It's the year 2057. The employment market has changed beyond recognition. The majority of jobs have been automated and the human-led jobs that do exist are found through a plethora of “uber-style” apps (or are being done by George Osborne!).
Whether we like it or not, this is the direction our economy is moving in. The recent debates around the protection of gig economy workers have thrown up questions and policy suggestions which could stifle the economic realignment the last decade has seen. We are at a cross-roads where, as a society, we either decide to embrace the next frontier of our economy or desperately try to protect the traditional labour market that is so clearly destined for extinction.
The gig economy provides a mixture of healthy competition for both employers and employees and disruption to the status quo. A full embrace of the gig economy will unleash a whole new wave of market offerings and innovation, as well as contributing to the re-thinking of what the term “work” means for our communities.
Contrary to much popular rhetoric, the gig economy is an opportunity to bestow more power onto individual workers. As soon as it becomes regulated, the whole premise of the gig economy would change; we would see the freedom and flexibility the model currently provides to employees being stripped away. “Protection” equates to commitment, and the whole point of the gig economy is that it is transactional in nature and focuses on individual liberty.
Advances in technology mean that it’s often just as easy for colleagues to collaborate on a project virtually as it is for them to work together face-to-face. In this way, employees are no longer tied to looking for jobs locally and are instead able to source the best opportunities from right across the globe.
As we see our economy changing and regular patterns of working transformed, life is becoming increasingly centred around leisure and spending disposable income on experiences, as opposed to material things. The gig economy in its current format allows us to do the work we want to do when we want to do it, without tying us to long-term, rigid commitments.
Although the scale of the gig economy is currently modest, all metrics point towards a more flexible and fluid way of working becoming commonplace. While employers will no doubt face challenges in ensuring they treat their workforce fairly and in line with the law, the opportunities are limitless.
With AI and virtual reality set to transform working life as we know it, it is about time we, both employers and employees, recalibrate the nine to five routine and embrace the disruption we see before us.