In the 1990s, the major focus of Indian students was on graduating with high scores from a top institution and becoming a contender for full-time job placements. Successful freshers would then join an enterprise and work hard to meet their employer’s job requirements, however demanding they might be.
Working long hours and achieving deadlines has long been the norm for Indian employees, especially those in the field of information technology (IT). As the IT sector has grown, more employees have signed on and joined the race for career and financial success.
Such a life, however, isn’t for everyone. Many workers, in India and around the world, are opting out of the daily grind of working for an employer. More are opting for a flexible style of work — one that lets them control their time and allows them to work when and how they want. This is the so-called “Gig Economy.”
The gig economy is best described as one of temporary labor where workers forego long-term connections to any particular business. Rather, they work “gigs” where they are employed for a set task or period of time. Once the task is complete or the time period has ended, the worker is free to go.
The gig economy, or contractual employment, has only recently come into popularity in India, during the last five years. Prior to that, the only people who worked gigs were related to the showbiz industry, primarily musicians and their ilk.
The IT industry has long used gig workers to meet deadlines, but no one really liked to indulge in temporary employment where there is no certainty of an assured income. With the surge in IT start-ups in India, however, the gig culture is picking up speed and more workers are opting to trade employment security for a bit of freedom.
Gig versus freelance
Truthfully, it’s pretty hard, some say impossible, to distinguish between gig work run-of-the-mill freelancing. In fact, most governmental labor entities consider them one and the same. To them, any sort of self-employment is freelance work, be it for a one-time fixed price or an hourly rate of pay.
Some experts say that once freelance work is formalized, via an official contract, as a legitimate work for a specific period of time, it becomes gig work. Others say gig work (gigging if you prefer) is a subset of freelancing. Ironically, when a freelancer formalizes a gig by registering their own company name, etc., they then have a start-up! So you see, in some way, it’s all linked together — it’s just that no one is really sure how.
In India, there are a lot of different employment areas where the gig culture is followed. These include article writing, training and education, and computer animation — but the one that really stands out is IT.
With the advancement of the Internet and mobile devices, a majority of India’s population now have internet access. Exposure to the Internet has led to an emerging IT-related gig market. Such gigs include software development, scripting, network design and deployment as well as troubleshooting. The good news is that with so many coding languages, networking vendors and IT services users and organizations around the world, the opportunity to gig in IT should continue to grow.
In IT gig work, computer networking is the most practiced skill. It’s not as complex as software coding and is widespread across multiple domains with a wide variety of vendors. For example, there are certain coding languages (Java for one) which are in high-demand.
If networking is your cup of tea, then the potential customer base is huge, since network infrastructures are indispensable for any organization. Some networking gig options include routing, switching, VoIP, call-center solutions, service provider, security, cloud computing, data center and storage.
For workers, the flexibility offered by gig work seems to be the biggest attraction. Many workers want to work on projects that interest them, at a time that fits their schedule and now, with the availability of the Internet, from their own homes. If an IT pro feels like working for a period of time or going on vacation, they just schedule it in.
Since work can be done remotely, there are really no boundaries or limitations to the places one can work, or the number of potential customers to whom one can sell one’s services. As a gig worker, an IT pro can also broaden his or her circle of acquaintances, and get a good feel for the Industry and emerging trends.
Additionally, there is not much investment required in IT-related gig work — just a good internet connection, a phone and a workstation. Of course, one needs good communication skills as well, but that’s an attribute that all IT professionals should have.
Since workers can choose their own projects, they also have the ability to keep their IT skills current. There is no more asking the boss for permission to take a certification course. One simply decide which IT training one wants, and signs up on one’s own.
For successful gig workers there is also a sense of accomplishment in selecting, soliciting and successfully completing work of one’s choosing. Many high-energy personalities enjoy the challenge and thrill of hunting down jobs and setting one’s own compensation levels.
Speaking of gig work compensation, the profit margins can be huge since most customers come from the United States or Canada, or the EMEA region, and the currency difference between those countries and India is pretty favorable.
Greater flexibility and work-life balance, work that can be done from anywhere at any time, and high profit margins make gig work attractive.
In India, the majority of the gig work force operates without legitimate stamped contracts, relying instead on a pure mutual understanding of the work and compensation. This often leads to payment conflicts, as well as charges of fraud. Unless you are working with a tried and trusted customer, you assume a lot of risk.
You will have to find your own gigs, and that is not always easy to do. Until you get a name for yourself, your income can be inconsistent. Even an established relationship with a customer isn’t a guarantee. A competitor can come along and pick your business off by under-bidding or offering an additional feature or service. Likewise, the fact that work can be done remotely is a two-edged sword. Sure, you can bid for projects around the world, but that also means you have competition from across the world.
When looking for work, the most important ability one can have is the ability to advertise and network. A gig worker will have to list on numerous job portals and freelance sites, as well as social networking and micro-blogging sites. The greater the exposure, the greater the probability of getting noticed. You will have to join — and participate in — groups and other associations to help build your network.
Competition to land work can be severe; so severe, in fact, that you may actually drive down your profits by bidding lower than you like in order to land a gig. This can create undue stress as you hunt for work, and even higher levels of stress if you’re not finding any. On top of that, since time for you is now literally money, you may actually end up working more hours than you prefer — so much for that wonderful “work-life” balance.
Most of all, you will have to complete your gigs correctly, with precision, and in the allotted time. One can never compromise on quality.
One huge advantage for the customer is that they save money by not having to offer any of the usual benefits or pay any of the usual taxes on behalf of an employee — an estimated 30 percent savings in labor costs. This is a disadvantage for the gig worker.
Being your own man means you will have to pick up the cost for many things that would typically fall to an employer: taxes, equipment (a computer, phone, internet connection), training for new certifications, and any travel expenses incurred.
By the way, you won’t have any PTO, sick days, disability, workers compensation or unemployment insurance. There is also the need to pay for any medical expenses, if your country doesn’t have free health care.
There are also fewer legal protections for gig workers than for employees. An employee can be fired and walk away from a disaster, not so with gig workers under contract. Being sued can financially devastate you.
Proceed with caution
Gig work isn’t for everyone. The type of person who prefers this sort of work is one who can live with uncertainty, knows how to control expenses, has strong IT and communication skills, and enjoys the hurly-burly of competing for work.
As of now, no one is really sure of the true percentage of gig workers in the global economy, or exactly where the line is between freelancing and gigging. Whatever happens, you can be certain that companies will always be looking to for ways to lower expenses while continuing to offer goods and services at a fair price. Gig work seems poised to be part of the solution.