What is Gigonomics?
Gigonomics is a relatively new term used to describe a new way of working today where careers are broken up into a series of short-term, independent contracts. i.e. gigs that can be as brief as a few hours, up to several months. According to an article by Tina Brown in the Daily Beast written almost ten years ago, gigonomics “…refers to an economy where no one has a “real” job. Everyone has “gigs”, i.e. short-term contracts for doing things with no benefits or pension plans.” Often characterized negatively in terms of what is lost or not provided for by the client offering gig work (I.e. pensions, benefits, income security) the positive aspects of living life as a freelancer are rarely assessed or commented on.
My book, Gigonomics: A Field Guide for Freelancers in the Gig Economy, aims to change that by underscoring the many positives and upsides of working independently as a professional freelancer.
Life in the wilds of the gig economy is not easy – and it’s not meant to be. Choosing to work for yourself and for the clients you serve is a privilege and while it can be hard, the rewards are well worth the effort.
The prevailing view of a career in gigging is that the gig economy is a bad thing, that it points to the erosion of worker rights and is leading us down a path of massive income insecurity which could ultimately destabilize societies where working people can’t plan for their futures or build up enough financial wealth to feel safe and secure.
While that somewhat horrific version of the gig economy may be an increasingly apt description for low-skilled workers dependent on technology platforms that encourage workers to race to the bottom to work for the lowest cost to the extreme benefit of the company or entity offering work, it is a far cry from the lives of the many wealthy and successful freelancers I know and work with, who’ve built up a stable career by cultivating good client relationships, offering passionate service and working hard on projects they care about delivering their best on.
Unfortunately, people are attracted to bad news and the idea that work is changing is almost always described in negative tones. We seem to relish stories that focus on what is lost and the failings of capitalism that are leaving so many of us behind as the rich get richer and the elite get, (er), eliter, but ignore the many potential upsides that come from an economy driven by independent – and interdependent – gig workers, engaged in their jobs and working towards their own personal goals while serving clients locally and in many cases, globally.
There’s more to life in the gig economy than work
In my view, gigonomics is a system of thought that involves reframing how you see yourself, your place in society, the work you do, and how you will do it. It is a complete paradigm shift that encompasses a new way of viewing money, health, wellness, time and what work really means. As you widen your perspective by reflecting on what you are good at doing, like to do and whose problems you can help solve, you begin to realize that working on gigs – or a series of projects – is a way to neatly provide both you and a paying client with the optimal solution to a problem that leaves you both better off.
You get to do work you want to do and your client gets the benefit of your skill, time and passion for delivering something that matters.
Of course working this way requires a much more integrative view of life in general. As a freelancer, your work and life are more closely interwoven. Your working hours may be more varied, as may be where you do your work, and who you do it with. You may find yourself booking a gig on your phone while standing in line buying groceries, or making connections online that lead to a booking from a client half way around the world in another time zone.
You may find that the more you do what you do, the less your work feels like work, and the more it begins to feel like what it is – your way of connecting with others and providing them with something of value they can’t provide for themselves as efficiently as you can.
The more you think this way about your work in the gig economy, the further away you get from the nightmare scenarios that make headlines and the closer you get to realizing that you can, in fact, put together a life for yourself that provides you with both an income and something much more rarely found at work, happiness. And dare I say it, even joy.
That’s a side of the gig economy ignored by commentators seeking only to play on fears and stir up anxiety. There is joy in working on projects you find meaningful, doing work that matters to you and the clients you are doing it for, and applying your passion and interest for the work you are doing in service of someone else.
Design your career for change
The range of professions – both existing and yet to be invented – for which gig work is a more apt and efficient use of time is broadening daily. During this kind of transition and tectonic economic change the conventional contract between employer/employee will necessarily be transformed.
Currently it does mean that there is a forgoing of what once was (for some professional and more privileged workers) included in an employment contract: pension contributions, health and other benefits; insurance; a predictable income stream. But with the right kinds of policies put into place by progressive governments, and forward thinking corporations, I believe many of these issues will be addressed in the years to come as the segment of the working population who find themselves working gigs grows.
In short, these issues – though real – are the friction that comes when any system is replaced or displaced by another.
Get ready for the blended workforce
Freelancers and their clients will find each other the same way workers and employers have done and likely will continue to do. I do not believe there will be an end to all permanent, paid employment, and nor will all freelancers always remain freelancers. People will move between longer term employment and freelancing, much as they have already done in recent past.
Likewise, work that can be automated will be, and this will create new kinds of jobs. People will find themselves parts of supply chains that include human worker and AIs, robots (or cobots – robots working alongside humans splitting up tasks that are better suited to each entity).
What has changed is the breadth and depth of opportunities available to enterprising freelancers today, made possible through increasingly affordable technological solutions, the lowering of entrance barriers to many professions through the abundance and proliferation of freely available information and knowledge, and the preferences of newer, younger workers, for living life on their own terms and not wanting to work their whole careers to save up for a mythical retirement period where they’ll reap the benefits of all their sacrifice and hard work, but rather enjoy faster, more granular versions of those benefits now, like having more time to spend with family, workout, practice yoga or travel.
“Gigonomics” is a made up word, and its definition therefore is still changing and open to influence. I don’t own it, and neither does anyone else, so it can still be defined. At its most basic definition, it comprises the economics of working short-term gigs and what that does for your finances, life planning and time management. It impacts how you do work, and the kind of work you do. It affects how you view money, your time, your creative and professional abilities, and how you sell yourself and what you can provide as a service or good you produce, or have produced under your creative direction. Learning how to create gigs for yourself, how you get them and how you keep on getting them are all part of learning “gigonomics”. So is saving for your future, building up your resilience and strength (body and mind, which is your new healthcare plan) and working towards a future that you are helping to create.
Being in the gig economy is really about defining yourself – and your success – on your own terms.
It is a huge opportunity that offers a lot of growth potential, and as with any big transformative change, it can be a little scary too. But it’s definitely no longer just about offering “rooms and rides” on sharing platforms for a fee less a commission. I prefer to think of it as a new Renaissance, replete with growing guilds of creators and makers, independent professionals and solopreneurs around the world who are redefining work, life and everything in between.