May 27th, 2020 | David Bloom, General Manager, Sterling Gig, Volunteer, and Consumer

With the World in Flux, the Gig Economy Shows Up

As life changes from day to day — even hour to hour — through the COVID-19 pandemic, the gig economy does what it does best: moves quickly and adapts.

During the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve hired a gig worker to bring Gatorade and a thermometer to my parents, another to bring my family groceries we could not go out to get, and a third to help my kids with home-schoolwork when my own skills proved not up to the task.

As someone who has been watching gig’s astonishing growth from the front row for the past few years, it has been exciting to see gig play a central role at this moment. Hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic are picking up work delivering groceries and taking on other essential tasks for those staying home. However, there has also been a flurry of negative coverage of the gig economy. I don’t argue that gig — like most other industries — is still figuring things out and has room to improve. As an unabashed fan, though, I’d like to share what I’ve seen that is incredibly impressive. Gig has proven that as life changes from day to day — even hour to hour — no industry is better equipped to respond.

Gig Gets People Hired… Fast

First, gig companies know how to get workers onboarded more quickly to meet demand than almost anyone else out there. They are experts at recruiting at scale. This is incredibly lucky for us at a time when we need food, medicine, and supplies now and can’t wait 38 days for them. (That’s the average time across industries to fill an open job.) Instacart alone brought on 300,000 additional shoppers in weeks and shared in mid-April that they planned to hire 250,000 more. In the middle of March, Outschool, responding to desperate demand from parents with stir-crazy kids at home, announced in its blog that they were looking for 5,000 new teachers to start offering classes over the next 2 weeks. This from a company that had just over 1,000 teachers at that point.

(Of course, gig’s onboarding efficiencies assume that the companies are not slowed down by background screening. We are really proud to have fulfilled checks for our clients in over 95% of US jurisdictions despite the pandemic-related court closures. There is no need to trade safety for speed.)

This hiring nimbleness has been important to keep up with changing consumer demands, but also to provide quick income for the newly unemployed. A substitute teacher who was a favorite in my son’s classroom has shifted to teaching English online for now. Sometimes, unfortunately, those needing jobs have been workers who have been engaged in parts of the gig economy hard-hit by COVID-19. Not surprisingly, businesses that help you stay home have surged, but businesses that help you go out have struggled.

Adaptable by Nature, Gig Really Has Its Moment

When new services are needed, gig’s entrepreneurial culture provides the foundation for companies to reorient and adapt in the blink of an eye. Within the span of just a few weeks, we saw delivery services move to default “no-contact” drop-off. DoorDash partnered with convenience stores across the United States so that Americans staying home can quickly get ahold of medicine, toilet paper (maybe!), and other essentials that otherwise would require going out into the world. Uber and Lyft have been offering free rides to healthcare workers, seniors, and others with essential transportation needs, as well as connecting people to food. By beginning of April, PICKUP, a last-mile delivery service that had previously focused on big and heavy retail goods, pivoted to groceries, household supplies, baby goods, and pet products.

Gig Offers a Lifeline to Other Industries

Gig has also proven itself critical to other industries while customers have been advised or required to stay home. How else could so many shuttered restaurants shift their model in a day? Delivery services like GrubHub, UberEats, and Deliveroo have helped to connect restaurants with customers still hungry for their offerings.

DeliverEnd’s CEO, Nick Turner, announced that his business would deliver items from any business around Indianapolis to help them keep their doors open. He himself was planning to join his drivers for the deliveries. “If you are or know a business owner who needs help with deliveries please let me know, and we will help during these times!” Cost? Free.

This flexibility is not only about consumer demand, it is about our entire economy. When I needed a designer and our in-house team was slammed, we hired someone super talented in 48 hours. When the project was over, she moved on and our team (and P&L) moved on, too. These days my office virtual happy hours are fueled with drinks and snacks delivered by gig workers. Gig allows businesses to tightly match work demand with worker supply.

Given the devastation to the economy, the gig economy will be a critical resource for business and source of income for workers for the foreseeable future, long beyond the pandemic. As Mathieu Stevenson, CEO of Snagajob, told Forbes, “As the economy rebounds, I suspect gig will play a key role as employers will value the flexibility it provides while they navigate uncertain demand.”

This is a crazy and challenging time, no doubt about it. The rate of change is exponential. But change is the gig economy’s middle name, what it does best. I’m not leaving this front row seat.

The Sterling Gig team is here to help you navigate through these times of uncertainty. Learn more here about how Sterling is continuing to serve its clients through COVID-19.

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