Remote work vs gig economy - Adaptation from HBR

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Is your job positioned to go gig? Historically, the gig economy for knowledge workers (like engineers, consultants, and management executives) has never really taken off. This is largely because organizational and cultural norms have gotten in the way — most firms still prefer full-time hires for these positions. But this may be about to change.

The pandemic has forced companies from all sectors to get used to remote working — and whether a remote worker is full-time or gig-based is often simply a matter of contractual documentation.

Researchers have found the chart shown above to be extremely useful in figuring out which kinds of tasks are amenable to gigification. It involves asking these three basic questions about each knowledge-intensive task involved in delivering a product or service.

  1. Is the task codifiable? Codifiable tasks are definitely contractable to gig workers and the organizational processes that involve such types of tasks are usually easy to reengineer.

  2. Is there a delay between value creation and value consumption? In some tasks, value creation and consumption need to be simultaneous, such as when a physician conducts a patient’s physical exam. If such a task is customer facing, it is a big risk to “gigify” it.

  3. Can the task be done remotely? Today, more industries have been forced to reengineer their work processes and bolster their technology support systems, which have been the traditional barriers to alternate work arrangements. — Adapted from “Will the Pandemic Push Knowledge Work into the Gig Economy?” by Sameer Hasija et al


Here's what our users had to say:

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "This is a great share Shubham! One thing I would like to add is that knowledge work even now is done on a remote contractual basis without turning it into ‘gigs’ or ‘outsourced work’. Sometimes referred to as ‘Gig talent economy’ or just ’ Talent economy’. The key difference is that gigs by design are meant to be short, codifiable tasks (as is rightly mentioned) and often not the most critical work items. For example, I would be comfortable giving out an automation script as a gig but not a core feature of my website. However, such knowledge work can still be contracted out to talented engineers. The only difference being that the focus is now on getting the best talent rather than breaking tasks into gigs. I feel a lot of knowledge work should move to the Talent economy as well given the pandemic has reduced apprehensions around remote work."

  • Shubham Sharma said "Agree in part with ypu Hrishikesh. But, what the article was trying to inform was A) The two types of roles and people being aware of which bucket they fall in (gigs have better hourly rates, remote workers have lower risks) B) While there is a tendency of remote work increasing, as human beings, a number of managers are bound to be swayed by trying to deleverage their finances further from people costs (without giving much of thought on human capital). This gives the “gigs” a better growth potential C) The remote work tools for both natures of work are extremely different. While you may be rule bound as an employee, gamification might be a preferred mode to sway gig talent towards the company goals (think of Uber vs Yellow cabs)"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Ah yes! Absolutely Shubham, I surely agree with the points made around gigs, especially how one can figure whether something can be turned into a gig. Also believe that gig economy in principle should exist and will grow because of the pandemic. Just wanted to point out the fact that there’s also a 3rd bucket of ‘(Gig) Talent economy’ which will also grow. Also, great summary of the points - very helpful :-)"

  • Sumit said "Great article, Shubham, and thank you for summarizing it! I personally feel that after this initial thrust in remote work through COVID-19, the move towards working remotely will happen along a gradient. Some organizations / professions will realize it right away that remote works perfectly for them and shift instantly. Some others would have seen promising results during the lock-down but still feel that it might be better to bring in employees under one roof for various intangible reasons or because old habits die hard (my organisation is currently in this phase). However, having experienced higher efficiency & lower costs during COVID, remote will always be on their radar and will manifest in more lenient work-from-home policies or a longer term shift to remote (may be a couple of years down the line). And there will be a final set who would have found out that remote is extremely disruptive to the way they operate right now (for example, the physician conducting a diagnosis/exam that you mentioned). I think even these professions and organisations will feel the pressure to tweak their operating model / systems in a way that they can be remote-ready for the future. For example, more hospitals and physicians are setting up infrastructure for tele-diagnosis and sample collections from home. I agree that some of these occupations can never be completely remote, but they will definitely bring an element of remote work into their business model so that the show doesn’t stop again."

  • Lucas Wagner said "Great points Sumit! I really liked how you broke this own into different categories of organizations. When I came to the type of organizations for whom remote work has been disruptive, I thought you would say that they would quickly return back to earlier “normalcy”. But really liked the insight into how even hospitals and physicians would respond by adapting themselves to the new normal. Super stuff :)"

  • Karthik Sridharan said "“whether a remote worker is full-time or gig-based is often simply a matter of contractual documentation.” I think was the clincher for me. Somehow I have always seen it this way but have noticed that many organizations still seem to make a big fuss about the difference between the two. A gig worker and a full-time remote worker might be doing the sane work but the treatment meted out to a gig worker frequently comes from a place of mistrust. Therefore, illogical questions such as “what if a gig worker slacks at home” come up and my usual answer is what do you do when your full-time remote worker slacks off? Why would this case be much different?! While I understand there is a psychological angle to feeling more relaxed about full-time workers as they are expected to be associated for a longer time, it needs to be acknowledged that this is still only psychological."