Piece Work Versus Continual Work

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By Sarah Jessop

The idea of the Gig Economy revolves around the idea of being able to create a piece of work that can be farmed out to someone else. For something like Uber it is simple: you need to go from Point A to Point B. Full stop. For graphic design work it is creating an image (or set of images) that convey what you need it to convey. For instance, the header graphic to this story is a piece of work that my daughter did for me for a dust jacket for a book that I never actually published.  (I hate having people read my writing.)

One off, discrete pieces of work.  That is what the Gig economy is all about.  But does this cover all work?  Is everyone going to be part of this economy?

You’re going to get different opinions on this, depending on who you talk to, and each opinion is going to have merit.  Let’s take a look at both sides.

Everything is part of the Gig Economy

This does have some draw to it.  With staff retention dropping, with more people hopping from job to job, as millennials and GenZ enter the market and not necessarily company loyal, there is a constantly shifting pool of talent moving between jobs.  Between jobs and between companies. These ephemeral staff are much like the rest of the Gig Economy in that permanence is not something that is desired or even acknowledged.

There are some people that want a sense of belonging and those people will be your long-term staff, the people who on-board the short-timers and fill in when they leave.  Some people have no desire to work a gig while others want the benefits:  healthcare, pension plan, paid vacation, paid sick leave, education benefits, etc.  These people will be the pillars upon which the rest of the company is built.  Corporate knowledge?  Held in the hands of just a few people.

To the people who believe heavily in the Gig Economy this is going to be the dominant form of work in the future.  Piecemeal work.  Whether that piece is hours, days, or months in length, it is work being done for a single deliverable, a single outcome.

The Gig Economy is an effort to save costs

Another group believes that the only reason for the Gig Economy is for companies to save money.  Instead of paying benefits they pay someone to come in, do a task and then leave.  No permanence, no benefits.  Most specialists are going to be located in this type of work, people with a specific skill set, a specific set of knowledge and or skills, that allow them to float from position to position.

Non-specialized jobs?  Those are going to be outsourced for firms.  Need a Help Desk?  There will be a firm that offers you those services.  So while your firm may end up reducing the number of staff, the work still needs to be done.  Like a Lego project, your firm will be a collection of pieces, a collection of relationships that you have with other firms to get specific work done.  So while people say that there is a Gig economy it is nothing more than organizations realizing that they don’t need to be experts in accounting, just hire someone to do it.  You don’t need IT experts, hire someone to do it.

What some people call the Gig Economy is merely organizations realizing that they don’t need to be experts in all of the fields necessary to run a business:  they just need to be experts in one field, their specialty, and establish relationships with other companies to fill the other roles.  Companies will be smaller in headcount and yet still accomplish the same things that they could previously.

So, is the Gig Economy the next evolution in staffing or the next evolution in organizational sizing?  Or is it both?  It’s likely all of the above, but some fundamental questions still remain and they all revolve around benefits for those workers.  Only time will tell what’s going to happen.

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