Going Gig: Post-COVID Workforce Trends
Gig Economy Data

Going Gig: Post-COVID Workforce Trends

All Data Points Towards Continued Gig Economy Growth

If we’ve learned anything throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that businesses and workers alike, now more than ever—need the gig economy. With both employers and employees trying to adjust to big changes in the economic landscape, it’s an arrangement that suits both parties, giving them opportunities to thrust ahead while retaining some much-needed control and flexibility. Recent gig economy data points to major growth for this approach to work, a silver lining in an otherwise chaotic time.

So how did the gig economy end up being the solution that so many professionals and organizations have turned to? For many, it comes down to sheer necessity. Gartner recently reported that the economic uncertainty of the pandemic caused many workers to lose their jobs—exposing them for the first time to non-standard work models like the gig economy.

Being flexible and versatile enough to take on gig work is one clear path ahead during uncertain times—and workers have discovered a number of added benefits as well. But they’re not the only ones who find this type of independence beneficial. As we’ll see, companies stand to reap huge rewards from the gig economy as well.

The Percentage of Businesses Using the Gig Economy

Taking on a full-time employee can be both a huge cost and a huge risk. Aside from the research, there’s an abundance of proof that shows that companies leveraging gig workers to reach their goals are doing it in a quick, simple and cost-effective way. In fact, as businesses begin to bounce back, organizations may begin to see the gig economy as more than just a temporary solution during an especially hard time.

Gartner’s analysis of gig economy data shows that organizations will continue to expand their use of contingent workers to maintain more flexibility in workforce management post-COVID-19 and will consider introducing other job models they have seen during the pandemic. “Our research finds that, “32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Gartner.

This means it’s likely the gig economy—and the growth it’s experiencing—won’t slow down anytime soon. And that growth is something organizations should pay close attention to, especially since it will transform the employment landscape as we currently know it. According to Forbes, regulations, worker’s unions and business services will proliferate as the gig economy expands in coming years.

“It’s critical for business leaders to understand that large-scale shifts are changing how people work and how business gets done,” says Kropp. “HR leaders who respond effectively can ensure their organizations stand out from competitors.”


32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure.

Gartner Research

 

The Number of People Working in the Gig Economy

Independent work is by no means a new phenomenon, but precise and accurate gig economy data has always been somewhat hard to pin down. According to the 2016 McKinsey Global Institute’s report, it “does not fit neatly into official labor statistics,” making it hard to truly understand its influence in the workforce. Estimates of the size of the gig economy depend heavily on how it’s defined, too.


To get a better understanding of the number of people working in the gig economy, McKinsey along with other agencies have conducted online surveys of the national workforce that indicate between 25 and 30 percent of workers had engaged in non-traditional or gig work on a supplementary or primary basis in the preceding month. And Duffin (2019) estimates that the current number of freelancers in the U.S. is 57.3 million and is projected to increase to 90.1 million people by 2028. According to these estimates, independent workers will make up 50.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce.


That means that in fewer than 10 years, an American worker will be just as likely to be a freelancer working in the gig economy as a traditional employee. Let that sink in for a minute.

Why Businesses are Gravitating Toward the Gig Economy

If recent gig economy data and projections are any indication, businesses are keen to take advantage of this shift in ways that will fuel their own success. According to a report by EY, there are a number of reasons companies prefer to use independent contractors for certain roles. It allows them to contract expertise they might not have in-house, to control costs and to respond to seasonal workforce demand, for starters.


Gallup adds that companies prefer independent workers when they’re looking for individuals who are more flexible, agile and accommodating. It also allows them to get help with project-based work and to have experts on demand. Most importantly, it helps them avoid bad hires, an error that can have costly consequences for a company.


The McKinsey Global Institute (2016) supports these ideas, stating: “If properly managed, this shift can allow companies to become more agile, efficient, and productive; it can also allow them to add new capabilities and undertake projects that would not otherwise be feasible.”

Why People Love the Gig Economy

According to Eric Duffin’s Gig Economy in the U.S. – Statistics and Facts report, there are multiple reasons that ignite the desire to work in the gig economy—with the frontrunner being the flexibility it provides. The freedom to pick when and where to work is a big draw for most workers, the gig economy data shows.


Another main driver is supplemental income. Many people use gigging as a second source of earnings, using that money toward loans or general living expenses. More Americans are taking up a side hustle to supplement their income, such as driving for Uber or starting a passion business. In 2019, these occasional independents rose in ranks 6.3 percent to 15 million. That number is up more than 40 percent since 2016.


Those looking to lead a more independent lifestyle and be their own boss appreciate that they can work on their terms. Skill building is another benefit and grabbing a gig opportunity without committing to a long-term job can be a huge advantage for these independent people.


Other reasons workers prefer independent employment include having a sense of accomplishment, an enthusiasm for service and even an interest in helping others. So—it’s not all about money, freedom, and lifestyle—altruistic motivations factor in, too. And while lack of stability might scare some workers off, more than half of full-time independent workers say they feel more financially secure as independents than in traditional jobs, a record high. Seven in 10 full-time independents say they plan to continue their current path.

Gig Economy Trends for 2021 and Beyond

Without a doubt, this year and all its challenges add urgency to the task of understanding the employment landscape now and in the years to come.


According to a recent report by MBO Partners, The Future of Work has become top-of-mind for business leaders, both in terms of where work is performed (remote vs full time in-office, or somewhere in between); and who performs the work (the right mix of full-time and flexible talent sources).


This combination of forces has made workforce optimization the number-one boardroom issue for executives in 2020.

 

Gartner explores a number of post-COVID trends that companies should be aware of and plan for, including an increase in remote working, expansion of contingent workers and in increase in organization complexity. Organizations should also redefine roles, evaluate gig worker impact and update their policies to include freelancers, according to TechR Series.


As companies begin to look back on 2020, Gartner states that, “A consensus is emerging that workforce change is the big change to a big thing—that signals true disruption of the employment model. For the last decade, it’s been clear that America is on a path from fixed to flexible employment. A boardroom push to plan and create systems for engaging with external talent is sure to radically grow with the pandemic—as fixed work becomes increasingly hard for companies to effectively sustain.”