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The gig economy is undoubtedly booming. From ridesharing to food and grocery delivery to freelance work, gig work offers flexibility to consumers, workers and businesses alike.

Gig work was perfectly suited to our needs during the pandemic when unemployment levels from traditional, face-to-face jobs was high; people were unable to or encouraged not to leave their homes if possible; and technological platforms were sufficiently advanced to bridge the gap between people looking for quick work and the food and grocery delivery services required.

As the world returns to some form of “normalcy”, we wanted to take a look at where the gig economy is headed in 2022 and predict how gig work will play out in coming years.

1. Continued growth in size, participation and inclusion

Research and statistics predict that we will continue to see rapid growth in the gig economy in the coming years. Upwork has reported that 57.3 million people freelanced in the US in 2017 and estimate that there will be 86.5 million freelancers by 2027. They found that growth in freelance work has outpaced growth in the overall US workforce by three times since 2014. This trend has been seen around the world, particularly in India where the Boston Consulting Group found that the number of gig jobs could rise to 90 million in 8-10 years from about 3 million now.

The reasons for this growth are clear.

From a worker point of view, gig work provides the ultimate flexibility and convenience to work around other obligations like study or parental duties. It is an extremely inclusive industry as it allows many more people to participate and make an income or increase their earnings - women, older people, people from low-income communities, migrants, students, and more. Freelance work also enables people to be more mobile and share their creative or professional work with a broader market than ever before.

Speaking of inclusivity, research conducted by gig work platform Wonolo showed that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers were the largest cohorts on their platform, with Gen Xers making the most money. But Gen Z and Millennials are making waves too as they increase their participation in the gig economy and make the most of the flexibility around their other commitments. It is expected that this trend will continue in 2022, with Gen Zers particularly taking advantage of their proficiency with technology and new digital skills to conduct work and earn money in a way that suits them.

For businesses in the gig economy, they are able to hire gig workers on a demand-driven basis and have lower workforce costs in terms of leave entitlements and other associated costs for full-time employees. This allows businesses to be more flexible and provide their services to consumers as they buy or order. This dynamism was clearly seen in the facilitation of restaurants and hospitality venues being able to quickly transition to a delivery service using platforms like Deliveroo and UberEats during the pandemic, and continuing to offer delivery even when pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Businesses in the gig economy are no doubt aware of and have felt this growth over the past few years and it’s important to plan for the future. This includes planning for the recruitment of more gig workers and ensuring that the recruitment and onboarding process is as smooth and convenient as possible for all parties. Creating a smooth process will ensure that more workers will sign on and be able to quickly get to work, along with business benefits like minimal administrative involvement and maximum efficiencies.

Providing a smooth recruitment and onboarding process may include technology-enabled applications like automated CV scanning, efficient background screening using digital identity verification (check out InstaID+ for a quick and easy digital platform), and remote setup and onboarding processes.

2. A focus on safety for gig workers

Due to the immense growth in gig work participation and the level of exposure and commitment during the pandemic, there has been much more of a spotlight on the safety issues that gig workers face in their day-to-day work.

Gig workers’ exposure to infection during the pandemic is one aspect of the safety issues raised. Gig workers were often required to go into high-density areas like shopping centres and supermarkets either without supply of PPE and hand sanitiser or expectations of self-supply and were generally more exposed than those who could work from home. We were increasingly reliant on gig workers to transport goods and provide services during this time but the safety net for them did not exist, and the pandemic highlighted this failure.

There are also ongoing issues like lack of insurance and coverage by businesses that hire gig workers. This issue has been raised in several jurisdictions, and it is proposed that hiring businesses should bear the responsibility to ensure workers are supported if they have an injury during the course of their gig work. Delivery drivers and ride sharing drivers are on the roads for close to 100% of their working hours and therefore face more risk of motor vehicle accidents than other roles, whilst in other freelance jobs where workers are asked to go to a person’s home to conduct work, it raises other risks like sexual harassment and assault concerns.

A survey by Pew Research found that 37% of gig workers had often or sometimes been treated rudely while doing gig work, whilst 35% said they had felt unsafe, and 19% had experienced an unwanted sexual advance while on the job.

If gig work is going to continue on the growth trajectory we expect it to, this discussion of safety will become even more pertinent. Gig workers will need to be offered some protections to ensure that they can conduct their work in a safe environment and have the support should something go wrong during their working hours. This will also go some way to attracting the volume of gig workers needed to support the industry and general public needs. We expect to see more legislation and regulation around this as participation rates grow.

3. Gigs becoming semi-permanent

It is likely that what was initially thought of as “side hustles” will become semi-permanent jobs as the economy recovers and jobs return to offices or hybrid working. According to Dollar Sprout, 41% of gig workers relied on their gig jobs to cover expenses in 2021 compared to 27% in 2020 and the number of workers working more than 15 hours per week more than doubled in the same period. It appears that gig work is moving from the sidelines to the main stage.

One likely reason for this shift is that as gig workers flocked to gig work during the pandemic they began to realise the convenience and flexibility that this kind of work offers compared to traditional jobs. Having had a taste of this freedom and work/life balance, they are now unwilling to return to the 9-to-5, office-based work that is traditionally expected by businesses. Workers see that they can have the option of working in a way they want and now businesses are in the position of having to respond to these needs and catering to the new way of working in order to attract talent back to their businesses.

However, the reason we need to say “semi-permanent” is because Pew Research has shown that even though more workers are joining the gig economy and making more money and spending more time than ever before, many don’t view gig work as a long-term option. In fact, only 31% believed that gig work was a good way to build a career and 68% said it isn’t a good career building option.

This kind of expected turnover of workers lends another good reason as to why it’s important for businesses in the gig economy to ensure their recruitment and onboarding processes are streamlined, remote and require as minimal intervention as possible. This is particularly relevant for the new generations of gig workers - Gen Zers and Millennials - who expect digital solutions, smooth processes, and minimal in-person contact.

There you have it - three major trends that we expect to see in the gig economy in coming years. We look forward to seeing what the gig economy has in store and how the above trends play out.

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