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Flexible Workspaces: Strategic Facilitators of Gig-Economy

As remote working slowly creeps into the workspace ecosystem, and with fewer jobs being created in the organised sector, the gig economy can emerge as a ray of hope for India’s labor market.

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When you read opinion pieces or attend industry webinars, you realize that there is a massive shift in the future of work. As the very concept of how we work is changing, we often miss out on the details.

To be sure, India requires a workspace evolution, driven by a growing faction of an independent and digitally connected workforce that doesn’t necessarily convene to the standards of traditional workspaces. For this digitally savvy workforce, nine-to-five jobs aren’t the go-to, and increasingly the preference has been towards flexibility - be it for work or the workspace.

The gig economy workforce.

The gig economy gets its name from each piece of work is similar to an individual 'gig' – although, such work can fall under multiple terms. The concept of the 'gig worker' isn't new, with the popularisation of emerging tech-enabled platforms, gig workers have gained wide acceptance, and employers are increasingly looking to tap into this pool of workers. As remote working slowly creeps into the workspace ecosystem, and with fewer jobs being created in the organised sector, the gig economy can emerge as a ray of hope for India’s labour market.

India’s youth bulge is gig-ready

In an opinion for the World Economic Forum in 2019, Manish Kumar - MD & CEO, National Skill Development Corporation, stated that over 70 million individuals of working age (15-59 years) are expected to enter the labour force by 2023. To make the most of this huge demographic windfall, a dual-pronged solution needs to address not just how we work but also where we work.

The gig economy can play the role of an enabler.

When compared with India’s 500 million workforce, the gig economy alone is credited with 56% of new employment generation. In India, according to a recent study conducted by the Observer Research Foundation and WeWork India, 14.9% of ‘co-workers’ aspire to work as freelancers, while another study found that 17% of young Indian women and 26% of men are interested in participating in the gig economy for their primary source of income. Businesses look at the gig economy as a cost-effective proposition, given they can accommodate a temporary work arrangement for a niche business requirement at a much lesser cost as compared to a full-time worker who would come with additional administrative and compliance expenses.

Flexible Workspaces as a win-win solution for the gig economy

It can’t be stressed enough that we need good jobs to satiate the ambitions of the Indian youth. Still, the need for agile and productive workspaces that would ensure maximum output for minimum resources shouldn’t be understated. The “office-as-a-service” model would not just ensure ease of doing business for companies but would also attract consumers who have much lesser obligations as tenants. Flexible workspaces would also take care of most of the hassles related to administration, IT, security, housekeeping, and electricity, among others.

This seems to be a win-win scenario for both entrepreneur and gig worker alike as it takes away the mammoth task of renting a costly workspace and replaces it with a much affordable ready to use, plug and play workspace. Flexible workspaces undeniably resonate with some of the core attributes that define the gig economy i.e. independence, flexibility and affordability. They also provide a bounty of other offerings such as state-of-the-art design, high-speed digital connectivity, exposure to investors and VCs, and a collaborative atmosphere to encourage innovation and knowledge sharing.

For an ever-increasing cohort of millennials and Gen Z that make up the country’s youth, flexible workspaces would provide a far more sustainable and economical option - irrespective of whether they’re starting their own companies or looking to work on a variety of projects for employers. This should create plenty of impetus for the gig economy, not to mention value creation for companies and economy alike.

A new dimension to hiring and skilling practices

According to the same Observer Research Foundation-WeWork India report, Indian businesses are also seeking to tap into the more flexible gig economy workforce for what could be a variety of reasons. One reason could be that companies are looking for hiring on a short-term basis to address niche business requirements. Imagine a specific project around water shortage in a city where a company wants to help mitigate the issue. One method could be to hire an entire team, but a far more sustainable approach could be to hire a bunch of gig workers with the relevant know-how. One again, flexible workspaces offer an incredible pool of workers mixed in a thriving community experience that should be ideal for facilitating collective problem-solving.

In the long-run, as hiring managers of enterprises and startups look to solve unique challenges, the onus will also fall on them to conduct skilling and even upskilling workshops. Once again, gig workers at flexible workspaces can be an accessible and cost-effective solutions to meeting a variety of challenges that exist in the current economic climate and the years ahead. To do this, the business fraternity can and should alleviate the burden that rests majorly on agencies like the National Skill Development Corporation.

The pandemic has had a debilitating effect on employers and employees alike. Still, suppose the country is to move forward and reclaim its position as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. In that case, it will become critical to get workers back to work and make the most of India's burgeoning gig economy.

(The article is authored by Karan Virwani- CEO, WeWork India)



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