What is the gig economy?

As technology moves forward and the workforce evolves, the gig economy is emerging as a powerful player

While the concept of “gig work” has long existed across many industries, the gig economy as we know it today began to take shape after the 2008 recession, when a weak job market led to an increase in freelance work. Since then, the internet and modern technology have transformed the marketplace for independent work, making it even easier for people to earn supplemental income, enter new industries, and control their work schedules.

But before you consider participating in the gig economy, it’s important to understand exactly what it entails and its impact upon the modern workforce.

What does gig economy mean?

The definition of gig economy is a free market system consisting of contract or freelance work completed on a temporary or short-term basis. Typically this work is done within the service industry sector, and it usually provides flexible working hours and days, depending on the contracting company. As a result, gig workers often have the freedom to control their own schedules, projects, and the amount of work dedicated to the job.

Today, 57 million workers in the U.S. are part of the gig economy, comprising 36 percent of the national workforce. This intersection of technology and earning potential shows no signs of slowing, with a recent study predicting that contingent workers will exceed 40 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.

Coworking spaces and the gig economy

The same way technology is changing the self-employment landscape, an evolution in physical workspace is making room for the gig economy, too. The gaining popularity of coworking spaces is seen alongside a rise in flexible working hours and an increase in remote work.

WeWork Reforma 26 in Mexico City
WeWork Reforma 26 in Mexico City. Photograph courtesy of WeWork

All-inclusive workspace solutions like WeWork are an ideal environment for freelancers and creatives alike. Expansive lounges and art-filled conference rooms provide ongoing inspiration, while hot desks and premium amenities keep you focused and connected. In some WeWork buildings, recording studios, podcast facilities, and brainstorming spaces give rise to artistic pursuits, while frequent community events at every location help you find fresh collaborators.

Certainly, the gig economy exists outside the office, with ridesharing, deliveries, and on-demand jobs comprising a large segment of the industry. However, for those in need of a dedicated workspace, coworking solutions help fuel productivity and surround you with a group of hardworking professionals.

Common gig economy jobs

Some jobs are particularly well suited to gig work, making them very in-demand for those seeking opportunities. Below are some of the most popular and well-known roles in the gig economy.  

Ridesharing

Used by millions of people worldwide, companies like Uber and Lyft are the two most prominent rideshare services. If an individual has a car and the time, this is a flexible way to make money. Some drivers will work with a few different companies to gain access to as many riders as possible. Some of these companies only book rider pools containing multiple riders, maximizing their ridership.

Delivery services

Delivery of food, medicine, and groceries has become a major convenience for time-strapped consumers, making delivery jobs a major area of opportunity. While delivery services have always been popular, particularly in bigger towns and cities, it’s now exponentially easier to order delivery using the internet. Additionally, some rideshare companies also provide deliveries so that workers can make a profit from both services.

On-demand jobs

On-demand jobs typically cater to the myriad tasks that a person might need help with. These gigs include anything from hanging a painting, assembling furniture, moving and lifting, dog-walking, or babysitting. These jobs don’t typically require an elaborate set of skills or long-term experience, although this can vary depending on the type of work being done or the company that is hiring on behalf of the customer.

Freelance or contract work

Freelancing has become one of the fastest-growing work types in recent years. According to Upwork, 50 percent of millennial workers are already doing freelance work, and freelancers will become the majority of the U.S. workforce within a decade. With job options that include handiwork, digital design, consulting, and IT work, the market for freelance work is vast and the demand is high.

Home and miscellaneous rental

Providing a service isn’t the only way to make money in the gig economy. In recent years, some people have opted to rent everything from their homes, apartments, cars, boats, hiking equipment, and more. Owners can thoroughly vet the potential renters and provide the rental for a limited amount of time. With home renting, an individual can make money by either renting an unused bedroom or suite in their home or by renting their entire house or apartment while they’re away.

Best sites and apps to find gig economy jobs

There are many sites and apps that facilitate gig economy work. Here, we profile the most popular apps, and how they help users make money by renting their homes and cars, or showcasing their creativity and handyman skills.

Uber and Lyft

Uber and Lyft are both popular rideshare apps that give drivers the ability to accept ride requests nearby. The app provides information on the busiest areas for pickup opportunities, but drivers still have control over where they choose to operate. According to these apps, drivers can make about $25–$35 an hour.

Uber and Lyft are popular rideshare apps.
Uber and Lyft are popular rideshare apps. Photographs courtesy of Stocksy

Airbnb

Free home-sharing companies like Airbnb give hosts the ability to control booking requirements, including requiring upfront deposits and booking and cleaning fees. Hosts can even vet potential guests by messaging with them before booking.

Postmates and Uber Eats

Delivery people using these apps receive notifications once a customer places an order; the worker then accepts the task, picks up the items, and gets paid for their time while still being eligible for tips and delivery fees. While some of these apps require a car or bike for delivery services, some will allow for door-to-door walking delivery.

TaskRabbit

This app connects individuals in need of work or services provided by Taskers who get paid upon completion. Once a job is done, a Tasker can refer friends and earn credits and gift cards on the app.

Handy and Angie’s List

Handiwork can be a lucrative gig, and these apps connect professionals with people in need of housework, yard work, and more. This requires experience within a particular field in order to ensure the work is done properly. These apps also have a referral service.

Fiverr

Writers, designers, and other creatives can connect with companies that are looking for individuals to complete projects that range from a day’s worth of work to even long-term temporary jobs.

Etsy

This online marketplace allows creators to sell products that typically include arts, crafts, and vintage items. While creating a shop is free, Etsy charges 20 cents per listing as well as 5 percent of the final sale price. The shop owner sets their own pricing, and they have four months to sell an item before the app removes it from the shop.

Doctor On Demand

Health-care providers across a variety of practices can connect with patients who are required to pay per visit. The health-care professional receives compensation either from an insurance company, or the full price of the visit.

Wag

If you’re a dog lover, then Wag is for you! This app helps consumers find and book people to walk their dogs. The gig requires prior dog care experience, and all walks are at least 20 minutes long.

For dog lovers, apps like Wag are a source of extra income.
For dog lovers, apps like Wag are a source of extra income.

Care.com

This app connects families with workers who provide care for children, the elderly, and pets. Care.com manages transactions and can even facilitate benefits for its caregivers. The site works primarily with individual consumers but also partners companies with caregivers as well.

Lynda.com

This educational site provides training courses in a plethora of career skills. You can design your own syllabus and instruct individuals as well as full teams at a company.

Upwork

This site provides miscellaneous freelance jobs including sales, marketing, administrative work, software development, and more. Create a profile that details your skills and pricing, and you’ll get paid via PayPal or another wire source upon completion of a gig.

The benefits of being a gig worker: flexibility and ownership

Whether you’re renting your spare room on weekends, or walking dogs before work each morning, the gig economy empowers you to make money in selling your space, services, or skills. You are in control of your workload, and, for the most part, you can choose the hours you work and the people you work with.

For some, the gig economy is a foray into making their passion a way of life. Creatives selling art, jewelry, or clothing on Etsy, for example, might start making enough money to quit their day jobs and work creatively full-time. For others, the gig economy is a source of supplemental income, unrelated to their everyday profession or passion project, and is seen as a way to save money, raise children, buy a house, or book a vacation.

Whatever your motivations for entering the gig economy, this list of ideas is a starting point to discovering what’s possible. As technology marches onward, the opportunities for making extra money with independent work will continue to expand. With this, your capacity to control your schedule, workload, and income will only grow stronger, too.

For more information on innovative work trends, check out all our articles on Ideas by We.

Madelyn Cuello is a writer for WeWork’s Ideas by We, based in New York City. Previously, she was a copywriter at Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, as well as a contributing writer at online publications The Cnnekt and Highlark.

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