A Piece Of You: 7 Ways to Counter Down Sides of Gig Economy
Freelance or contract workers are a growing portion of the economy. But working from home, connecting only remotely to your organization, team or management, may not be the blissful utopia everyone imagines.
It’s not a big party in your PJs every day. On the beach.
“Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 55 million people in the U.S. are gig workers, which is more than 35 percent of the U.S. workforce. That number is projected to jump to 43 percent by 2020,” writes Peter Swaniker, Founder and CEO at Ximble, in Forbes.
Another Forbes report shows, “According to a Future Workforce Report from Upwork, 59 percent of U.S. companies are now using flexible work forces to some degree – remote workers and freelancers. These practices obviously save money and allow businesses to have leaner traditional work forces.”
FlexJobs recently released its annual list of the Top 100 Companies to Watch for Remote Jobs in 2019, and found healthcare and computer/IT industries continue to offer the most remote-friendly jobs, with sales and customer service remote jobs also in high demand, according to the report.
Millions of Americans do this gig work, but it may not be as big a part of the economy as was thought.
It made news recently when two Princeton University labor economists recently “revised down their much-cited estimate of the size of the alternative workforce, meaning workers in temporary, on-call, contract, or freelance positions,” Annie Lowrey writes in Atlantic.
While they had estimated it was 5 percent of the economy, “Their correction comes shortly after a major government survey—one that surprised a lot of labor and workforce experts—found that 3.8 percent of workers held ‘contingent’ jobs as of 2017, roughly the same share as in 2005.”
And they are not all happy campers, many new studies reveal.
Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, Bond Business School, Bond University, writes in The Conversation, “Research shows working from home is far worse for team cohesion and innovation than working in the office.”
So what can you do to battle the down side of gigs? Here are some suggestions.
Keep in touch IRL. You may not be able to do this with your team once a day, but perhaps once a week, or once a month? It will make you more productive. “Other research finds face to face interaction is essential for identifying opportunities for collaboration, innovation and developing relationships and networks,” Sander writes. “And other studies suggest not being in the office regularly can hinder your career, resulting in being overlooked for projects or promotions. Out of sight can mean out of mind.”
Keep in the loop by email, text, phone so you know what’s up. “One study showed that engineers who shared a physical office were 20 percent more likely to stay in touch digitallythan those who worked remotely. Employees who were in the same office emailed four times as often to collaborate on shared projects than staff who weren’t in the office. The result, for these sorts of projects, was 32 percent faster project completion times,” Sander writes.
Keep healthy habits. Some people working at home find it way too easy to stroll into the kitchen and start snacking around the clock. Not eating regularly and not having regular work hours can interfere with sleeping. “Another study of home workers from 15 countries found 42 percent of remote workers had trouble sleeping, waking up repeatedly in the night, compared to only 29 percent who always worked in the office,” Sander writes. You may not be able to physically separate work from home, but you can make boundaries for your work time and space.
Keep office hours. It’s tempting to just keep sliding into an evening that turns into a late night because you have no commute and you can blur the lines of work and family. But don’t. Pay attention to your spouse, partner, children, and yourself and stop work at a reasonable time, and start work at a reasonable time. Make weekends off limits if you can, or perhaps just one day of the weekend. “Perhaps not surprisingly then, another studyfinds that, rather than being helpful, working from home is likely to interfere with family life,” Sander writes. So be diligent about the separation of work and life. If you can, get up and close the door to your office, but have a boundary that separates your work from the rest of your life.
Keep your own benefits. Skipping health insurance could be the biggest mistake you ever make. So don’t. It is costly, yes, but you never know what could happen. Do not tell yourself you only get colds, because you can’t predict the future and you do want to stay on top of your health. “If you’re a freelancer, you need to figure out your own retirement plan and buy your own healthcare, both of which can be time-consuming and expensive. Going freelance also means you no longer have paid sick days or vacation time. Every day you don’t work is a day you won’t get paid. And if you want to take a vacation, you have to save up and make arrangements, or otherwise work while you travel,” Swaniker writes in Forbes.
Keep your own swag. You may think business cards don’t matter anymore, but people still do trade business cards. Being a freelancer or contract worker means you will not necessarily have the company business cards that make you look and feel legit. So get your own. Go online and design a business card that is professional and has your name, social media and contact info. When you are at a conference and someone asks you for one, you need not to have an excuse, you need to offer one.
Keep flexible in workloads. The most difficult part I have found of working several contract gigs is that when one assignment expands, the others do not shrink. When you travel for one gig taking you out of your home office for several days, the other gigs really don’t care, and your workload has not changed. Try your best to plan in advance for these shifts and compensate ahead of time, doing next week’s workload now so that you are not panicked when you are full-time occupied for one of your part-time gigs.
Amy Wrzesniewski, the Michael H. Jordan professor at Yale School of Management, told Deloitte recently, “In terms of benefits for people who choose independent work, the highs can be real, even extreme. But this upside also shades into one of the biggest challenges of independent work. When your work is that personalized, if it’s not going well, it can be absolutely crushing, because it implicates people’s identities immediately.”
She adds, “If you think about a typical employee working in an organization, when they’re on a terrible project and feeling frustrated or grumpy, they can park that at the feet of the organization or whoever assigned them that work. But when you’re independent, you have nowhere to point to but yourself, and so the threat of feeling emotionally crushed is high.”
So use your ingenuity and your flexibility (as well as these tips) to guard against the lows. Gig work can be creatively rewarding when it honors your needs.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com