There continues to be polarizing discussion on the Gig Economy, and for good reason — businesses from Uber to TaskRabbit are revolutionizing the way our world works. But, the really interesting story represents a much bigger and profound shift in how people work with each other and successfully collaborate remotely — all online.
And “Gig” work is only a part of that story.
First of all, the gig economy is still really small. A recent paper by Alan Krueger from Princeton University estimates that only about 800,000 Americans (out of a workforce of 159 million) work in the gig economy.
Second, gigs (typically short-term task-oriented arrangements, where jobs are chopped into discrete projects or tasks, then scattered into a virtual “cloud” of willing workers who could be anywhere in the world) are not the only type of work making the shift online — longer term, full-time work arrangements, a.k.a. jobs, are moving online too.
In fact, both gigs and jobs are moving online, but the vast majority of both are still offline.
The truth is, not all companies, and not all employees, will want to do task-based work, serving multiple “clients” and having to build what is essentially a one-man freelancer entrepreneurial operation. But just because they don’t want to enter into the gig economy, doesn’t mean these professionals don’t want to work online.
Look at telecommuting, for example. In the recent past, telecommuting has been typically defined as someone employed full time who works at least half the time at home, but, definitions are changing and lines are blurring. Signs point to a wider definition of telecommuting — which can include those self-employed and working remotely, even if that work is full-time in one job vs. task-driven. In fact, although a mere 2.3% of the US workforce telecommute full-time, or consider their home to be their primary place of work, in 2015 the US Bureau of Labor reported that 24% of employees did “some or all of their work at home.”
Similarly, online staffing represents a tiny fraction of the massive global staffing economy. The global staffing market was at $416 billion in 2013 according to Staffing Industry Analysts, while the total size of the online staffing market was only $1.6 billion. Both the size of the industry and the workers engaging in online work will continue to grow rapidly.
So, how will this trend play out? It will accelerate as these 4 things go mainstream:
1.Amazing, Globally Accessible Internet
At present, the global average internet speed as of Q1 2016 was 6.3 Mbps, up 23% from last year. This is a contributing factor as to why the gig economy is still small, despite its exponential growth in the last couple of years. According to research done by cloud service provider Akamai, even the US only averaged 15.3 Mbps in Q1 2016, a far cry from other developing nations like South Korea (29 Mbps).
Even South Korea’s internet speeds can’t compare to Google Fiber, which provides 1000 Mbps speeds. This kind of game-changing speed, once implemented on a national or global scale could mean even more and bigger disruption in every industry, allowing companies to not only acquire tasks from the human cloud, but, also to engage full-time remote workers for team-based work and ongoing collaboration.
2. Translation Software
As translation technology improves, communication across cultures will be more seamless and massive language barrier gaps will diminish.
The tech for this is not quite here yet (think about the last time you pasted something into Google Translate with weird results), but it is coming. From visual translation via apps and wearable tech, powerful translation apps like Skype Translator uses Machine Learning to recognize and translate diverse accents and language variations, providing real-time translation for video calls between 7 supported languages and instant messages for 43 more.
3. Virtual/Augmented Reality
In the future, remote work may not seem that remote anymore. “VR allows people to truly feel like they inhabit the same virtual space together at the same time, as opposed to screen-based teleconferencing” says Aldin Dynamics co-founder Hrafn Thorrison.
So what will the office of the future look like? Virtual conference rooms, virtual whiteboards, virtual art rooms (where people can design in 3D for prototyping)… all of these things are already possible, or nearly there, and they point towards a not-so-distant future of collaborative teamwork — all online.
4. Super-collaboration Tools
Collaboration tools have made online teamwork possible. Tools that used to be expensive and built for internal purposes in major global Fortune 500 organizations like IBM, are now cheap (often free), and accessible to all.
Slack is a prime example of a super-collaboration tool that is changing the way people work. It is changing the way workers communicate with one another, enabling continuous, fluid, more natural conversations to replace restrictive and time-consuming emails.
According to futurist Jacob Morgan, “At the center of the future of work are workplace collaboration tools. Nearly everything else that is a part of the future of work, from flexibility to real-time feedback and gamification, is only possibly because of collaboration tools….”
The Gig Economy may be growing, but that’s not all there is online. Trends that enable all sorts of remote, online work to take place will mean that the online job economy is so much more than just jobs broken into pieces, but also full-time team-based collaboration. Perhaps a caveat to this is a missing trend that could have a stifling vs. enabling impact on the future of work: regulation. As we’ve all seen recently with Uber in California, regulations and how to classify in-country “employees” are still not clearly defined – this fact may in and of itself either enable or stifle the possibilities for building and maintaining remote workforces for forward-looking organizations.