One of the most significant changes in the structure of our economy over the last few years has been the growth of what is widely referred to as the "Gig Economy." The term is designed to capture all the ways in which individual workers are now offering their services for tasks (or "gigs") that have limited duration or scope, and don't involve actual employment.

Contractor work like this has always been around, of course. Writers, musicians, and artists, for instance, have frequently chosen to work as free-lancers. When I was in the ad agency business, we regularly hired creative talent on a free-lance basis for large assignments, and we paid them by the day.

But the gigs are getting more numerous and varied, as new technologies allow workers to connect more easily with those who are willing to pay to have work done.

Rather than trying to find a taxi, you can summon Lyft or Uber with a couple of quick taps to your phone. These cars are driven by people who do it on a part-time or full-time basis, making money in direct proportion to the number and quality of rides they deliver.

Or if you need your pictures hung, or your garden weeded, or your clothes ironed, you don't need a personal assistant. All you need to do is contact TaskRabbit, or NeedTo.com, or Handy, or Zaarly.

You don't have to do work to participate in the gig economy, either. You could simply rent out some asset you own. Airbnb and OneFineStay both let you make money by renting your house or apartment out, while Turo lets you rent your car out.

If you're looking for a gig to earn money with flexible hours, or maybe you want an extra job just to put a little more cash in the bank, there are plenty of opportunities these days.

And soon the same kinds of match-making technologies that have super-charged the gig economy will likely be changing how large companies hire and schedule their own workers, whether these workers are employees or independent contractors.

Branch Messenger, for instance, offers a mobile and web app that both employees and employers can use for doing things that range from communicating important information to swapping shifts, viewing schedules, tracking employee earnings, and so forth. Do you need to bring in an extra couple of employees to handle an unexpectedly heavy day, for example? Rather than simply tapping whatever particular employees are "on call" and requiring them to come in, Branch Messenger lets you put a message out to all eligible employees, asking for volunteers.

Atif Siddiqi, founder and CEO of Branch Messenger, told me that while his product was initially designed with retail/restaurant/hospitality businesses' needs in mind, it's also seeing rapid adoption with businesses that experience peaks and valleys in demand for labor, including contact center operators, delivery services, healthcare companies, airlines, banks and others.

So how long will it be before some smart employer figures out that work assignments could also be filled, and perhaps even more democratically, simply by letting employees bid for them? Like an airline soliciting bids from passengers who express their willingness to get off an overcrowded flight, an employer could solicit bids from employees who've expressed their willingness to work through a holiday, or to come in for a particularly high-demand shift.

Published on: Aug 21, 2017