The gig economy – Est. 1,000 AD

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Sir Walter Scott Ivanhoe and his freelancers.

The gig economy. Everyone's talking about it. Everyone wants a piece of it. But what exactly is it?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the gig economy as "a way of working that is based on people having temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer" - aka a Freelancer.

Gig, or the gig economy, today has become a very wide definition (similar to AI and Automation) for a multitude of activities. It describes many aspects of a new way of working as we transition from "traditional" operating models to accessing new talent pools.

But gig is not new. 

So, where did it come from and when did it start?

In the 1800s, Sir Walter Scott Ivanhoe assembled a group of soldiers and would pay them to engage in battles. He referred to them as his Free Lances - no surprise, they carried actual lances! He wrote about his time with this group and even referred to an exchange where he offered the services of his Free Lances to other parties. In one exchange, the other party refused the service. Dear Walt wasn't concerned by this though as he wrote "in bustling times, a man of action will always find employment."

Whilst Walt coined the term, which became accepted in the English Dictionary 200 years ago, the first recorded use of the freelance model was after 1,000 AD where hired soldiers (aka talent) were an important part of military campaigns, as and when required

So it's safe to say that freelancing has been around for some time, and I think, it's also safe to say that the "traditional" definition of freelancing has evolved to cover new ways of working, which employ different operating models. Allow me to explain. I believe there are 3 categories which fall under the wider definition of freelancing:

  • Freelancing:  working for yourself, doing different pieces of work for multiple organizations, rather than be an employee of one - e.g. consultant, graphic designer, a scheduled freelancer
  • Homeworking/Virtual Working: People working from home or other premises, for payment, which results of a product or service specified by the employer - e.g. home working contact center agent, an employee
  • On Demand: An independent worker performing a single job/task that lasts only a short time, of which they are in control of when, where and how they work, therefore how much they earn - an unscheduled freelancer

These distinctions are becoming more and more important as communities and legal institutions attempt to adopt and structure what is a very flexible and varied way of working. And while the gig economy juggernaut is redefining today's workforce, it is key that industries, communities and government come together to design solutions that work for everyone.

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