The past decade has seen a major transformation in the way we work. With the emergence of technologies that make it possible to sever the ties between work and a set location, there has been a marked rise in companies relying on a remote workforce to accomplish tasks once relegated to in-house employees. The benefits are clear: with a larger pool of experts and specialist knowledge spanning entire countries and indeed the globe, businesses can find exactly the expertise they need.
We have witnessed a flourish of fancy terminology intent on naming and defining this workforce evolution: the gig economy, the sharing economy, crowdsourcing, the expert economy.
However, therein lies the confusion. With each new term, there is another opportunity to misinterpret what precisely is happening. The gig economy, for example, is often associated with menial labor for unskilled jobs at low prices. The sharing economy has little do with sharing and far more to do with bartering. Crowdsourcing might have everything and nothing to do with expert knowledge on a particular subject. The expert economy might be the only term that elicits a clear picture of what it actually claims to offer.
That brings us to the field services industry. Many service providers offering maintenance and repair services are looking to innovative approaches for filling labor and skill gaps. Often referred to as gig work, or crowd service, what is happening in this sector is actually a unique transformation that can not easily be pigeonholed into one of these categories.
As such, we would like to breakdown the four terms being tossed around in the age of the Workforce 2.0 in order to determine the best new economy phrase for referring to the service industry’s current embrace of new work models.
The term gig economy draws on a term predominantly used in the arts: a gig. Often used to denote one-time performances or shows, a gig is very clearly something without a long-term commitment and meant more as an added rather than a full-time source of income.
The Gig Economy
The term started gaining widespread use in 2009 around the time when Uber appeared on the market to connect people with vehicles to people in need of a ride. It was intended to define this new way of working: on-demand, on a job-to-job basis, and with no direct managing employer. It soon covered far more than ridesharing as the platform economy gave birth to more and more businesses operating on this same premise. Soon platforms emerged offering to connect people in need of cleaning, delivery, handiwork services, and more with people able and willing to provide those services.
Though many people working in the gig economy would be considered unskilled labor, the demand for their services remains high and keeps platforms thriving. Nevertheless, these people lack the expertise to repair complex machinery, even with the assistance of augmented reality tools and virtual assistance.
Companies like AirBnB, and also Uber, have become synonymous with the evolution of the sharing economy. However, the term originated with the “open-source community, where coders contribute to programs released to the world free-of-charge” (Source: The Guardian).
The Sharing Economy
The concept behind this economic model was indeed the sharing of resources and skills. Nowadays, however, it is more frequently used to denote business models and platforms that make it possible for people with something to share to offer this service or commodity for a fee. Nevertheless, there is still a fair amount of leeway for interpretation, and the term is still undergoing its own evolution. There are in fact a handful of platforms that offer goods and services on a barter economy principle: tit for tat, good for service, no money exchanged. One thing that is fundamentally clear about the sharing economy: its definition is anything but clearly defined.
The emergence of crowdsourcing as a business concept is a direct result of the connectivity afforded us by the digital age. Using video and social media campaigns to interact directly with customers, and indeed their built-up communities, companies can turn to their user base for solutions to internal issues. Often in the form of competitions.
Netflix is one great example. The company made its search for a better ratings algorithm global by giving people around the world access to a set of anonymized data and inviting them to submit improved solutions (Source: Techcrunch). Crowdsourcing is like tapping into the “creative and competitive spirit of people all over the world” and thereby “bypass[ing] the knowledge-hoarders we once depended on.” (Source: Wall Street Journal) And the reason that companies turn the question over to the broader public is that they are looking for a creative solution to a larger problem that might best be solved with collective brainpower and ingenuity. As a result, the “workers” contributing their knowledge and expertise might range from seasoned specialists to hobby tinkerers. Crowdsourcing is a great way to gain fresh insight from people removed from the inner workings of a business. However, it is hardly a long-term solution for problem-solving and troubleshooting.
Expert EconomyThe expert economy is considered a subset of the gig economy as it also denotes temporary work. However, unlike the gig economy, expert economy workers are highly educated and well-paid freelancers with substantial professional experience. In fact, the general consensus is that “you don’t have the necessary expertise” if you have not been actively employed. (Source: Civic Enterprise)
In addition, these experts are generally not responsible for executing tasks, but rather for sharing their expertise in a specific area, either in the form of a presentation, training, or the like. Many of these experts become members of the expert economy to supplement their own income and contribute their knowledge.
Others use it as a means to remain in touch with changes in their industry while on sabbatical. And still others use it as a way to remain engaged after retirement. Whatever their motivation, one thing is abundantly clear: expert economy workers allow companies the opportunity to increase their knowledge, take on more projects, and inject novel ideas into sometimes rigid corporate structures.
This is especially important as many companies have a difficult time finding the people with the knowledge they need. In fact, a study conducted by Forrester of 113 strategy, operations, marketing, and sales professionals showed that 55 percent of companies surveyed lack the in-house talent necessary to fulfill company tasks. As such, 35 percent of those surveyed turned to the expert economy for “on-demand” experts. (Source: Forrester)
What is the perfect term for Workforce 2.0 in the Field Service Industry?
In field services, a lot of these terms have also been tossed around to describe the concept of skilled and expert service technicians working on-demand. There has been considerable hype around the term gig economy. To the point that no one really knows for sure what it refers to.
- Gig economy is not suitable because it suggests that the technicians lack the extensive training and experience they in fact have.
- Sharing economy, even when meant as an exchange of services for money, is also more suggestive of hobbyists than experts.
- Crowdsourcing, although a great term for highlighting the field service industry’s use of provisional workers to attack large problems, does not work because it signifies something far more temporary and is geared more towards efforts to find creative new approaches rather than using tried and tested knowledge to tackle existing problems.
- Expert economy implies that those hired are only providing know-how. However, the field service industry also relies on these specialists to complete specific tangible tasks.
Lacking a proper term, the field service industry adopted crowd service: a pool of skilled experts and specialists usually comprised of a company’s own employees, subcontractors, partners, and freelancers. However, perhaps it’s time to for us to reevaluate this term as well. Indeed the word crowd might not encompass the breadth and scale of competence and proficiency that the “crowd” actually assembles.
Perhaps a more fitting term would be a blend of sorts: Expert Crowd Economy or CrowdPro Economy or even Crowdmasters!
In the end, it’s all a simple matter of semantics. Because regardless of the words we choose to describe what is happening, the figures speak for themselves.
40% of organizations expect to increase their use of contingent workers in the next five years.” (Source: EY)
This workforce revolution is well underway, and the best response to a growing demand for expert services is access to a crowd of talented individuals. Not only because it ensures that companies have ready access to a global pool of talent, but because it also makes it possible for these companies to fulfill a growing demand for very specific and sometimes hard-to-find knowledge. Digitalization has made it possible to interface and communicate with people all across the globe.
It is time to start taking advantage of the technology available to grow your workforce and your business potential.