5 tips for surviving the gig economy

Don't expect the work to come to you, says recruitment boss David Heron.

by David Heron
Last Updated: 12 Jul 2017

Like it or loathe it, the gig economy is here to stay and this now applies to professionals as much as it does for Uber drivers and couriers. There are some who claim that gig working is creating a modern-day `vampire economy`, in which employers suck out the skills and efforts of temporary workers and then toss away the talent when it is no longer needed.

Other charges levelled at the gig economy are that it leads to a race to the bottom with a price-cutting culture and a gradual chipping away at trust-based partnerships built over time in favour of a shorter-term focus.

Additionally, the gig economy is creating a cultural shift in power dynamics and the way that relationships are brokered. For many who have chosen to strike out on their own the reality of going solo can be an unexpected shock.

If you are the right person with the right personality it is an environment in which you can thrive, particularly if you find the right balance of chunky and interesting assignments on a regular basis. Navigating this new world can be tricky and there are a few unwritten guidelines to follow to make the journey easier.

1. Don’t take things personally

Success in this new world requires an almost mercenary approach and a level of self-confidence to hit the ground running, get the job done and then move on. Don’t get emotionally involved in a project where you are just one piece of the jigsaw and learn how to let go without taking it personally when you are no longer required. To use a sporting analogy, a gig worker is a substitute who may not play in every game or even for the same team twice, but comes on at vital moments. 

2. Be proactive

You may be solo, but you will be expected to manage your clients as if you are running a business. This means working out what the market looks like for your services, how to price yourself, how many projects you need to take on and how many you can handle. As a gig worker it’s your responsibility to line up sufficient work. Don’t expect that just because you did a great job that you will be offered another project. 

3. Learn how to say no

One reason people and employers are attracted to the gig economy life-style is the flexibility. However, the reality is that projects can be intense and stressful. Even if it’s a well-paid project, a gig economy worker needs to be able to say ‘no’. This requires self-awareness and the confidence that another assignment will quickly follow.  Also, you may be asked for results fast and you need to be able to set expectations and push back with a more realistic proposal.

4. Build trust, fast

Don’t expect a 9-5 schedule. If a short and easy working day is what you are after, this may not be the lifestyle for you because the hours can be long and intense and you will need a ‘have suitcase will travel’ attitude if necessary. The ability to be flexible in the gig economy is key and to work in this way requires the ability to build trust-based relationships fast. Just because the work is short-term does not mean that trust is any less important – you just have less time to build up a strong relationship. This goes both ways and for employers, integrity and being honest in all your dealings with gig workers is just as important.

5. Keep training

Finally, one of the benefits to clients of the gig economy is there is a wider array of specialists in the market, providing employers with a toolbox of skills they can draw on when needed. For people with specialist skills, there is a steady flow of interesting work and a choice of potential assignments. However, it is up to gig workers to regularly up-grade their skills and ensure they are up-to-speed on the latest thinking and innovations.

We have become used to getting anything we want at any time at the touch of a smartphone screen and in the world of work we will see a shift to a pay-as-you-go approach. I think it is inevitable and organisations and individuals are going to have to learn to live with it and embrace it.

David Heron is group CEO of Wilton & Bain

Image credit: Deliveroo

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