- In the future of work, the gig economy is slated for significant growth as an increasing proportion of workers hold gig positions instead of full-time employment.
- Sociology (2022) states that the gig economy will involve more worker uncertainty. This is primarily from the eruption of gig economy platforms that undermine gig worker networking.
- Coworking spaces may be a perfect option for gig economy workers who want to create a community to help them cope with reputation issues on digital labor platforms.
For several decades, more workers have entered the gig economy. In the post-pandemic world, this trend is likely to accelerate considerably.
Globally, the number of gig workers from 2018 to 2023 will have grown from 43 million to 78 million, according to a Mastercard report. Overall, growth in the near, mid-term, and long-term future looks remarkable.
By 2025, India will likely have 350 million gig jobs. According to a Roosevelt Institute report, by 2040, the American economy will be “scarcely recognizable” because more people will work in the gig economy than in traditional jobs.
Jobs in the economy include independent workers, self-employed workers, independent contractors and freelancers, and entrepreneurs — all notoriously hazardous occupations.
As the gig economy has grown, online platforms — such as Freelancer or AngelList — where gig work is conducted, have emerged.
However, recent research from the journal Sociology demonstrates these platforms are adding to gig worker uncertainty by “producing a novel form of reputational insecurity.”
Sociology affirms that gig workers can flourish in the future of work despite feeling that insecurity when workers take social regulation into their own hands, such as in a coworking environment,
How the “Platform Economy” Grew from the “Gig Economy”
One result of the exponential growth of the gig economy is the development of what Sociology researchers call the “platform economy.”
The platform economy is a freelance work sector mediated by online gig work platforms and centralized marketplaces where freelancers compete for gigs. “Platform work” — jobs obtained from online platforms — is the type of work that occurs in the platform economy.
Online gig platforms allow gig workers to sell their labor directly to clients digitally. In addition, platforms have reputation systems that allow clients to leave reviews or feedback ratings when work is completed, “which are then aggregated and displayed to potential future clients.”
Platforms are compelling because they give freelancers convenient access to their first gigs, and because online gig platforms are generally secluded from high visibility online.
How Big Platforms Threaten Gig Workers
Sociology researchers view the reputation systems in online gig work platforms as a threat to the future of the gig economy because they generate high uncertainty for gig workers.
Specifically, these platforms “can disrupt the conventional social regulation of reputation.” Reputation is central to freelance work in ways not present in regular employment.
Freelancers are selling a service or product to clients. The client and freelancer relationship are not between a worker and an employer, but between two business entities exchanging commerce.
Yet, platforms tend to reduce such entities to “workers,” often reestablishing employer-employee norms without employer-employee level benefits or salaries.
When workers are rated on the platform, this ideally reflects the quality of the service they’ve provided. Instead, as Sociology researchers note, “work is funneled algorithmically to those deemed, based on customer feedback metrics, to be of high quality and trustworthy.”
However, more than merit and trust are built into gig platform rating systems. This includes much relevant information these ratings fail to account for, such as the “large differences in platform workers’ income, insecurity, and work intensity.”
Consider that sometimes clients are just utterly uncertain of their needs, and in that case, they are impossible to satisfy. Or, consider the more extreme and rare case of highly rude clients.
When such a client leaves a bad review, in reality, it means very little about the trustworthiness or quality of a freelancer — but future clients will not know or care about that.
Despite being arbitrary, these ratings constitute a significant factor in determining income among platform workers. This is why most freelancers operating on such platforms worry that the rating systems will negatively impact their revenue.
This is to the point where clients sometimes get away with refusing to pay freelancers and, while doing so, ruin the freelancer’s reputation by giving a spiteful lousy review.
And while Upwork guarantees against such unfairness by paying unpaid freelancers, not all platforms are as generous.
Reputational insecurity of this sort will burden an increasing number of workers as the gig economy grows to include more significant swaths of the workforce.
And as these ratings become public (visible to non-members), the scope of unnecessary reputation damage is slated to grow exponentially.
Reputation Protection Through Coworking Communities
Freelance work and reputation have always gone hand-in-hand. The journal Sociology states, “the operation of reputation in freelance markets…has conventionally been regulated by social norms and interpersonal networks.”
Platforms have done a disservice to many freelancers by generating a rating system that can unfairly tarnish the reputations of many freelancers.
Suppose platforms are to continue using the algorithms that currently determine user ratings. In that case, it would be more fair to keep those ratings only accessible to platform members. This would limit the reputational risks when freelancers aren’t using the platforms.
In other words, the formal ratings created by software can damage informal reputations traditionally generated socially through interpersonal engagements.
Sociology researchers state that the future of the gig economy is not doomed if workers respond to these changes by developing “communities of coping.”
To cope, “workers provide each other with moral and practical support in the face of pain and hurt caused by reputational insecurity, disseminate information to support screening practices and develop norms of resistance in the form of refusing to accept unpaid labor.”
Freelancers can embolden themselves to avoid the pitfalls of the platform economy by establishing social networking outside of online platforms and relying on their reputation within an interpersonal network.
The solution of “communities of coping” makes coworking spaces uniquely equipped to benefit gig workers in the future.
Coworking spaces are uniquely designed to help businesses grow and to help creative people collaborate effectively.
When freelancers work in coworking spaces, they can negate the effect platform ratings have on their reputation because their reputation becomes attached to the coworking space instead of the platform.
By becoming a part of a coworking community freelancers can shed reputational uncertainty to emerge into a place of assembly, growth, and opportunity.
Fellow freelancers can help you grow your business; reputation is beside the point when working alongside like-minded independent workers.
Collaborating with fellow freelancers in a coworking space reintegrates traditional freelance norms that empower freelancers and can help diminish the damage done to the gig economy by digital gig platforms.