The sunny side of the gig econ­omy: work­ing when, how and where you want to.

Bulletin - - Jobs Of The Fu­ture -

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.

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