When you write a book about a topic that is often in the news, like the #GigEconomy, friends send you articles on that topic to be sure you see them. It is nice, since every so often, one of them gets by my Google alerts. That said, though, I received way too many emails on this particular piece in the New York Times over the weekend, entitled “Freelancers of the World Unite, in Despair.” I know it was an opinion piece, and I know it was written by a comic, but nonetheless, I do tire of the whining found in pieces like this. That is because it is not representative of the experience of most independent workers, especially those in the professional services world, which appears to be the domain of the author.
Studies have shown –and there are many of them from industry players like MBA Partners to think tanks, like McKInsey Global Institute — that the independent career path is a deliberate path. Although their methodologies differ, so their numbers differ as well, these research reports all find the same thing – that the majority of independent workers worldwide are working that way by choice. This is not a default option, because the individuals could not get a “real job.” In fact, in a 2017 study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, over 50% of freelancers said they would not return to regular employment regardless of the level of compensation offered.
The comic relief provided in the piece by the idea of Starbucks being the office of choice for most independent workers blatantly ignores what has been a related phenomenon – the strong growth of co-working spaces. Whether becoming members at industry giant, WeWork, recently valued at $20 billion, or the interesting niche players like Canopy or The Hivery, many independent workers choose to operate in these dynamic business communities. Others who may be cost conscious work from home. There are also the “digital nomads”, estimated to number 4.8 million people by MBO Partners in their annual State of Independence Survey for 2018 , who tend to work from remote islands or mountain tops. My guess is most of this group doesn’t have the “please watch my stuff” problem.
As for always being on the phone, I do not think that is a behavior limited to the #GigEconomy, Unfortunately, I think it is a regular part of life in our digital age, which has unsettling implications for our well-being according to psychologists, but also to our own creativity. (On the latter note, I highly recommend the book, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It, by Ian Leslie.)
Similarly, the article author discussed the feeling of dread, of wondering if she could be working more and whether she made the right choice. Again, this is not a question limited to those in the gig lifestyle. In Silicon Valley, the average term of a new professional hire is 14 months, which is really kind of a long gig. If folks were not wondering about their career choice and their career progression, I warrant there would be a longer tenure at most companies. Moreover, some people have portfolio careers, working as an employee for awhile, and then a consultant, and then an employee and then a consultant etc.
As for medical insurance that is a thorny problem, but one that I believe time and some creative entrepreneurs will figure out. (Please note, I did not say the government would figure it out…) Already some talent platforms are coming up with some solutions, like Handy, which is advancing a program in New York State to allow independent contractors to secure health insurance. Care.com enables its clients to include a payment for medical coverage as well. Stride Health in San Francisco is a health care platform that caters to independent workers. Other models will develop as well, just as Bunker Insurance in San Francisco has developed a specialized platform to enable cost-effective professional liability coverage for the independent workforce. A new San Francisco start up, Thor, is trying to use blockchain and crypto currency to solve this health insurance issue. The marketplace will create innovations in the space for sure.
Finally, the worst aspect of the whining for me is the disrespect it shows to those who have made this career choice. I, like many other Boomers, am a proud member of the #GigEconomy: I consult, I write books I serve on corporate boards. I enjoy the flexibility, intellectual variety and continuing opportunity to learn, which is a key life skill for the #FutureofWork. To me, the bumps along the way, are learning opportunities. With apologies to the author, despair is not part of my worldview.