Changing how we perceive freelance workers in the 21st century.
The gig economy strives on freelance workers who complete odd ‘gigs’ from time to time for diverse industries. Rewarding individuals for short and long-term assignments has been growing exponentially since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, paving the way for a new world of work where individuals can get by on independent jobs. This allows for individuals to maintain an income on a short-term basis, and for the more successful workers, become a full-time role working on a freelance routine.
The economy itself is very broad in that it comprises a multitude of job roles. From hospitality to consultancy, gig workers can fill the time they have in achieving minute or larger tasks for independent organisations. Traditionally, many gig workers came from artistic backgrounds, such as freelance writers and musicians (the latter is, arguably, where the term gig arose).
Services are becoming more accustomed to support a gig economy, too. Whilst there are individuals able to work freelance on a full-time basis, most individuals juggle between in-office and remote jobs and fill in their gaps of time when they can. Enter industries that support flexible working arrangements, for example, taxi services run during the majority hours of the day.
The gig economy is projected to keep growing; where hundreds of millions of individuals are already working as independent contractors in America and Europe (Petriglieri, Ashford, & Wrzesniewski, 2018). Although these individuals largely come from more creative disciplines, others are working independently to serve as experts in their respective fields and industries.
Being a Gig Worker Today
To avoid confusion in the literature, gigs have been further defined in order to separate industry components from a larger economy of people. Two major segments that fall under the gig spectrum include knowledge-based gigs and service-based ones—where the former represents consultancy roles and the latter delivery services—and pay scales differ tremendously according to the kind of gig and assignment worked on by an industry professional.
Additionally, gig workers experience risks that are taken care of by organisations in a traditional job occupation. Working in a company introduces comfortable routines with set working hours and regular pay. This is a consistency often lost on gig workers, who are rewarded on a task-by-task basis. In this way, the level of job security is usually lesser than an individual working full-time jobs in Malta or elsewhere.
Nowadays, the working society constantly evolves within a digital age of work. For gig workers, this means reporting updates of your assignments on mobile applications with little human intervention in between (think of service-based workers such as cab drivers).
Interestingly, the rise in technology does not necessarily mean gig workers have full autonomy on their assignments. As a matter of fact, certain corporations including Uber make use of software that tracks and manages a worker's daily regime through what’s known as technology-mediated control (TMC) (Cram & Wiener, 2020). In this way, digitalisation is transforming the routine of gig workers and creating new meaning in referring them as independent contractors.
It is also difficult to ignore the world of remote jobs, where many organisations are beginning to outsource gig workers to achieve particular projects rather than employ individuals full-time. Although there is little research to support the effectiveness of remote work and the gig economy, it is a commonality in the working world to employ freelance individuals in different geographical regions and perhaps this will increase as we move toward a more hybrid model of work.
Learning to be a successful gig worker
The ever presence of our careers in our everyday lives forms a great part of our identity. So much so that we align our personal value and belief systems with organisations that promise the same, so that we not only professionally develop within a company, but we also do on a personal level. A stable career also allows us to dream long-term aspirations for the near and far future, these are qualities that do not exist for gig workers.
Perhaps this is a cost of the independence favoured by freelance employees, and although we know how this can take effect structurally (namely in terms of job security differences) we know less about how gig workers develop their identities in the wake of less organisational support. This personal consideration is important to understanding contributing factors in making a successful gig worker for in-office and remote jobs in Malta and beyond.
The following recommendations are adapted from a qualitative study presented by Petriglieri et al. (2020) who feature four strategies in making a successful gig worker:
- A quiet, less distracting environment: freelance workers are removed from traditional office environments, today even more so due to the ubiquitous nature of remote work. Find an open space that makes you feel productive in order to effectively conduct your work with minimal disruptions.
- Develop a healthy routine: many individuals work better when they prepare for their workday ahead; keeping a schedule and a daily goals list are a few examples of how you can stabilise your working day and optimise your workflow. Developing a healthy routine starts at home too, ensuring you get enough sleep and are eating well are all means to make you feel and work more productively.
- Finding purpose: feeling motivated in the workplace stems beyond earning compensation for your efforts, where the true rewards arrive in finding meaning in the work achieved. Observe what you do for work and how it positively impacts the place around you and let your actions inspire you in being part of a wider successful community.
- Combatting social isolation: a common concern for gig workers is the lack of social interaction typically held between team members in a traditional office environment. Although it can be difficult to find individuals to provide specific work advice in a freelance context, it’s important to seek support in people to help push through challenging experiences. This can mean speaking to your family members, friends, perhaps someone from your social network.
Whatever success means to you personally, the gig work consensus is finding people and places that keep you feeling connected and inspired. The confidence grasped in feeling successful is what you determine in your everyday working life, and many a time this can be found external to a traditional office environment. In any case, the gig economy will continue to thrive in a remote working society, where outsourcing freelance workers for specific projects will continue to be a norm.