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The Gig Economy and the Future of Work: How Tech is Changing the Way We Work and Live

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Are you familiar with the gig economy? Essentially, it's a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term, flexible jobs or "gigs" instead of long-term traditional employment. This type of work arrangement has been on the rise in recent years, with an estimated 36% of the US workforce participating in the gig industry since 2020. 


One major factor contributing to the growth of the gig economy is the increasing availability and accessibility of technology. With the rise of mobile devices and high-speed internet, it's now easier than ever to connect with potential employers or customers online. Platforms like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have revolutionized industries like transportation and hospitality, making it possible for people to monetize assets they already have, like a car or extra living space. 


Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend towards remote work and gig work, with many businesses and individuals turning to online platforms to supplement their income or find new opportunities. In fact, a survey by Upwork found that 41.8% of the US workforce had performed freelance work in the past year, up from 35% in 2014. 

A US workforce survey of freelance workers
A US workforce survey of freelance workers

But it's not just the pandemic that's driving this trend. The gig economy offers many benefits, such as flexibility, autonomy, and the potential to earn more than in traditional employment. For skilled workers, gig work can mean being able to set their own schedule, work from anywhere, and pursue a variety of different projects or tasks. For businesses, tapping into a pool of on-demand talent to meet specific needs without hiring full-time staff. 


Of course, the gig economy has its drawbacks, and there are concerns about job security, fair pay, and a lack of benefits. However, it's clear that the gig economy is here to stay and will continue to shape the future of work. In fact, it's projected that by 2027, the majority of the US workforce will be working in some capacity as independent contractors, freelancers, or temporary workers. 


The gig economy is a growing trend changing how we work and live. Driven by technology and the need for more flexibility and autonomy, it offers opportunities and challenges for skilled workers and businesses. This article will explore the gig economy in more depth and discuss how product design, UI, and UX can shape the future of work. 


Now that we've covered the gig economy and how it's growing, let's take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of gig work. 


Advantages of the Gig Economy 

Advantages of the Gig Economy 
Some advantages of the gig economy

  1. Flexibility: One of the biggest advantages of gig work is the flexible work schedules. You can schedule and choose which projects or gigs to take on as a gig worker. This means you can work around other commitments, like family or school, and have more control over your work-life balance. 

  2. Autonomy: Another benefit of gig work is the autonomy it offers. You have more control over the type of work and how you do it, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and a sense of empowerment. 

  3. Higher Earning Potential: According to a survey by the Freelancers Union, the average hourly rate for freelancers in the US is $28/hour, which is higher than the national average for the traditional workforce. In addition, gig workers can earn more by taking on multiple gigs or increasing their rates as they gain more experience. 

  4. Variety: Gig work allows you to try different types of work and gain experience in multiple industries or areas. This can be a great way to build your skills and expand your professional network. 


Disadvantages of the Gig Economy 


Disadvantages of the Gig Economy 
Some disadvantages of the gig economy 
  1. Lack of Stability: One of the biggest drawbacks of gig work is the need for more stability. Gig workers typically don't have a steady stream of work or income, making it difficult to plan for the future or save for retirement. 

  2. Lack of Benefits: Gig workers need access to the same benefits as traditional employees, such as health insurance, paid time off, or retirement plans. This can be a significant disadvantage, especially for those who rely on these benefits to support themselves or their families. 

  3. Uncertainty: The gig economy can be unpredictable, with gig workers only sometimes knowing when their next job will come or how long it will last. This uncertainty can be stressful and make it difficult to plan for the future. 

  4. Isolation: Gig work can be a solitary experience, with many gig workers working from home or alone. This lack of social interaction and support can lead to feelings of isolation or loneliness. 


Despite these disadvantages, many people are still drawn to the gig industry for its flexibility, autonomy, and earning potential. However, it's important to consider the pros and cons before diving in and planning to manage the uncertainties that come with gig work. 


The Role of Tech in the Gig Economy 


The growth of the gig economy has been largely made possible due to advancements in technology. From mobile apps to online platforms, technology has enabled individuals to connect with one another and share resources like never before. 


One of the most notable ways technology has enabled the gig economy to thrive is through the rise of tech platforms such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb. These platforms have disrupted traditional industries by providing a new way for consumers to access goods and services. 

Uber and Lyft in the transportation industry
Uber and Lyft have revolutionized the transportation industry

For example, Uber and Lyft have revolutionized the transportation industry by offering a new way to hail a ride. These platforms allow individuals to connect with drivers directly through their mobile devices, making it easy to get a ride whenever and wherever they need it. 


Similarly, Airbnb has disrupted the hotel industry by allowing individuals to rent out their homes or apartments to travelers. This has created a new way for people to find affordable accommodations while also providing homeowners with a new source of income. 


In addition to disrupting traditional industries, tech platforms have also changed how we work and live. They have made it easier for individuals to start their own businesses and work as independent contractors, giving them more control over their careers and work-life balance. 


Tech platforms have also made it easier for individuals to connect with one another and build communities. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have enabled workers to connect with others in their industry and share resources and advice. 

LinkedIn Community

However, the rise of tech platforms has been subject to controversy. Some critics argue that these platforms have contributed to the gig economy's growth by creating a new class of workers who lack full job security and benefits. 


Despite these criticisms, the gig economy shows no signs of slowing down, and tech platforms will likely continue to play a major role in its growth and evolution. 


According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the number of people participating in the gig economy in the US and Europe has grown by 20% over the past decade, with nearly 30% of working-age adults now engaging in some form of independent work. 


As technology evolves, we expect to see even more disruption and innovation in the gig economy. From blockchain to artificial intelligence, there is a wide range of new technologies that have the potential to change the way we work and live. 


Implications for Product Design, UI, and UX 


As the gig economy grows, there are many implications for product design, UI, and UX. Designers and developers must consider the unique challenges of designing products and services for independent workers while ensuring workers' and customers' safety and security. 


One of the biggest challenges in designing products for the gig economy is ensuring workers' and customers' safety and security. This can be particularly difficult in industries such as ride-hailing and home-sharing, where workers may be working alone, and customers may be inviting strangers into their homes. 

gig workers

According to a study by the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, gig workers are at a higher risk of workplace accidents and injuries than traditional workers. Product designers and developers must consider this when designing products and services for the gig economy and implementing safety features such as panic buttons and emergency contacts. 


Another key consideration for product design in the gig economy is the user experience of gig employees. Clear instructions, communication channels, and streamlined workflows can contribute to a positive user experience for these workers. 


For example, ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft provide clear instructions and guidelines for drivers to follow, which can help to reduce confusion and increase efficiency. Similarly, home-sharing platforms like Airbnb have implemented communication channels that allow hosts and guests to communicate directly, which can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure a smooth experience for both parties. 


Product design can also address issues such as worker exploitation and unfair pay. For example, some gig economy companies have faced criticism for underpaying their workers or misclassifying them as independent contractors rather than permanent employees. Product designers and developers can help to address these issues by implementing features such as transparent payment structures and rating systems that hold companies accountable for their treatment of workers. 


According to a National Bureau of Economic Research survey, gig workers who receive higher ratings on platforms such as Uber and Lyft tend to earn more money than those with lower ratings. This suggests that product design can play a role in promoting fair pay and treatment for these workers. 


Product design, UI, and UX are all critical considerations in the gig economy. As the gig economy continues to evolve, designers and developers must consider the unique challenges of designing for independent workers while ensuring workers' and customers' safety and security. By implementing clear instructions, communication channels, and transparent payment structures, designers can help to promote a positive user experience and address issues such as worker exploitation and unfair pay. 


The Future of Work 


The gig economy is likely to continue growing as more and more people turn to freelance and independent work. According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the number of gig economy workers in the US has grown by 27% in the past decade and currently represents about a third of the US workforce. 


This growth is partly due to the changing nature of work and employment. Many workers seek more flexible and autonomous work arrangements, while employers increasingly turn to independent contractors and gig workers to fill their labor needs. The rise of technology has also played a significant role in enabling the growth of the gig economy by providing platforms and tools for independent workers to connect with customers and manage their work. 

gig economy-dominated future
The gig economy-dominated future has potential consequences

However, the gig economy-dominated future has its potential consequences. One of the biggest challenges is the need for more stability and benefits for gig workers, who often need access to healthcare, retirement plans, and other benefits that traditional employees enjoy. 


According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, nearly one-third of gig workers lack access to healthcare, and over half lack access to a retirement plan. This can have significant implications for the financial well-being of gig workers, who may struggle to save for retirement or pay out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. 


Another potential consequence of a gig economy-dominated future is the erosion of traditional employment protections and labor standards. As more workers turn to freelance and independent work, traditional employment protections such as minimum wage laws, workers' compensation, and collective bargaining may become less relevant or effective. 


Recommendations 


The gig economy will likely continue growing, driven by changing work arrangements, technological innovation, and the desire for greater flexibility and autonomy. However, the gig economy's growth also raises important questions about the stability and benefits of gig work, as well as the potential consequences for traditional employment protections and labor standards. As the gig economy continues to evolve, it will be important to find ways to address these challenges and ensure that gig workers have access to the benefits and protections they need to thrive. 


As the famous American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler once said, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." The rise of the gig economy and the role of technology in enabling it is a prime example of the need to adapt and evolve with the changing times. It's no longer enough to cling to traditional models of work and employment; we must be willing to learn new skills, embrace new technologies, and find innovative ways to thrive in the gig economy-dominated future. 


Learn more about how to succeed in the gig economy and stay ahead of the curve in product design, UI, and UX. Be sure to check out more helpful articles on the YouCreate Africa blog if you're ready to take your skills to the next level and join a community of like-minded professionals. Take your chance to join the waiting list for the YouCreate Africa bootcamp and mentorship program. With enrollment-free, hands-on experience, tutoring, and mentorship by industry giants, it's the perfect opportunity to kickstart your career in product design and shape the future of work.

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