The gig economy: no longer the domain of ride-hailing firms. No longer the side hustle of people who need to make an extra buck just to make ends meet. No longer a “need to do.” Increasingly, gig work is a matter of choice.
In the latest Gig Economy Index, a number of stats stood out, gleaned from the responses of 10,000 workers queried by PYMNTS. According to a subsequent conversation between Karen Webster and Hyperwallet SVP of Digital Markets Michael Ting in the most recent Data Drivers podcast, the numbers told a tale, showing what it’s like to be a gig worker, where online marketplaces are providing value (though there is still room for improvement, especially in payments) and how demographics may not be as is expected.
The data shows that roughly a third of the workplace is participating in the gig economy, as Webster noted, at least in some capacity.
“It's a trend that we're seeing continue to grow. I think more and more people are becoming comfortable with this from both sides of the transaction,” Ting said of employers and workers — and both sides of the relationship are increasingly comfortable with meeting up via online marketplaces. It’s an embrace of the digital age that has caught the attention of what Ting called “the entities that have to find the talent, as well as the talent itself. There is no shortage of demand for the services, and it’s a win-win for both.”
A Lifestyle Choice — In Real Time
Life is about choices. The digital marketplaces are enabling workers to make choices, and there is a sizable component of the gig working populace that chooses not to work full-time. This is evidenced by the roughly 53 percent of gig workers who do not hold full-time jobs, and as many as 58 percent do not want them.
Thus, the gig economy is becoming a more viable part of the broader economic landscape. The attributes and allure remain palpable, as the people who prefer this type of work choose and value flexibility, as well as converting a hobby into an income stream, said Ting. The online marketplace enables a broadening array of professions that gig workers embrace, noted Webster.
This comes as the businesses themselves increasingly operate in a project-oriented cycle, Ting said, and where the industries are attuned to user experience. “Change is the norm,” he said of these firms. Projects, products and services are constantly refreshed, where a two-month time frame demands that companies find the best talent available in real time.
“Real-time demand is a huge part of it,” said Ting of the gig economy model itself, and the speed at which online marketplaces and their algorithms can match work and workers.
The Graying Of The Gig Worker
Webster noted that the gig worker is getting older, a reality that shows as many as 18 percent of gig workers are in the 45-to-54 age bracket. The value of these workers is inherent in the fact that, as Ting explained, “you have people with very specialized skills and you have people with a long history of knowledge and experience in actual operating roles within businesses. They are able to pinpoint problems, and can pinpoint problems that they have seen before.”
There’s even a burgeoning subset of gig workers over the age of 65 who don’t even have to embrace project work, as they are, for example, able to tap into retirement savings. But again, choice is everything,
The Payments? Still Clunky
The payments part of the equation, though, could use a boost. Even as the online marketplaces have evolved, in what Webster called the “long tail” of services that can be provided, across the globe and across a 24/7 time frame, the payments conundrum still exists.
Consider the fact that, as noted by Webster, a consistent experience in paying workers is lacking. She pointed to the past report, which said that 85 percent of gig workers would do more gigs if they did not have to wait so long to get money.
Ting responded, “The marketplaces are recognizing that, because they're facilitating a two-sided transaction, they have the ability — through technology and through the ecosystem, and payment systems and providers — [to] decouple the movement in their networks. So much so that paying somebody for doing work doesn't have to come directly from the entity purchasing those services.”
In other words, the marketplace can serve as an intermediary for payments between buyers and sellers. A lot of these marketplaces, he continued, are experimenting with ways to pay people right away, or via monthly cycles.
However, we may be a way off from truly flexible payments, tailored to the gig worker’s choice. Webster pointed out that 51 percent of full-time gig workers have identified PayPal as their primary payments methodology, followed by direct deposit.
In the end, Webster and Ting agreed, taking gig work on full-time attracts a different dimension of worker, and certainly implies a completely different level of service for that workforce. The infrastructure is key, noted Ting, and so is the need for service providers to bridge the gap (and perhaps help as intermediaries) to provide the payments experience that gig workers value.
“While everyone will agree on that, it would be nice to offer many options to payments,” he told Webster. “The practicality is that it's really hard to implement and it's really hard to operate by yourself.”