Ania Smith is the CEO of TaskRabbit, a platform that connects people to local Taskers who can help with everyday household tasks.
The sudden onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic made it hard to predict the vast shakeup to our daily living and socio-environmental impact on the world at large as we all jumped in line to protect our immediate health and that of our family members. The pandemic has ushered in a new era of online and social media bunkering, transportation patterns, social interaction and workday and workplace construct, among so many other changes. As the CEO of a gig platform for helping with household tasks, I think one of the biggest changes is how we now think about our careers — and work in general — after many of us have carried out our jobs remotely for more than a year.
During this unprecedented time, while many industries slowed, perhaps surprisingly, the gig economy grew exponentially, due to a massive need for services and a growing pool of newly available workers who needed to generate income. This sharp increase in demand has led to a change in the way many people view the gig economy (or “sharing economy”). Gig work opportunities were historically thought of as “side hustles” and not viable career prospects, like typical nine-to-five jobs. This is no longer the case. Instead, the gig economy has become an integral part of daily life for many of us, whether you’re on the providing or receiving end of services. Moreover, it has opened the door for people to make money pursuing their passions by giving them access to an audience willing to pay for their specialized skills.
Over the last year and a half, many of us have experienced a tremendous increase in the pressure of day-to-day life. Whereas pre-pandemic, life may have been more siloed into distinct boxes (work is for working, school is for learning), the pandemic has placed everything into one (sometimes chaotic) box. As a result, everyday life has sometimes become more challenging. For example, women have carried a disproportionate share of the burden, even more so if they have children.
As we reinvent our new normal, what many have always known intuitively has now become undeniable: It’s OK for anyone to ask for help. As conversations around burnout and mental health become more commonplace, many people feel empowered to outsource tasks that, perhaps previously, they would have tried to manage single-handedly. This is what we call “the delegation economy.”
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After the last year, it’s clear for many that the most valuable commodity of all is time; getting more of it is likely a challenge for us all. From working parents to busy students and everyone in between, consumers are looking to delegate simple but inconvenient or tedious tasks, which frees up time and mental energy to focus on the things we value most. This, in turn, creates valuable work opportunities for those who want to tap into their skills to earn a meaningful income — to pay off student loans, make some extra spending money or even provide for their families.
Work culture priorities are also shifting because people want more flexibility and autonomy in their jobs. After experiencing the benefits of remote work, many people are simply not willing to go back to the office and see their lives and work as more fluid. Today, they may be less open to commuting and better at balancing remote work, which gives them more flexibility in their day-to-day life. Additionally, employees who lost their jobs often had a harder time than their freelance counterparts and witnessed first-hand the security of diversifying one’s income sources.
“The delegation economy” normalizes the idea that we don’t have to do everything ourselves and offers easy ways to get help from highly specialized workers. It provides economic opportunities for those who seek flexible work options with particular skill sets, especially for those now used to setting their own work schedules after working remotely for so long.
Gig workers aren’t the only ones craving more flexibility, and companies can apply these insights to improve full-time employee happiness and retention as well. The world of work is changing, and both companies and workers need to adapt.
Some companies are doing this by giving employees more power over their weekly schedules. While not practical for all businesses, hybrid models can help maintain the benefits of both in-person and remote work. Other companies approach a “people-first” mentality by offering less traditional benefits and incentives such as flexible paid time off, longer parental leave and company-wide vacations, which ensure that employees can truly disconnect and focus on their personal lives.
Businesses should also rethink the way they create and maintain company culture. Giving employees the opportunity to engage meaningfully outside the confines of the office — for example, team building events like trivia or virtual cooking classes — can create close connections to make day-to-day collaboration more dynamic and enjoyable. Finally, I’ve found prioritizing a fulfilling personal life, such as limiting after-hours communication or encouraging employees to attend their children’s daytime events, can play a huge role in the prevention of burnout.
The pandemic isn’t just reinventing the gig economy — it’s reinventing life as a whole. At the center of it all is an old adage that, quite possibly, rings truer today than ever: Let’s work to live, not live to work.