Alton on The Future of The Gig Economy

In a recent blog post, Gary Alton raises the 64 million dollar question:  “Tech Opened the Door to the Gig Economy, But Is It Here to Stay?” [1].

First, his title agrees with my own conclusion that the Internet enabled the gig economy, but did not and does not determine its course.  The gig economy (however you define it) is one of many experiments the ubiquitous internet has made possible.

Writing from the point of view of tech workers, Alton summarizes the by now familiar advantages and disadvantages of the freelance economy.  For workers, flexibility, but little security.  For businesses, cheap, easily replaceable labor.

The same blog had a separate article with yet another potential disadvantage of gig workers: “Remote Workers Are Driving Network Security Professionals Crazy” [2].  Anna Johansson points out that all these freelancer who work remotely are generally exposed to security breaches, which is kind of a problem.

She lists five obvious challenges, though they all stem from working off site, via multiple networks including public access points.  Freelancers value “flexibility” and “convenience”, but these are anathema to network security, which needs rigorous and often annoying control.

Generally speaking, the more important the work, the more security you need to protect it.  So this means that remote workers, including freelancers, either cannot do critical work, or must use extraordinary technical security to protect the business interests.

If it were me, I wouldn’t let anyone do anything important remotely.  I want to keep my data and IP inside my fortress, and I mean a physical not a virtual fortress.

So maybe gig workers will be limited to low risk work, which is also low pay work.  That’s not so good.

On Alton’s second point, “Is It Here to Stay?”, I will repeat what I have said before.  The current gig economy has only existed in the upswing of the recovery from 2009.  We haven’t seen a major recession yet (though the “media” industry seems to be contracting every year somehow).

One of the entire points of gig work is that it is short term and contingent.  The next big downturn will pressure businesses to shed costs and workers.  Gig workers will be hit first and will be hit instantly.  In fact, you don’t need to even fire a gig worker, you just let out fewer short term contracts.

Essentially, the gig economy will make the next recession see a rapid flash crash of employment, in the form of a severe drought of gigs and probably even lower pay for gig workers.

This will have a knock on effect on the coworking industry.  A widespread recession in freelance gigs will cause many workers to drop out of their coworking spaces, and many workspaces will crash.

As goes the freelance economy, so goes the coworking industry.

By the way, my own guess is that WeWork will implode under a mountain of debt, while smaller, more locally grounded operations may survive.

So:  is it here to stay?  Maybe.  But neither gig working nor coworking are going to look so great after the next recession.

  1. Larry Alton, Tech Opened the Door to the Gig Economy, But Is It Here to Stay? , in IEEE Spectrum – Tech Talk. 2019.
  2. Anna Johansson, 5 Reasons Remote Workers Are Driving Network Security Professionals Crazy in IEEE Spectrum – Tech Talk. 2019.

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