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Part-time or full-time?
ARE YOU READY?

A realistic guide to navigating India’s gig economy

By Nisha Ramchandani

A wellness chain recently hired a management consultant for confidential work. The consultant had access to strategic documents, which they helped to rework. Once the project was complete, the consultant used some of that information for another client, which turned out to be a competitor of the said wellness brand.

Obviously, the first client (who did not wish to be identified) was not very happy and filed a complaint against the consultant. The matter went to court and finally an out of court settlement was agreed upon.

Does the case sound familiar? If you were in the place of the consultant or the wellness chain, what would you do?

As the gig economy becomes more deep-rooted especially for white-collared (knowledge) workers, many such instances are bound to come to the fore.

It takes a lot of hard work and persistence.

A study by McKinsey has estimated that up to 20-30% of the workforce in developed markets are engaged in independent work. And over a third of India companies estimates up to 50% reliance on flexible talent in the next five years, according to research by FlexingIt, a platform that helps organisations connect with independent consultants.

However, like with any profession, going gig is no mean feat. It takes a lot of hard work and persistence. Reasons for going gig can vary from following your passion to a life event or a career dead-end.

I spoke with full-time gig workers and companies to understand what the ground realities on both sides are and as gigs become a full-time career option, how can regulation protect the interests of both parties involved.

Ground realities of gig

     1. Are you ready to gig it?

The biggest difference between going gig and having a functional role with a steady income is that as a full-time gig worker, you have to become an entrepreneur. You have to understand financials, networking, and the human psyche deeply. That mindset is very difficult to cultivate, especially when you are conditioned in a single functional role. If that does not come naturally to you, established gig workers suggest the following:

  • Network and be out there
  • Develop partnerships
  • Change your attitude—don’t be stuck on past laurels

“Going gig is like the first day of the rest of your life. You have to learn all the tricks afresh,” according to Deepanshu Sharma, a management coach from Bengaluru, who went gig in 2016.

     2. The urge of going back to a full-time job

A lot depends on the situation that drove you to take up gig work in the first place. If it was due to a passion, you have planned for it better (financially), however, if it was a coerced decision, you may not have ample “patient-capital.” It is then that the urge of going back to a full-time job is at its peak. It may also result from not getting the quality or consistency of gigs you expect. Many gig workers tell us that one in 10 gigs pitched for come through. People who have been in such a situation, suggest the following:

  • Be positive and use that time to upskill/learn a completely new skill
  • Build credibility and get certifications in your field, so your specialisation is taken seriously
  • Gulp your ego! It is okay to intern with someone for your new role. Going gig is all about learning new skills

“In my eight months of experimenting with gig work, I have realised how helpful people are. It helps to have many connections,” said Bengaluru-based journalist Feroze Jamal who went gig for under a year and is now in a full-time content role.

     3. The art and craft of negotiation

Unfortunately, in India, there is no regulation that standardises rates paid out to gig workers. It becomes important then, for the gig workers to learn to negotiate. Imagine, the irony of this situation: you get paid very differently for the same deliverables when undertaken for a startup, an MNC or a client in the US. Experienced gig workers share some tips on negotiation that they have learned over the years:

  • Initially, you have to learn to gauge a prospective client and how much can they pay. In the early days, you do lose projects because of the price. Find your sweet spot based on the nature and stage of the client (a base retainer is a good start, then devise a retainer/ project-based approach and a price range)
  • Learn to set clear expectations, have written contracts with client success milestones clearly listed out
  • Negotiation is a demonstration of value. There is merit in investing in “optics.” Go to meetings with a team, work out of a co-working space and have a professional email ID
Being a woman, it is more challenging.

“Being a woman, yes it is more challenging. There is an underlying perception that we are all aware of. Many do not express it verbally, but you can perceive it. Over time, you do overcome it,” said Maansi Gupta, a New Delhi-based sales and marketing consultant who has been working gig for the past 20 months.

What are companies looking for?

“Gig workers come with a lot of expertise and that saves time,” said Nischay AG, director for supply chain at Bounce, the self-drive bike rental startup. Bounce has worked with several white-collared gig workers including a senior director of R&D for a project.

The only challenge the company faces is when the gig worker is based overseas or another city. Coordination becomes a challenge and so does building a rapport with the team.

Bounce is open to hiring gig workers for roles like government relations, senior leadership positions as they move to new geographies, products, tech R&D and even for communication.

Advantages of going gig-route for companies are:

  • Access to highly specialised workforce
  • No hassles of notice period/onboarding or training
  • Timeline and milestone-based efficient work

Regulatory aspects that both parties must know:

The ground reality is that for a full-time employee there are often statutory benefits such as provident fund, gratuity, and bonus, whereas for gig workers none of these hold true. There are no regulations to protect freelancers in India today and the most important document for them is the contract they sign.

Today, 90% of these contracts are drawn in the company’s favour. Freelancers have to read through the contract very carefully before signing. Some parameters that have to be well balanced and included in the contract are:

  • A non-compete clause
  • IP and who owns it
  • The time period of the contract
  • Deliverables
  • Payment (specify if it includes an advance or not and timelines of payment)

(With inputs from Ashima Obhan, partner, Obhan & Associates)

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