photography. The senior level independent consultants do not appear to be represented.  I have yet to comprehensively go through this report, so I can't speak to conclusions the authors may have reached.  Perhaps there will be more to come on this in the future.  At the very least, there may be more to come in my book.

 

 

Curt Flood and the Gig Economy

As a San Francisco Giant fan, I am sad to say that the baseball season is over for me.  (And of course, as a Giants fan, I must now root for the Cubs against the Dodgers, But I digress...) But none the less it is October, when the baseball season reaches its inevitable climax.  So as I work on my book about the gig economy, I thought it was fitting to do a shout out to Curt Flood, a man who changed baseball and the world of work in a major league way, pardon the pun.

Curtis Charles Flood played 15 years in major league baseball  from 1956-1971, playing for the Cincinnati Reds ( or Redlegs, as they were known at the time) the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Senators.  He had a solid career, with three all star

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (AP Photo)

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (AP Photo)

team appearances and seven  golden glove awards. He won two different hitting titles and still today is ranked third behind Willie Mays ( a Giant , of course) and Richie Ashburn for most games played in center field.  However, his impact is not what he did on the field., rather it was what he refused to do off the field, namely accept employment terms that no longer seemed appropriate to him.

Before 1969, players were bound by the reserve clause in baseball, which made players beholden to the first team with whom they signed.  The had no say about their  futures once the contracts were signed.  Team management could make the decision to trade or release a player without so much as a "how do you do" to the athlete.

When the team wanted to trade him after 12 years to Philadelphia, Flood refused, saying,"I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold."

Floods case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and due to the fact that Justice Powell had to recuse himself because of his ties to the Busch family, the owners of the Cardinals, he did not win.  However his action and the attention it garnered paved the way for change and ultimately led to free agency in baseball.

So what does this have to do with the gig economy?

What Flood wanted was control over his professional life.  After all that time in the league, he felt he was owed that. Various studies have shown that when professionals decide to start consulting independently it is for that same motive -- control over their life. MBO Partners  2016 State of Independence in America Report says that over 60% of consultants cited control of their time as a key factor in going out on their own. Similarly, the McKinsey Global Institute's  recent report entitled Independent Work: Choice Necessity and the Gig Economy noted that the independent workforce is larger than previously thought and that most participants choose independent work for its flexibility and autonomy.

What Flood did, by challenging the reserve clause, was to create a new notion of how employment relationships can work, a mental model that could be extrapolated to other businesses. Many people may only think about the free agency in sports, but it has its analogues in all sorts of other professional fields now as well.   In fact, in the aforementioned McKinsey report, they cite different categories of gig workers, and the high end consultants who pursue the independent work option by choice are dubbed in the study as free agents.  So thank you Curtis Flood for making your stand so that you could get the gig you wanted.  The gig economy is in your debt.

 

The Gig Economy – A Class Act…or not…

gig economy

Since I am working on my book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, I have been paying particular attention to the various Uber  employment lawsuits.  Even though  I am focusing on the high end of the gig economy where independent consultants sell their services and intellectual capital, the commodity end of Uber drivers can't be ignored, since it seems to garner all of the headlines.

This week a rather important ruling occurred that seemed to receive very little attention, which is surprising, since it suggests Uber's independent contractor lawsuits may lose class action status.

Last week,  a Ninth Circuit panel effectively reversed a decision from 2015 . A year ago, a judge had said that that the arbitration agreement in Uber's contract with its drivers was unenforceable.  The contract was designed to say if you have any dispute with us, Uber, you need to resolve it through arbitration rather than through the courts.  In this particular case, three drivers had sued Uber for saying they violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when the company ran background checks on their driving records.  The FCRA, as all recruiting managers know, is the law that requires candidates for employment authorize any  background checks.   The decision said that Uber's arbitration clauses were fair, valid and enforceable.

By asserting that the arbitration clauses are valid in this case will have implications in the attempts of some drivers to create a class action.  As an outside observer, I applaud this.  Since I have the gig economy on the brain  and am an avid Uber customer, I have taken to quizzing all of my drivers about there thoughts on the lawsuit.  I wish I had thought to jot down the results, since my sample size is now in statistically valid territory.  That said, my recollections of the results are these:

  • Only one of about 25 wanted to be an employee
  • 2-3 did not know about the lawsuit at all
  • The majority did it part time to fit their schedule , as one said to me last Sunday, "why watch a football game when I can earn some extra cash for 2 hours?"
  • Most had other jobs including teacher, masseuss, contractors, programmers, hairdressers etc.
  • A large minority also worked for the other driving services

My very unscientific conclusion then is that it is a very diverse driver pool.  A key attribute of a class action lawsuit is that the participants in the class are largely similar.  I don't know that this is the case.  It is time for the independent contractor laws to be brought into the current century in a time when the gig economy of indepndent workers of all sorts is growing.  Potentially these lawsuits facing Uber will help make that happen. .

The Sharing Economy versus the Gig Economy

gig economy

Thriving in the Gig Economy - Scholarly Research

Since I am working on a new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, I am reading  every scholarly item I can find on new alternative marketplaces.  As such, I was thrilled when  The Future of Work Podcast (1)  recently included an interview with Arun Sundararajan,  the author of The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism.  I had read Sundararajan's book already so was eager to hear him discuss it.

I appreciated the fact that he recognized that the advent of digital platforms is really an extension of age-old marketplaces.  The fact that they now happen to be powered by technology rather than a central urban location was somewhat incidental.  Technology was able to become the purveyor of these markets in part due to the increase in trust that the medium affords.  Millenials, interestingly  enough, have grown up in an era where trust in institutions and society is at its lowest level.  (which does not bode well for the upcoming election) .  Conversely, though, they are the most likely to trust a digital platform; since they grew up in a digital age, technology can provide a layer for legitimacy and trust to this cohort, more so than it does to Gen Y or boomers.

What did not resonate with me though was the way sometimes, the gig economy was used as a proxy for the sharing economy.  With all due respect to Professor Sunderararajan, I do not see it quite the same way.  To me, although the sharing economy term is often used interchangeably with the gig economy, it is not the same.  The sharing economy refers to the economic activity generated from the sharing of physical assets on a peer-to-peer level.  The poster child for the sharing economy is AirBnB, the home sharing service.  It enables individuals to rent their property or a portion of it to people in need of a vacation rental.  Although the host may need to prepare the house for the guest, that is not the service that is being purchased.  The product is the temporary housing. By extension, the preparation of the host is not a gig, but rather his/her role to get the financial benefit from the short-term rental of physical assets.

Other assets can be involved as well. There are several peer-to-peer lending platforms, like Lending Club, where individuals can pool financial assets and make loans to individuals or enterprises in need of funds.  Share a Mortgage is a London-based start-up that allows individuals to pool resources for the purchase of real property. E Bay, of course,  is also a sharing platform, allowing individuals to sell handicrafts or grandma’s antique dining room set.

There is some intersection with the gig economy when the asset being shared is in part intangible. SofaConcerts in Hamburg, Germany for example, allows people to host musicians in their home.  The home is being shared, but the experience, the performance, is also shared. Similarly, EatWith in San Francisco, allows hosts to open their homes to put on a dinner party.  The home and meal are shared, but the host has done the work to prepare the meal. The host could be an expert chef, so in that sense expertise is being purchased.

That said, the key distinction between the sharing and gig economy is that the former involves the purchase of a service or experience that involves a physical asset. At the high value end of the gig economy, the transaction can include an intangible asset in terms of the intellectual property that is developed on the gig, but a physical asset isn’t involved.

Despite our difference in perspective on this, I heartily recommend "The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism"; it is a good read.

 

I welcome your thoughts. 

 

The Gig Economy Eco System

Employment in the Gig Economy

As the politicians debate the implications of the gig economy, they typically just talk about jobs.  They lament that so many gig workers don't have benefits and are being taken advantage of by those running the powerful digital platforms. As I have said here often, they seldom mention the professional gig economy workers, 91% of whom have self selected this career path.  But perhaps the bigger oversight is that they fail to recognize the jobs that are being created serving the new needs of the gig economy and its workers.

Take a recent press release from ShiftPixy. http://www.shiftpixy.com This app is a way for

From the ShiftPIxy website

From the ShiftPixy website

companies in need of shift workers to recruit contingent gig workers to fill their scheduling gaps. This means that a small business can use this app, rather than trying their luck at all the digital sites. what Kayak did for travel, it is doing for low-end contingent labor.

Employment Laws and the Gig Economy

Moreover, the Shift Pixy guys have paid attention to the employment law issues that have bedeviled some of the large talent platforms like Uber and Handy.  ShiftPixy employs the gig workers on behalf of its clients.  By employing them, it enables them to accrue enough part-time hours from various clients to qualify for benefits typically only accorded to full-time employees.

In case you are wondering, I don't have an investment in Shiftpixy so this is not a commercial.  It is recognition that someone has solved not just one but two key problem with the gig economy. First they just bit the bullet and made the employment call. Since the laws are murky ( another favorite subject of mine) they built an employment infrastructure that is easily accessible via an app that takes the employment risk away from their clients.  "You want a shift worker to bag groceries, great, they would have to be an employee.  Since you don't want them to be your employee, we will handle that. " Most of the digital platforms put the onus on the buyer to figure out the employment law issues, so ShftPixy took that off the table, making it safe for any size company to engage a gig worker. In the spirit of full disclosure I  think that is especially brilliant idea, since I did the same thing 15 years ago, when I started Collabrus, a company designed to employ consultants when they need to be employed by nature of the work or as a risk management strategy.

ShiftPixy is solving another more intractable problem though, by creating a structure that consolidates part-time hours to enable benefits eligibility.  It sounds straightforward, but it is actually a pretty complicated business model.

In the end, Shift Pixy is a small start-up with a little staff, but none the less, they are themselves a job creator.  They have their own employees, but they will also be creating opportunities for various part-time workers to get additional shifts in a way that suits their lifestyle and financial needs.

So as the politicians lament the loss of traditional jobs, I say lets applaud the innovators who are creating the economic infrastructure to strengthen the new world of work.

Matchmakers in the Gig Economy

erasmus

Matchmakers and the Gig Economy

On my way to Rotterdam to see my daughter compete in the World Rowing Championships, (Go USA! Sorry I digress...) I finished the book, "Matchmakers, The New Economics of Multi-sided Platforms" by David Evans and Richard Smallensee. Although I wished they had spent a bit more time on talent marketplaces in the gig economy, they provided wonderful examples of successes and failures in the new world of two-sided digital platforms. One point in their conclusion I particularly appreciated was this:
 "2.    A lot of what the new market darlings do is old stuff. They just use technology to improve on things that other matchmakers have done for many years. "

How right they are!

In my research for "Thriving in the Gig Economy", I have met many talent platform entrepreneurs.  I think many of them have been surprised at how facile I am with the issues they face as they grow their business. I have been out of my firm for several years now, and my firm was. It a technology platform. But we were - and it is today - matchmakers. As such the challenges a digital platform may encounter when recruiting talent, finding consultants or establishing contract terms are not dissimilar from those I faced over the years.

They conclude with the fact that passed on the long history of matchmakers, dating back to the Greeks and the agora, the current crop of digital platform firms will not be the only ones to  disrupt economies.  In fact another quote I liked is this

"With all due respect to the brilliant entrepreneurs behind today’s unicorns and yesterday’s huge IPOs, the telegraph was a far more important multisided platform in terms of its impact on the global economy than anything the Internet has yet spawned."

They got that right too. On the whole, I solidly endorse this book. I welcome your thoughts on it and the gig economy.

The Name Game in the Gig Economy

Catalants and the Gig Economy

I love to be right.  A few months back I blogged about my amusing experience applying to join the Hourly Nerd  digital talent platform.  I asked the question, "$22 million in funding and they couldn't come up with a better name?"  This week they announced a new name -- "Catalant".

I have been involved as a client in several corporate naming exercises.  With only good thoughts for my old friends at Landor Associates, I just love the whole explanation about why a certain combination of letters will be a good new name.  Now that owning the URL is paramount, most existing English language words are taken, as are well-known Latin or foreign terms.  (My son who was a Classics major could be a source of some good ancient Greek phrases though...)

So Catalant is a combination of catalyst, talent and brilliant, or so they say.  The name change theoretically ushers in a new future for the well-funded digital talent platform  where they tout the new world where " companies can instantly access the precise talent they need  when they need it." The video is lovely, despite its obvious overstatement.

The world they describe is not that new.  I am fairly sure I had virtually that same verbiage in the marketing  materials of my company, M Squared,  25 years ago.  Similarly, other firms that have been around a while, like The Business Talent Group (BTG) and Cerius Executives are demonstrating how companies are using on demand expertise.  Maybe this model is new for Catalant, but it is not so new for the world.

In an article in BostInno, the founders mention that the original intention was to go after small businesses but now they see that big companies can use them as a source of flexible talent. Their algorithms are key to that value to large companies. Their platform can index all skills and find the right person.  That may be so. For me, it is all about trust.

My former company -  and BTG and Cerius for that matter -  provide  our big company clients more than algorithms; we provide trust and judgement.  If I told a client he really should talk to Harry for a sensitive, strategic project even though Harry may not seem on point, they did it because they trusted me and my understanding of the consultants, the gig and their environment. Perhaps algorithms may get there, but as someone in the Hourly Nerd, excuse me, Catalant network, I have yet to be matched with a project appropriate to my skills. As such, I am still a bit of a skeptic about the perfection of the algorithm.

And by the way, I learned from the Bostinno article, Hourly Nerd isn't going away entirely.  It will be the product offering to the small business marketplace So big companies get brilliant talent and little companies get nerds...go figure...

“The Millennial Mindset and the Gig Economy”…not…

The Gig Economy and Career Advancement

Journalism today is not what it used to be.  Gig economy pundit that I am, I get my daily google alerts on anything to with this new economic dynamic.  More often than not, the article is not quite on point, and or has more to do with the sharing economy than the gig economy -- they are related but not synonymous.

Today's headline was from a piece by CBS Boston and was entitled "The Millennial Mindset and the Gig Economy". It opened with Gallup Poll data on the priority the younger generation puts on career advancement.  The challenge though,  is the interview , since many employers want 4 -5 years of experience. A  recent graduate laments that he just does not have the requisite background to be considered.  The piece then jumps to the fact that the gig economy has changed the social contract and it is not clear how it will all settle out.

Really??? I wouldn't blame the gig economy for the fact that may jobs require some level of work experience.  That has nothing to do with any type of social contract, eroded or not,  between employee and employer.  It has more to do with the level of expertise and or training required to successfully perform the tasks associated with the  role.

Maybe the author of the piece should get a new gig that doesn't involve writing about the gig economy...

 

Adventures in the Gig Economy

Thriving in the Gig Economy and the Hourly Nerd

So I am working on a new book, "Thriving in the Gig Economy", a subject I happen to know a lot about from my experience at M Squared Consulting.  That said, though, there are many new players since the days when I ran M Squared.  As fodder for my book, I am walking the  talk and exploring new platforms and using gig economy resources along the way.

I have registered as an expert at a number of sites.  The most remarkable experience was with Hourly Nerd.  (Really, they thought that was a good name, but I digress.) The Hourly Nerd pitch is that the consultants or "nerds"  on their platform come from only select business schools.  To underscore this, they ask that all potential consultants sign up using their business school email.

Now there is the rub.  When I went to business school, email had not yet been invented.  I know I date myself, but that doesn't make me any less qualified as a consultant.  I must say, to Hourly Nerd's credit, they responded immediately  when I pointed out that I did not have a Haas Business School email since that would have been impossible in 1985,  and  since I knew that they were not intending to discriminate against older MBAs,  there had to be another way for me to apply.  Needless to say I was vetted rather quickly after that.

In my 3 weeks of  being in the nerd ranks, I have received 2 inquiries, neither of which was really appropriate for me.  Since I chair a not for profit humanitarian NGO, I received a request to do research for another non-profit in a totally different field.  Clearly they need to work out the difference between functional expertise and industry expertise in their algorithm.  The second was a bit more on point, looking at employee utilization in consulting firms.  However, since the consulting firm I ran was a hybrid firm, providing independent consultants, gig folks or nerds in their parlance ,  to projects my expertise was not quite on point.  As they say, three is a charm, so I wonder what might come next...

In the meantime, I am securing some programming talent in this gig economy as well as research time from some other platforms.  I am intrigued to experience the customer side...I will keep you posted.

 

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