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3 Ways The Gig Economy Is Already Transforming Your Career

In today’s economy, you’re only as good as your last gig, no matter where you work.

3 Ways The Gig Economy Is Already Transforming Your Career
[Photo: Irina Zakharova/Flickr user lseclt]

Think about the last time you took a ride in an Uber, browsed through your lodging options on Airbnb, or looked for some help from a tasker on TaskRabbit. When you look up an Uber driver, the first thing you probably glance at is the driver’s rating. On Airbnb, you probably sort through the profiles and reviews of the various hosts you’re considering bunking with. It’s the same thing on TaskRabbit–you want to know how much experience the tasker has, how she describes herself, and what others have had to say about working with her.

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It’s a fact that the gig economy runs on algorithms, but it also runs on feedback. As soon as you open an app, you’re looking for user feedback. When the gig is completed, you’re rating the experience (and, of course, the service provider is rating you back). The more we use these services, the more second-nature this trading of feedback becomes, and the more it seeps into areas of our lives outside the gig economy proper. In fact, the principles of the gig economy are fast reshaping all of our working lives—including in more traditional organizations.

Think about it. When you finish an Uber ride, you’re more likely to give a five-star rating to the driver who asked for your input on the route and had an extra clean car. The Airbnb host who offers insider tips on the best local bars and restaurants is more likely to earn glowing reviews. The TaskRabbit tasker who goes the extra mile to make sure the job is done right and on time is going to earn your loyalty.

The gig economy’s winners are those who are collaborative and responsive, and who create great experiences while getting stuff done. That’s what you want as a customer, right? Isn’t it likely that that’s what your employer also wants from you?

If you haven’t been thinking about your job in the context of the gig economy, now is a good time to start. Here are three factors you need to consider to succeed in a gig-economy world:

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1. You Need Great Feedback

Big companies like Microsoft, Accenture, and Gap are killing the annual performance review. If you’ve experienced the irrelevancy of an annual conversation on your performance, you understand why. In-the-moment, immediate feedback is replacing the annual review. Just like you do on Uber, more managers are being asked to provide a five-point-scale rating on a few statements, like, “I would always want this person on my team,” at the end of each project. That kind of approach puts a lot more weight on consistently great performance. And while it can be taken to a troubling extreme (see the New York Times takedown of the culture at Amazon), it’s true that more organizations are putting in place systems for team members to share feedback with each other during and after projects.

When done right, that can be a good thing. And even if your company doesn’t have such a process in place, you can still build that gig-economy lesson into your own working habits in order to keep your career on track. Regularly ask yourself, “What would it take to do this or that thing better? How would the person or people who see the results of my work rate how I’ve done?”

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2. You Have To Distinguish Yourself

Take a moment to check out the comments on five-star guest reviews on Airbnb. What consistently stands out are the highly rated hosts who make an effort to do little things to differentiate themselves. They put fresh flowers in their guest rooms. They offer a little basket of personal bathroom goodies. They offer a happy-hour glass of wine. They don’t have to do that stuff, but it makes them stand out. They’re the ones who get the most bookings.

There’s a simple career lesson there, and it’s getting more important to learn as the gig economy subtly shifts our expectations as consumers and our companies’ expectations as employers. What are you doing at work that distinguishes you? Chances are you’re working with a number of intelligent people. Being smarter than the next guy isn’t necessarily the best way to differentiate yourself. It isn’t about showing off, either–which can backfire. Demonstrating emotional intelligence by listening better, offering help, and asking good questions are a few proven ways to make your performance stand out.

3. You Need To Speak For Your Work

In fact, some of those behaviors amount to a form of self-promotion–but a sort that isn’t loud or boastful. The reality is that you’ve got to market yourself just like the most successful gig-economy players do. When you look at the most compelling online profiles, they hit the sweet spot between showing a good personality and delivering great results.

Our world is now too fast-moving and interconnected to just let your work speak for itself. You have to speak for your work. That doesn’t mean constantly tooting your own horn or, worse, taking credit for others’ accomplishments. But it does mean intentionally putting your results into a strategic context that matters to other people. Tie your work (and your team’s work) back to the big-picture goals, and keep the people who need to know informed of your progress toward major milestones. You want your colleagues–and especially your boss–to have a clear picture in mind when they ask themselves, “What have you done for me lately?”

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In today’s economy, you’re only as good as your last gig. It only makes sense to manage your career accordingly.