The sunny side of the gig economy: working when, how and where you want to.
And the Uber aspect of the business? Mobidoc only wants to hire some of its service force as permanent employees. “We will cover the rest with independent technician contractors.” The rules are clear: “We provide these experts with training, a uniform, tools and, above all, our customer contacts.” This includes wealthy private individuals, but primarily companies, such as banks, insurance companies, KPMG Management Consulting and the logistics giant DHL. The independent contractor technicians must agree to comply with the service code of conduct and set work schedules. But they can also have their own customers, too. This enables them to earn more, making up for the company’s lack of contributions to health insurance premiums, accident insurance and payments into pension funds.
The Trend Toward Gig Jobs Is Global This type of employment, which has made Uber world-famous, is considered the prime example for a phenomenon that is still new enough to not yet have a defined name. Studies use related terms like “sharing economy” (see page 61), “platform economy,” “crowd work,” or the term we’ve chosen here: “gig economy.” An economic system where independent entities provide gigs, meaning project-related services, without a permanent employment relationship.
Like musicians, a growing number of independent contractors make their way from one paid project (or gig) to the next. This development is facilitated by the increasing digitization of work and communication. Digitization eliminates regional, national and time-related limitations. Many people can do their work online from anywhere in the world independent of time constraints. Companies ranging from small startups to major firms are increasingly relying on temporary digital contractors. After all, the “crowd” is available at any time day or night, anywhere in the world and is seemingly inexhaustible.
Often the gig is under a company’s name – as is the case with the giant Uber or the startup Mobidoc – but invoiced on their own account. This strategy may sound familiar: Independent insurance agents have been selling insurance policies this way for decades. But what makes Uber, Mobidoc and thousands of other services new – and worth exploring – is the lightning-fast coordination through the internet between the customer, service and provider, offering a web of good opportunities that spans the globe.
The gig job trend is global, which is why you could tell this story anywhere on earth and in countless major cities with unlimited access to the internet. One reason it’s happening in Buenos Aires is because of the setting. Not only is the Torre Bellini one of Argentina’s most modern office buildings, it’s one of the newest subsidiaries of Wework. The organization is currently valued at 20 billion US dollars and leases office space to entrepreneurs in metropolitan cities along with membership in an international network with 400,000 members who could potentially become business partners as well.
Co-working as the Ideal Office Formula Monday, 11:15 a.m. Mane Ricardo invites us into her new office. The elevator stops at the 15th floor, and Ricardo, an independent graphic designer in her late 30s with corkscrew curls, leads us down the corridor and opens a sliding door to a triangular cell. Inside: A desk, chair and dresser with a few flyers she designed lying on top, catalogs, posters. This office, she says, is the best thing that could have happened to her. In fact, co-working seems to be the ideal office formula for the gig economy. Not just for financial reasons: The people sharing the office space may need exactly those services that you provide, or they know someone who needs them.
Mane Ricardo’s situation was complicated when she had to pay the 1 1/ 2- month fee that Wework requires from all new members. Several of her regular customers were experiencing difficulties and cut their design budgets. She had to give up her studio and moved into the newly opened Torre Bellini, or more specifically to the wood tables on the 12th floor, with her computer and most important documents in her backpack. In this common area where some of the independent contractors worked, others ate lunch, played table tennis or met with customers, it didn’t take long for Ricardo to bring in some new projects. Now she is planning an international expansion via Wework because the membership is
Digitization eliminates regional, national and time- related limitations.
global. She has already been to Miami and is now making contacts in Chile. “Going international is definitely my next step,” she says, full of confidence. Independence Is Key In 20 years on the job, Mane Ricardo has designed everything from tiny app icons to billboards as tall as buildings. She always worked on a project-related basis without set work times, always on her laptop, and always delivered her designs online. Thus, she was part of the gig economy before it was even defined as a phenomenon.
For her, the independence is key: “I absolutely cannot imagine sitting in an office from 9 to 5 and being told what to do.” As the daughter of a small business owner, she already found it normal during college to “work when there’s work to do,” whether it was Saturday morning or Sunday night. She never really dreamed of pursuing a permanent position, which was surely helped by her country’s constant economic turbulence. But she certainly doesn’t have any trouble describing the positive sides of being an independent contractor. She was able to continue working from home before and after having two children, before eventually returning to full-time work, and she has the freedom to take a long weekend occasionally or work at night when the summer heat isn’t so oppressive.
Social scientists have divided workers in the gig economy into four groups: Those who are independent contractors voluntarily and earn their living this way, those who take on independent side jobs to supplement their wages, those who
are independent contractors but would rather be permanent employees, and finally those who were forced to earn supplemental income due to financial difficulties. People in the first two groups were generally more satisfied with their situation than those who were forced to become independent. However, people like Mane Ricardo who are independent contractors of their own free will are in fact significantly more satisfied than employees in the traditional economy.
Providing Services for Silicon Valley
Monday, 1:30 p.m. Kyle Hurst chose a high trampoline for diving headfirst into his career. He has taken his place in the gig economy on the 24th floor of the Torre Bellini, at the point where the two glass panoramas meet. Hurst sits relaxed on a black leather bench that encircles one of the pillars, watching rays of sunlight pierce the clouds and cast bright spots on the gray cranes at the harbor. He can afford to show up at the office in the afternoon wearing jeans and a shirt with the top button undone, because his professional habitat is four time zones away.
Hurst, 21, just graduated from college and now works for Silicon Valley, which is some 10,360 kilometers away from Buenos Aires. He works online, primarily by making telephone calls via his laptop. His first job consists of finding potential sellers with good customer lists. He’s been contracted by a digital platform from the Bay Area that wants to match up sales professionals with software developers, and his task is to promote new products in a targeted approach. “I call up these people and ask a few standard questions, so I’m something like a door opener,” says Hurst.
And why is he doing it from Argentina? “Well, because I like it here,” he grins. Originally from the Los Angeles area, Hurst came to Buenos Aires as an exchange student a few years ago. He quickly fell in love with its slightly rundown beauty and returned as an intern. He demonstrates the sunny side of the gig economy: working when, how and where you want to. Ideally you find an employer in a high-wage country and live where it is cheap and beautiful – which is why veritable hotspots have sprung up in Thailand, Bali, Morocco, Greece and Argentina. But Hurst also talks about the downsides. He’s still on his mother’s health insurance – and, as an independent contractor, he is responsible for paying his own taxes, social security and healthcare.
This aspect is what people criticize about the economy of supposedly good opportunities. Social scientists and unions warn that this could lead today’s service providers to become tomorrow’s welfare cases, because many of these independent contractors do not have the discipline or financial means to provide for themselves in old age. Uber brought the debate into the public policy realm and stimulated discussion about regulatory matters for the gig economy in many countries. Monday, 4:15 p.m. The discussion about age and the gig economy is misguided, says Alejandro Marval as he stirs the foamed milk in his café cortado. Leaning against the trapezoid-shaped bar on the 24th floor, he sees opportunities for retirement-age people in the gig economy. “Why shouldn’t experts work anymore, despite their extensive experience, just because they’ve reached a certain age? That’s an enormous waste of resources.”
Gig Economy The term “gig economy” emerged in 2009 in the US during the financial crisis. Many people who lost their jobs tried to earn their living with several small jobs. The term later became established through online platforms like Uber and Airbnb. These days it describes the environment in which companies temporarily engage independent contractors. Labor statistics do not capture the distribution of the gig economy and differ widely. According to the International Labour Organization, more than 30 million people were registered with the top 11 crowdsourcing platforms in 2014. There are 162 million independent contractors working in the US and EU-15 states according to Mckinsey. A study from Deloitte states that one quarter of all workers in Switzerland engages in temporary, supplemental, or project-based work.
A report by the Mckinsey Global Institute shares this opinion. Not only does it highlight that previous statistics massively underestimated the extent of the global gig economy, it also refutes a few common assumptions: The independent contractor market is not dominated by young people. They only make up 25 percent. And it encompasses every income class, education level, industry and gender.
Linkedin Is More Important Than a Doctorate
You can find every generation in the Torre Bellini. Just a few tables down from 28-year-old Alejandro Marval is Francisco Gutiérrez de Arrechea, 46, who worked for years on the global expansion of Spain’s NH hotel chain and now consults for investors on hotel and restaurant projects together with his business partner in Spain. The gig economy has had a liberating effect on the architect, who worked for decades in highly structured firms. “My office has been reduced to a laptop, mobile phone – and everything that’s up here,” he says, smiling and tapping his forehead.
For Alejandro Marval, the gig economy is the only economic model that he knows first-hand. For eight years, he has been working from one project to the next. “There wasn’t any other way for me,” Marval remarks. A marketing specialist from Caracas, he settled in Buenos Aires a good two years ago. “Back in Venezuela, the only thing that halfway worked was the internet. That’s why I, like many of my friends, didn’t even look for a job in the local market. We went straight to the online platforms.” He lists every market analysis that he produces, every project he participates in on his LinkedIn page. This is far more important in the gig economy than academic laurels or an optimized CV. Would he even be interested in a permanent job? He has gotten a number of offers, but he has turned all of them down because: “There are still a lot of things out there that would interest me.”
Marval would be an ideal spokesperson for the gig economy. He quickly formulates polished counterarguments for any and all doubts. Poverty among the elderly? It won’t be a problem for him because his jobs bring in enough to cover taxes as well as private health and pension insurance. Marginalization? The gig economy discriminates less than the traditional economy. People with physical disabilities can work from home. “You just have to do the job well.” Anyone who does that will get another gig.
And to anyone who remains unconvinced, Alejandro Marval says: “In the past it was unthinkable that a guy in his mid-20s from a bankrupt developing nation could develop a marketing strategy for a global company like the Marriott hotel chain. The fact that I was able to do that is the best argument for the gig economy.”
Buenos Aires One of South America’s largest metropolitan regions with 14 million residents, and the business hub of Argentina.