Gig economy workers fill the space between permanent and self employment. They’re your Uber drivers, Deliveroo couriers and AirBnB space providers – or the freelancers you use on a project-by-project basis to do a little extra work.
An estimated 162 million people make up the worldwide gig economy workforce, research reveals. While 56% use the gig economy to supplement their income, 44% earn their primary income in this way. And 14% of such gig economy workers would prefer traditional jobs and 16% do supplemental work out of financial necessity.
The gig economy is a complicated space, which is further complicated by its flexible nature and lack of clear definition.
For example, the UK’s recent Taylor Review into self employment called for a new class of worker called the “dependent contractor”, who is not a full-time employee or self-employed, and is entitled to certain rights, such as annual leave and sick pay.
It sounds to me like a dependent contractor is a gig economy worker but, again, this new definition needs a little more clarity so the world of work can understand its repercussions. It starts to feel like we’re trying to pigeon hole a groups of workers that are, by their very nature, too flexible to apply a static definition to.
It’s all a bit of a mess.
And, while the Taylor Review recommended that gig economy workers should have basic worker rights, we’re in a bit of a quandary about who should provide and enforce these rights. While Uber did roll out additional benefits to its workers recently, legislation is still lacking and gig economy workers are left in limbo with no guaranteed benefits or rights to their work.
So, could flexible workspaces be missing a trick?
If gig workers want more benefits and rights, and flexible workspaces want to attract more members – could flexible workspaces start offering gig workers more professional benefits to bring more members through the front door (rather than the usual fluffy perks such as bottomless coffee or free fruit)?
We spoke to those working in and with the gig economy to find out what benefits they would like flexible workspaces to offer. Here’s what they said:
The rights of gig economy workers are very much up in the air at the moment. Successful cases from couriers at Excel and CitySprint and Uber drivers found these workers should receive basic rights including holiday pay and minimum pay – but this is very much the tip of the iceberg.
As such, it seems pertinent to have legal experts on hand to advise members of their current rights – and help gig economy workers understand any new legislation that may be implemented in the future.
Coworking space Endeavor in Greenville, South Carolina, already has a retired corporate attorney on hand to help guide members in legal matters and refer those members to practicing attorneys who can handle their case, if needed.
Jonny Dempster, founding director at freelance digital consultancy Rushh.Digital, would like to see better legal help and assistance across more flexible workspaces. “Potentially a solicitor on hand a couple of days a month to help with shareholders agreement, client legal issues and shareholdings,” he explained.
On site accountants
The flexible nature of gig economy work means it can be difficult to balance the books – and spaces that forge connections with financial experts could help gig economy workers address this issue. Stephanie Caudle, freelance writer and founder of the micro job site Black Girl Group, said: “I would love to have onsite CPAs (Certified Public Accountants), especially during tax time when it can be hard to know how to file as a gig economy member.”
Dempster would also like to see “financial help such as accountants or regular contact with a local bank manager to keep businesses up to date on changing taxation rules.”
Coworking spaces are also popular with the freelance accountants, so there may be an opportunity to make an in-house connection to help serve the gig economy workforce.
Access to healthcare via a flexible workspace is a thorny issue. Bob Clary, director of marketing at managed technical learning company DevelopIntelligence, said: “Health care is not something I’d expect from a coworking space, and would be hesitant to access that through them, in part because I want to maintain the flexibility to switch to a new workspace if I desire without strings attached.”
But gig economy worker Caudle takes a different view, and said: “I would love health insurance options because right now, for example, I only get insurance through the marketplace. Having group insurance would probably lower my premium.”
It’s also a difficult benefit for spaces in the US to implement because, if a space wants to introduce an insurance program, then it needs to be a licensed agent, and get an underwriter to write a policy. That said, NYC-based The Farm Coworking space is posed to offer members a range of benefits through Clear Employer Services – including healthcare and legal protection. The scheme is due to roll out in the next couple of months. So, there are ways and means to bring such benefits to your members.
More drop-in availability
Workspaces may want to build more flexibility into their membership models to match the needs of the gig economy. For example, a gig economy worker may only need access to a flexible workspace a few times a year to meet with clients or subcontractors.
Robert McGuire, a publisher at Nation1099, said: “Some coworking spaces can manage that limited use, but not all, and when you call them about this need, they try to fit you into their cheapest monthly membership box. Some pricing plans seem to be built more for small startup teams than for gig economy workers.”
Offering workers the opportunity to hire a meeting room on an adhoc basis seems a logical approach – and one that’s already taken by some flexible workspaces.
Better promotion of networking opportunities
The gig economy brings a more diverse mix of members to flexible workspaces, so it’s important to make sure you realise the full benefits of this diversity.
Steve Morgan, freelance SEO consultant at Morgan Online Marketing, said: “Spaces don’t do enough to promote the possible networking opportunities that might open up to the potential worker. It’s easy to think that a coworking space is just a desk, WiFi, coffee and snacks, but ultimately the people you sit with can really make a difference. They might refer clients. They might even become client themselves.”
“So, if a space makes this known to the worker (especially if they’re new to the world of coworking spaces and maybe don’t realise), and maybe make an effort to introduce them to a few people when they arrive, they might realise that it’s in their best interest to work there as often as possible,” he added.
Carrie Wood, co-founder at Leaseref.com, suggests spaces could take this one step further and promote cost effective collaboration. She said: “I would want to be in a coworking space in which all the members provide discounted rates for their services to other members, and who help each other out for free.”
“The best coworking spaces are not silos of people – it’s a community and if you have a problem someone else can solve easily it will save you a lot of time and frustration. The only cost to you is that you have to solve a problem for someone else at some point to pay it forward,” she added.
But it all comes back to community
There is a difficult balance to maintain for flexible workspaces looking to embrace the gig economy workforce. While you want to open your doors to the diversity of this group, you must also make sure your space doesn’t turn into a modified Starbucks where workers come and go without adding value to the community.
Jake Tully, head of the creative department at TruckDrivingJobs.com, said: “The most important aspect of a workspace is the environment it cultivates and whether or not it feels like a place for working professionals. I enjoy an environment where it feels as though work isn’t simply bound to happen, I would much rather find myself in a place where I feel assured that work will certainly happen. I enjoy being surrounded by others who have their nose to the grind, as it motivates me to do the same.”
Henry Goldbeck, president at Goldbeck Recruiting, makes an interesting point about instilling routine into the flexible workspace to achieve this. He said: “While the gig economy generally offers freedom in all its aspects, it can be extremely beneficial to establish routine. Just like we brush our teeth in the morning and in the night, a game plan keeps people on track and offers motivation towards an end goal. A working schedule is a great example of this. If you know the amount of hours you are going to work, it does a great deal for motivation. Seeing as a gig economy can be seemingly relatively unstable and random, a routine gives a purpose to your otherwise chaotic life.”
After all, flexible workspaces must facilitate work. But, as the world of work is changing so rapidly, flexible workspaces need to make sure they give gig economy workers, freelancers, startups, entrepreneurs and every other connotation of worker out there the right environment to thrive and survive.
While some flexible workspace operators may decide to focus on their existing members, others may tailor their workspaces to address the needs of the gig economy workforce.
After all, the clue is in the name. Surely, flexible workspaces are the perfect place to embrace the world of work’s most flexible workforce?
Do gig economy workers have a place in flexible workspaces? And how can we welcome them into the herd? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.