The Present and Future of Direct Selling: an Interview with Rallyware’s Dan O’Marra
Gig Economy Trends 2024: 5 Predictions for Gig Work in the Post-COVID World
While COVID-19 might not be “over” – it’s an open question whether it ever will be, strictly speaking – nonetheless, its effects have permeated the job economy. Much has been written about the “Great Resignation.” Yet few analysts so far have evaluated what gig economy trends might look like as the Coronavirus becomes, hopefully, endemic. Gallup estimated in 2018 that 36% of workers participate in gig work “in some capacity.” In fact, it’s probable that that number has gone up since the pandemic hit: GigSmart puts that increase at 25%.
As CEO and co-founder of Rallyware, a leading performance enablement platform, I’ve seen firsthand how the gig economy has evolved in response to COVID. In this article, I’ll use my experience in the industry along with analytical findings to draw conclusions about where post-COVID gig economy trends could be headed. These predictions have strong implications not only for gig workers, but for work itself.
Gig Economy Trends
1. Remote Work Will Further Democratize Gig Work
Now that remote work has been embedded in over 16% of organizations worldwide (according to a recent Owl Labs study), one cannot help but wonder: how might this affect the gig economy?
For possible answers, look no further than new products, platforms, and services. For instance, Meaningful Gigs, which, TechCrunch reports, will work to pair freelance designers in Africa with United States companies.
Remote engagement opens up unexplored territory in gig work. Imagine freelancers using new apps and digital processes to sell their services on a remote, entirely ad hoc basis. The sky is the limit. Because remote work is being spread more widely, possibilities are opening up. “Regular” work might become more gig-like. Even hybrid workforce roles create new opportunities. The world is going to become more virtual. More interconnected. More digital. Many employers are already using remote workforce management software to optimize productivity for permanently at-home teams.
It’s already happening. You’re probably reading this article on a mobile phone. If you want, you can text it to a friend in an instant, or send it to a colleague via Slack. This is only going to become intensified.
This seems to be the world that’s on its way. The question is whether gig companies will have the technology to meet it. After all, to take a historical example, the globalized economy of the 1970s and 80s could not have taken off if air travel had not become more reliable, predictable, and efficient. And the industrial revolution could not have happened without the steam engine. Technology must be there for economic expansions. And transformations. Any student of history will tell you that.
Gig companies will have to develop or adopt digital apps that simplify the complex process of selling your skills and services ad hoc. And not only gig platforms. Direct selling companies, retail, anywhere there’s deskless workforce. The composition of the workforce is changing. People are more mobile. Traditional offices are transforming. As new populations move into gig-like arrangements, we’ll have to make it easy for them.
Look at Uber. Part of why Uber has been so successful is that it delivers a data-driven unified experience. The Uber app shows drivers what goals they need to accomplish, and how to accomplish them in order to realize success. Uber is one digital place where drivers can do everything. To be productive, they only need to pull out their app.
Gig companies should remember this model. Simplicity is important in gig work. Folks often turn to the gig economy to make their work lives simpler. They don’t have to deal with bosses. They are autonomous, independent. And, their work happens in a single app. Retailers and direct selling companies should consider this model as well. No matter what happens with the gig economy in 2023 and 2024, it’s clear that it has affected the economy at large.
In the future of the gig economy, only apps that simplify will have an impact.
2. There Will Be Further Pressure on Traditional Jobs
In 2022, companies felt the heat from employees being asked to return to work. In the traditional office sector, workforces were upset. Some CEOs embraced a hybrid work model. Others retained remote work.
The situation might be stabilizing. Data shows that 63% of current remote workers would feel comfortable returning to the office. But employers shouldn’t expect the transformation to end there.
The COVID pandemic didn’t only raise the question of office work. As Time magazine writes, “For many, this has become a moment to literally redefine what work is.”
Just as the millennials of 2008-2012 transformed technology, expect the young people of today to transform work – and not only young people, but even mid-career workers and the formally retired. The pandemic showed many of us that life is fleeting and can change in an instant.
Expect traditional office employees to demand a setup that looks more like gig work. Like deskless work, or non-traditional arrangements like direct selling. After the pandemic, people want to live their lives as long as they’re getting their work done on-time and with excellence. In a way, this is not unlike gig work. The gig economy will “trickle up” into standard white-collar work arrangements.
3. Healthcare in the Gig Economy Will Be Revolutionized
Healthcare is, famously, the Achilles’ heel of the gig economy – at least in America. Recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the number of Americans who receive healthcare through work at 49%. These individuals are going to be resistant to the notion that it’s worth giving up their employer-sponsored healthcare to participate in the gig economy.
Something will have to change in order for the gig economy to achieve its full potential. The same is true for other kinds of deskless work. Imagine a world where in the morning, someone knits a homemade scarf to sell via a gig platform. Then in the early afternoon, she gives a few rides via a rideshare app. Yet the problem of how she will get healthcare is an obstacle to that.
Let’s face it. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, healthcare is tough. It can be expensive and unpredictable even with traditional insurance. Without it, what should gig workers do? Short of a legislative solution, the business community will have to innovate.
We can expect some brilliant business minds to develop a solution – perhaps involving an app that allows gig workers to pay into a healthcare fund. This app might even integrate with remote workforce management software, or field enablement software.
While the government introduced reduced healthcare premiums for gig workers, this was only a temporary band-aid. In any case, this issue has to be dealt with in order for the gig economy to realize its full potential.
4. Direct Selling Will Be Newly Relevant
Direct selling has a long history – from the classic image of the traveling salesman, as seen in countless plays and films, to today’s social media-literate brand influencers.
Full disclosure: many of Rallyware’s clients are direct selling companies. Yet we’ve seen how the industry has matured over the past two years, wielding digital tools to drive performance and results. We’ve been extremely impressed by the growth.
For instance, according to the Direct Selling Association industry data sheet, direct selling revenue was up $13.9 million in 2020, the largest increase of the past five years. Yet 2021 saw a significant (5.2%) decrease in the amount of direct sellers. And growth was not as strong as in 2020.
Does this mean that direct selling is on the decline? Not necessarily. It can shore up its position again. Yet it will have to modernize. Many direct sellers who joined the industry in 2020 dropped out in 2021. Direct selling will have to contend with that.
The reasons for this trend are complex but worth interrogating for anyone interested in future dynamics of gig work. After all, gig work and direct selling are similar.
Direct selling affords regular people, who are often looking to make supplemental income, an opportunity to make money selling goods that they like and are passionate about, everything from makeup to auto products. It’s also a fundamentally social experience, with sales reps participating in product demonstrations and even giving classes online and in person. In the wake of COVID, that real-life social “touch” is invaluable, especially for the extroverts among us.
For folks who like to persuade, direct selling can be thrilling, even empowering. In the next several years, look at this sector to expand as direct selling companies digitize. This is particularly true in light of the lack of social experience from the past two years.
It’s important to note that direct selling companies should digitalize. This has been a problem in the past, as direct selling has lagged behind. But remote workforce management software, or even performance enablement software, is a must.
5. The Role of Sociality Will Expand
It’s no secret that people want to earn more from work than money. They want a sense of accomplishment and recognition. They want a sense that their efforts are worthy. That applies to our scarf knitter from prediction #3. It applies to a hypothetical direct selling influencer for grooming products, and to traditional employees. (As anyone who has watched The Office and Office Space, or worked in a 9-5 office themselves, will already know.)
As experts from McKinsey stated in a 2021 podcast, the pandemic changed the meaning of work. Essential workers were asked to report to work “in a time where livelihoods took a back seat to lives.” Similarly, remote office workers brought together home and work to such an extent that they began to interrogate the relationship between the two.
For gig workers, adding a level of sociality to work can make a standout difference. The gig economy is unique in that you have large numbers of folks doing similar work activities but often not collaborating. They thus form a potential community more than a typical workforce.
Technology and the digital transformation will play key roles in activating the social-communal recognition systems latent in gig economy trends. For instance, imagine that a gig work app had its own built-in social feed. This would allow users to celebrate accomplishments, forge connections, and swap insights. This adds an extra layer of meaning – community and recognition – to the basic functions of gig work. This might take the form of remote workforce management software. It might be a performance enablement platform. It depends on what your enterprise’s needs are. Consult with your CTO, or with software vendors, to learn more.
Remember our scarf-knitter from prediction #3? Imagine she receives notifications from a community of fellow creators complimenting her work and sharing it right to their feeds. Our recent research into distributed workforce learning and performance trends showed something something in this vein. It indicated that notifications related to accomplishments can steeply raise user-app engagement.
Organic, community-based motivation foretells a powerful set of possibilities for the gig economy. Digital platforms appear to be the road we’ll have to take to get there. We should harness the full potential of technology to connect us in a post-COVID age where remote, meaningful work is the goal for so many people.
Rallyware’s performance enablement platform enables performance for data-driven gig work in the post-COVID age. Click here to request a demo.
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