Gig economy workers become new first responders during coronavirus pandemic

Gig economy workers become new first responders during coronavirus

As the world hides from the fast-spreading coronavirus, one surprising group of people has emerged as new-age first responders. Gig economy freelancers are busier than ever delivering essential needs to people all over the country. Even though these individuals aren’t providing critical emergency or medical services, they are putting themselves in harm’s way to pay the bills and help others.

At many grocery stores, the people perusing the aisles aren’t the end-users themselves. They are actually hired hands on behalf of those who don’t want to leave their homes. Instacart shoppers are in high demand as people distance themselves and stay away from busy areas. Amazon delivery drivers and food pick-up drivers are in similar boats.

Every day, more companies are mandating work-from-home days, forcing employees to quarantine themselves until the pandemic blows over. The situation is revealing interesting realities about the global workforce, especially the importance of the gig economy.

First Responders of the Digital Age

Most of us likely haven’t thought about who is on the other side of our grocery orders, take-out meals, and Amazon Prime deliveries. We have, at most, a 10-second exchange with the person bringing what we need directly to our front door. Most Amazon packages seem to appear miraculously at our doorsteps or in our mailrooms.

The coronavirus scare is helping remind us that real humans are carrying out activities on the opposite side of mobile apps. When we’re opting to stay in, someone else is choosing to stay out.

Gig economy workers pick up and deliver food, medical supplies, household items, and more, for those who have the means to remain isolated, yet connected via their smart devices. If gig workers packed it up, many others would lose a safety net they didn’t realize they had. However, a high proportion of gig workers aren’t in a position to take sick leave or work remotely, both benefits of traditional, office-based jobs.

The Growing Gig Economy

The rise of the gig economy has enabled millions of people to pick up side hustles or additional income. Today, monetizing unused space, assets, and time is easier now than ever before. Platforms like TaskRabbit and Fiverr have enabled skilled freelancers to connect with organizations that only need temporary help.

According to a study published last year, more than one-third of Americans did freelance work in 2018. Over 50 million people generated $1.3 trillion worth of value outside of the typical workplace. If the gig economy continues to grow as it has over the past few years, more than half of the US workforce will participate by 2027.

There is Still Work to be Done

The world is still adjusting to the realities of the gig economy. Many organizations with full-time employees have been growing increasingly comfortable with remote work. On the other hand, those who manage gig economy workers at scale have no reference on how to handle contracted workforces under circumstances like the present.

Some companies, like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, are adjusting. They are offering up to two weeks of paid sick leave for anyone diagnosed with the coronavirus. On the downside, many workers don’t have the financial means to go to the doctor and obtain official diagnoses.

These experiences will help tech giants and government bodies learn how to handle gig workers, both from an economic and regulatory standpoint. It’s times like these that reveal gaps needing to be addressed before the next global crisis emerges.


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