Will The Pandemic Push Knowledge Work Into The Gig Economy?

The term “gig economy” was coined by the former New Yorker editor Tina Brown in 2009. It described how workers in the knowledge economy increasingly were pursuing “a bunch of free-floating projects, consultancies, and part-time bits and pieces while they transacted in a digital marketplace.” The received wisdom of the time was that the gig economy would redefine white-collar jobs and call into question the very existence of professional service firms: Why would you need to hire a data analytics firm for a project when you could have unrestricted access to a bunch of experts, connected by a digital platform with global reach, who could work together for you? For a time, it certainly looked like things were headed that way: the Netflix million dollar challenge in 2009 for developing the best recommendation algorithm was won by a team that didn’t belong to a single firm — or even geography. But Brown turned out to be only half right. There has been tremendous growth in the gig economy, but most of it can be attributed to unskilled work such as driving (Lyft and Uber), delivering (food, parcels, etc. through DoorDash, Postmates), and doing simple errands (TaskRabbit). A vibrant gig economy for knowledge workers — engineers, consultants, management executives — has not really materialized. Read more at Harvard Business Review.