For anyone living or working in London, it is almost impossible to have missed the rapid emergence of the gig economy in recent years. You can’t move for Uber taxis, Deliveroo scooter drivers and Airbnb accommodation, which have spawned a generation of independent workers servicing on-demand markets.
But, for those working in professional services, the trend is just as relevant to our own careers as it is for the way we shop, eat and travel, and is disrupting how we work and engage with our employers.
The “gig economy” represents an enormous opportunity for skilled consultants and professionals to commercialise their own experience and expertise. Fundamentally, it means empowering people to shape their own careers.
Breaking free from the firm
We have witnessed an underlying cultural shift in British attitudes towards work-life balance and a rejection of traditional employment relationships. Both young professionals and veterans are now increasingly looking for a working structure that will fit with their own lifestyle and allow more choice, flexibility and therefore time with family and friends.
Where once the only alternative option was to move in-house and take a commercial leadership role, often with a previous client, independent working now opens up new career options for the likes of lawyers, accountants and, notably, management consultants.
Taking the independent route can free you from rigid career paths, enabling consultants to choose their own clients, area of expertise, workload and way of working, with the ability to take time off when they wish and still achieve a high level of earnings.
However, there are challenges to jumping into an independent role.
Networking and building relationships comes with the territory, so you need to be a self-starter and entrepreneurially minded.
Having the conviction and confidence to tackle any situation alone, or with a team that you have never met, is also a key factor to success. Without the blanket of support that working in a larger firm offers you, independents have to, and often do, thrive living by the decisions they make.
Pick-n-mix advisory teams
The emergence of this dynamic has also coincided with changing demands from corporates of all shapes and sizes. Clients now want greater control over forming their teams of advisers and finding people they can work with.
While the end product and resulting advice is crucial, another high priority for management teams is having a strong cultural connection and comfort with those critically examining their company. Frequently, traditional firms offer no choice of who is carrying out this work, and project teams are composed without input from the client.
Businesses also want to see delivery of services by experienced, confident individuals. But all too often, the senior director or partner who won their confidence initially simply staffs the project with young and inexperienced, albeit highly intelligent, associates who are likely to be learning on the job.
So while the value of outside advice and expert support has not disappeared, the way this guidance is offered and purchased has.
The gig economy is growing and is certainly maturing. And before long, we might all try our hand at going it alone and being our own boss.