How To Protect The Health Of Your Digital Gig Workers

Flexible workspaces could provide the perfect tonic to the disadvantages of digital gig work, like sleep deprivation and social isolation
  • Digital gig workers are prone to sleep deprivation and exhaustion, research reveals
  • Flexible workspaces are perfectly placed to help address the challenges of digital gig work
  • Networking opportunities provide a healthier alternative to the pressure of online gig platforms

Those working in the digital gig economy could be putting their health at risk, according to recent research from the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.

An estimated 70 million people are registered with online work platforms, such as Upwork and Freelancer.com. While remote gig work is often championed for the flexibility it offers its workers, the study suggests there are some adverse consequences of this type of work.

“Our findings demonstrate evidence that the autonomy of working in the gig economy often comes at the price of long, irregular and anti-social hours, which can lead to sleep deprivation and exhaustion,’ says Dr Alex Wood, co-author of the paper.

Wood adds: “The competitive nature of online labour platforms leads to high-intensity work, requiring workers to complete as many gigs as possible as quickly as they can and meet the demands of multiple clients no matter how unreasonable.”

There are many different ways flexible workspaces can support gig economy workers, but when it comes to those working in the digital space, you may want to consider the following to help improve their wellbeing:

1. Advice and support

One of the overriding themes from the University of Oxford study is that the workers often feel obliged to take on unrealistic deadlines. More than half of workers surveyed said they have to work at very high speeds.

“This is particularly felt by low-skilled workers, who must complete a very high number of gigs in order to make a decent living,” says Professor Mark Graham, co-author. “As there is an oversupply of low-skill workers and no collective bargaining power, pay remains low. Completing as many jobs as possible is the only way to make a decent living.”

However, the current Working Time Regulations stipulate that we should work no longer than 48 hours a week and have a 20-minute break every six hours.

Flexible workspaces are perfectly placed to support digital gig workers who may be buckling under the pressure of the industry. For example, you could run workshops and offer advice on working hours and finding work that’s better paid and less pressured.

2. Networking as an alternative to algorithms

The algorithms behind digital gig platforms push workers to their limits, according to the study, which states: “Algorithmic management techniques tend to offer workers high levels of flexibility, autonomy, task variety and complexity. However, these mechanisms of control can also result in low pay, social isolation, working unsocial and irregular hours, overwork, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.”

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Flexible workspaces can, obviously, address the social challenges of working in the digital gig economy. However, they also bring together a diverse range of workers and by running regular networking opportunities, you can help digital gig workers find leads. As a result, they do not have to rely on the algorithms of these online gig platforms.

There are a variety of ways you can help your community network more effectively. For example, by implementing community management software that allows you to communicate with and connect your members, you can help them find more leads and leave those algorithms behind.

3. Encourage and offer healthier options

Flexible workspaces that offer wellness incentives can help digital gig workers address some of the health pitfalls, such as sleep deprivation and exhaustion, that the study identified.

For example, you could implement a range of strategies to promote the importance of mental wellbeing in your workspace or focus on the physical health of your community by offering exercise classes and healthier drink and snack options, to name a few.

You could even offer simpler options such as standing desks or integrating dogs into your workspace to relieve stress.

In conclusion

“Hopefully, this research will shed light on potential pitfalls for remote gig workers and help policymakers understand what working in the online gig economy really looks like,” Wood concludes. “While there are benefits to workers such as autonomy and flexibility, there are also serious areas of concern, especially for lower-skill workers.”

Flexible workspaces could provide the perfect tonic to the disadvantages of digital gig work that were identified in this study. With the careful integration of wellness policies and a supportive community that encourages the cross pollination of skill sets to help members build leads, then workers should not feel obliged to rely on online gig platforms.